Chopin, Frederic François

Frederic Frangois Chopin was born at Zelazowawola, Poland (sometimes spelled Zela Zowa Wola), a village belonging to the Countess Skarbek, near Warsaw. His father, Nicholas Chopin, was a French refugee, the natural son of a Polish nobleman who accompanied King Stanislaus to France, taking there the name of Chopin. Nicholas Chopin was born in Nancy, Lorraine, in 1770, and went to Warsaw at the time of the political disturbances, in 1787. He there became a bookkeeper in a tobacco factory, was afterwards tutor to the son of a Polish nobleman, and took part in the revolution under Kosciusko, fighting for Poland. He finally settled in Zelazowawola and became tutor to the son of the Countess Skarbek, later being professor of French in the Warsaw Lyceum, and finally setting up a private school of his own, which was patronized by the wealthiest families in Warsaw. He also taught French at the School of Artillery and Engineering, and at the Military Elementary School. Nicholas Chopin appears to have been a man of refinement and education, to whom the composer was indebted for many of his lovable traits of character and for much of the aristocratic bearing that always distinguished him. It was while he was in the service of the Countess Skarbek, that Nicholas Chopin met and married, in 1806, Justina Kryzanowska, a Polish woman of poor but noble family, who was possessed of all the womanly virtues. She bore her husband four children, three girls and the boy, Frederic. Frederic grew up in an atmosphere of love and refinement, petted and made much of by his sisters, and tenderly cared for and loved by his parents. He was always delicate and, from his earliest years, his health gave his family much concern. Auber,  in later years, remarked that Chopin was dying all his life. But in spite of his physical weakness he was, at least in his youth, full of animal spirits and has been described as a mischievous lad, fond of playing pranks on his sisters and companions, and also of a particularly gentle and affectionate disposition. He was naturally bright and quick to learn and a favorite with all his teachers. Some writers have pictured his youth as almost povertystricken, but this is disclaimed by those who have looked into the subject, among others, Professor Niecks, who declares that Chopin's childhood was passed in comfort if not in affluence, as befitted the son of a professor enjoying a comfortable income. In all his life Chopin never underwent such privations as fell to the lot of Mozart, Schubert and other musical geniuses. His fondness for music early asserted itself and his parents wisely let him have his way in this respect. He showed such proficiency that his father procured for him the best instruction possible in the town, and sent him to study with Adalbert Zywny, a Bohemian musician "of the old school, who thoroughly grounded him in the rudiments of music. At nine years of age, Chopin played in public at a concert, and from then on was made much of by the Polish nobility, who looked upon him, if not as a second Mozart, at least as an exceptionally talented boy, worthy of being encouraged. After this he frequently appeared at the houses of the nobility in Warsaw. When he was ten, Chopin composed his first piece of music, a march, which he dedicated to the Russian Grand Duke Constantine, who had it scored for the military band. At twelve he finished his studies with Zywny and entered the Lyceum, where his father was a professor, and there he was taught Latin, French, mathematics and other branches. His father then sent him to the Warsaw Conservatory, where he studied harmony and counterpoint with Joseph Eisner, a rigid disciplinarian, who recognized Chopin's genius and gave him the help and  encouragement he needed. Through him the young musician learned to study and to love Bach, playing the compositions of that master with wonderful precision, and profiting so much by the instruction he received that he carried off several prizes while at the Conservatory. Eisner in those days encouraged Chopin to write an opera, not realizing that his talents lay in an entirely different direction. Chopin, in later years, declared that he could have done nothing without Eisner's instruction and encouragement, and was fond of remarking that the veriest idiot could not help but learn something from such men as Zywny and Eisner. In Warsaw, Chopin appeared in public twice, and when he was fifteen wrote, with his sister, a one-act comedy, which was produced by a juvenile company. He found his greatest delight in playing and composing and was happiest when he was studying the works of the great masters, preferably Mozart and Bach. He used to spend half the night practicing and trying out his compositions on the piano which he had in his bedroom.