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Saturday, 19 July 2014

144) Honouring Frederic Francois Chopin (or Fryderyk Franciszek Szopen in Polish) (01.03.1810 – 17.10.1849 on his 200th Birth Anniversary: A 20 Zloty Banknote issued by “Naradowy Bank Polski” (National Bank of Poland) in 2010:

144) Honouring Frederic Francois Chopin (or Fryderyk Franciszek Szopen in Polish) (01.03.1810 – 17.10.1849 on his 200th Birth Anniversary:

A 20 Zloty Banknote issued by  “Naradowy Bank Polski” (National Bank of Poland) in 2010:

The “Naradowy Bank Polski” (National Bank of Poland) commemorated the 200th Birth Anniversary of eminent Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin by issuing a Collector’s Banknote having a face value of 20 Zloty in 2010.

Frederic Chopin – The Early Years:

Born at Zelazowa Wola near Sochaczew, in the region of Mazovia, in the Duchy of Warsaw, on 01.03.1810 in a middle-class family, Fryderyk Franciszek Szopen or Frederic Francois Chopin is considered to be Poland’s greatest composer and Pianist. He concentrated mainly on piano composition and had a great influence on composers who followed him.

At a very young age, Frederic became interested in music through the efforts of parents – his mother who played the piano and his father who played the flute and violin.

 By 1816, at the age of six, he played the piano admirably and started composing tunes. Recognizing his talent, his parents engaged Wojcheh Zywny, a professional musician who gave him piano lessons from 1816 to 1821, but soon, his musical skills surpassed those of his tutor.

His father Nicholas, was a French émigré who worked as a tutor for aristocratic families in Warsaw. He introduced Frederic to the cultured Warsaw society.

In 1817, at the age of seven, Frederic published his first composition (he was the author of two Polonaises in G Minor and B Flat Major) and began giving public performances by 1818. He was hailed as a child prodigy and became a rage in receptions given in Warsaw’s elegant aristocratic salons. He, also, gave public charity concerts.

From 1823 to 1826, Frederic attended the Warsaw Lyceum where his father was one of the Professors. During summer holidays he visited estates belonging to the parents of his school friends, during which trips he became interested in folk music and country traditions. He made notes on texts of folk songs, participated in peasant weddings and harvest festivities, danced and played a folk instrument resembling a double bass with the village musicians, all of which experiences he described in detail in his letters. He became well acquainted with folk music of the Polish plains in its authentic form, with its distinct tonality, richness of rhythms and dance vigour.

From 1825 onwards, when he composed his first Mazurka, his experiences in the Polish Plains inspired him immensely.

By 1826, Frederic had composed several piano pieces in different styles. His parents got him enrolled at the Warsaw High School of Music which was both a part of the Warsaw Conservatory of Music, as well as, affiliated to Warsaw University, where he studied the theory of music, figured bass and composition. Here, he studied under the Polish composer Josef Elsner for three years, who nurtured his talents, nevertheless, who ensured that Frederic would not neglect his other theoretical subjects.  This was the period of the first extended works such as the Sonata in C minor, Variations, op. 2 on a theme from Don Juan by Mozart, the Rondo a la Krakowiak, op. 14, the Fantaisie, op.13 on Polish Airs (the last three ones written for piano & orchestra) and the Trio in G minor, op.8 for piano, violin and cello.

The Vienna Experience:

 In 1829, he finished his studies and seeing his prodigal talent, Frederic’s parents sent him to Vienna, where he was introduced to the musical milieu by Wilhelm Wurful, a renowned pianist & Professor.

In 1830, Frederic’s two performances in the Kartnertortheater (he played Variations, op 2 on a Mozart theme and the Rondo a la Krakowiak, op. 14 as well as performing improvisations) were a tremendous success with the public although there was some criticism of his performance for its small volume of sound. Through his performances, which enthralled audiences, he was acclaimed as a genius of the piano and his compositions were praised for being highly technical and poetically expressive. He was so well received, that a Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger printed the Variations on a theme from Mozart which he played in his two opening performances. This was his first publication of Chopin’s composition abroad.

Over the next few years, he gave several performances in Poland, Germany, Austria and Paris.

Chopin – A success in Paris:

While he was on the way to Paris, he got news of the November Uprising and the capture of Warsaw by the Russians. He was very shaken with this development and on reaching Paris in the autumn of 1831, he met several of his countrymen who had become exiled due to the Russian occupation including participants of the armed struggle, politicians, representatives of Polish culture etc. Chopin made close contacts with the so-called Great Emigration, befriended its leader Prince Adam Czartoryski and became a member of the Polish Literary Society, which he supported financially. He attended émigré meetings, played at charity concerts held for poor émigrés and several such events.

In February 1832, the French Pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner, who was called the “King of the Piano”, organized a concert for Chopin in the Salle Pleyel. Chopin’s success as a musician in Paris was tremendous and he was signed by several publishing firms, including Schlesinger in Paris, Probst and Breitkopf in Leipzig, and Wessel in London.

While living in Paris, he became a popular member of the local musical milieu several of whom, including several young composers Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn, Ferdinand Hiller, Vincenzo Bellini, Berloiz and Auguste Franchomme were his personal friends.

A chance meeting with the Rothschild family opened up new opportunities for him. He soon found employment in the leading parlors of Paris, both as a recitalist and a teacher. He was a popular teacher among the Polish and French aristocracy and Parisian salons where he gave his performances. His increased income led him to live well. During this period, he composed pieces such as Nocturnes of Opp.9 and 15, the Scherzo in B-flat minor, Op. 31 and the Sonata in B-flat minor, Op.35.

Having settled down in Paris, he chose the status of an émigré, although his family was of French descent. He defied the Tsarist Russia’s regulations being imposed upon Poland and became a political refugee in Paris and could not visit Poland anymore. He met his family only in 1835 when they came to Karlsbad, outside Poland. While in Paris, he stayed with Aleksander Hoffman, another Polish exile.

His affairs with Maria Wodzinski and George Sand:

He had a brief affair with Maria Wodzinski to whom he got engaged , but as Chopin was taken ill, the marriage was called off on account of his illness by Maria’s parents. He was terribly dejected and kept the Wodzinski letters in a bundle marked “My sorrow”.

In 1837, he travelled to London in the company of Camille Pleyel in the hope of forgetting Maria Wodzinski. Here, in 1838, he met the successful French novelist Aurore Dedevant, (going by the penname George Sand) with whom he began an affair. She was a divorcee with two children and six years older than Chopin.

During 1838-1839, George Sand’s & Chopin’s affair flourished when they stayed on the Spanish island of Majorca, living in a former monastery in Valdemosa. Due to unfavourable weather conditions, Chopin contracted tuberculosis and became seriously ill and for many weeks, he was so weak that he stayed inside the house. Nevertheless, he worked extensively and composed a number of masterpieces: the series of 24 preludes, the Polonaise in C minor, the Ballade in F major and the Scherzo in C sharp minor.

In March 1839, on realising that Chopin needed expert medical attention, George Sand took him to Marseilles where he underwent treatment for tuberculosis, which left him considerably weakened in health.

In May 1939, Frederic and George settled south of Paris in Nohant, in Central France, Sand’s manor house.

From 1839 to 1846, he had the happiest and most productive period of his life after he had left his family home in Poland. During the next seven years, Frederic composed a Series of masterpieces, including the B Minor Sonata, the Opus 55 Nocturnes and the Opus 56 Mazurkas. His works were greatly appreciated and brought him an increased income and an elegant lifestyle.

While in Paris, George & Frederic were treated as a married couple, although they never got married. They had several common friends in artistic circles of Paris including the painter Delacroix, singer Pauline Viardot, as well as several Polish émigrés.

Nevertheless, George’s son’s hostile attitude towards Chopin created a rift between the happy couple. The final straw in their relationship was when in 1846, Sand published her novel “Lucrezia Floriani” whose main protagonists, a rich actress and a prince in weak health, closely resembled Sand and Chopin, the storyline being extremely uncomplimentary to Chopin.

 By 1848, his affair with George Sand to an irreconcilable end.

Leaving George Sand and Nohant had a devastating effect on Chopin’s mental & physical health and his health deteriorated once again, his behavior became erratic and he suffered possibly due to an undiagnosed form of epilepsy. He gave up compositions and wrote only a few miniatures, till the end of his life.

Brief tour of England & Scotland:
In April 1848, broken in spirit and health, Chopin left for England and Scotland and performed in concerts and visited several localities, at the instance of his Scottish pupil Jane Stirling, the strenuous activity and the English climate having a deleterious effect on his health.

In one of his performances at Stafford House, the audience included Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Prince Albert, himself a talented musician, moved closer to the keyboard to look at Chopin’s technique.

On 16.11.1848, he gave his last performance in the Guildhall in London while playing for Polish émigrés.

Death and Legacy:

Thereafter, he returned to Paris, and his health deteriorated rapidly.

In the summer of 1849, his eldest sister travelled from Warsaw to Paris, to take care of him.

On 17.10.1849, Chopin died of pulmonary tuberculosis in his flat in the Place Vendome at the age of thirty-eight.

He was buried in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris and in accordance with his will, his heart was brought by his sister to Warsaw, where it was placed in an urn in a pillar of the Holy Cross church in Krakowskie Przedmiscie.

His tombstone features the Muse of music “Euterpe” weeping over a broken lyre sculpted by Auguste Clesinger, the fiancé of George Sand’s daughter. The expenses of the funeral and the monument amounting to about 5000 francs were covered by Jane Stirling, who also paid for the return of Chopin’s sister to Warsaw.

Over 230 of Chopin’s works survive today.

Having been taught music in the traditions of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Clementi, he used Clementi’s piano technique and  was inspired by Bach and Mozart.

During the earlier period of his work, influences of Polish folk music and Italian opera are visible. His melodic lines were increasingly reminiscent of the modes and features of the music of Poland. He took the new salon genre of the nocturne invented by the Irish composer John Field to a greater level of sophistication.

 He was the first to write ballads and scherzi as individual concert pieces. He essentially established a new genre with his own set of free-standing preludes and exploited the poetic potential of the concept of the concert etude already being developed in the 1820s and 1830s by eminent composers.

He endowed popular dance forms with a greater range of melody and expression. His mazurkas while originating from the traditional Polish dance, the “mazurek” differed from the traditional variety in that they were written for the concert hall rather than the dance hall.

The series of seven polonaises published during his lifetime and nine posthumously, set a new standard for music in this form. His waltzes were written specifically for the salon recital rather than the ballroom and are frequently at rather faster tempos than their dance-floor equivalents. Improvisation was the hallmark of Chopin’s creative processes.

As a pianist, he was ranked among the greatest artists of his time, but he had a dislike for public performances and appeared in them unwillingly. However, in friendly, intimate gatherings, he displayed supreme artistry and the full range of his pianistic and expressive talents.

Lotnisko Chopina w Warszawie” (meaning “Warsaw Chopin Airport”), formerly called “Port Lotniczy Warszawa-Okecie” (or “Warsaw-Okicei Airport”) is an International Airport which is named after him.

The Commemorative Banknote issued by “Naradowy Bank Polski” (National Bank of Poland) in 2010 on the occasion of the 200th Birth Anniversary of Chopin:  

 The Front of the 20 Zloty commemorative Banknote, depicted a portrait of Frederic Chopin in profile. On the left hand side of the portrait is an image of the manor house in Zelezowa Wola, where the composer was born. On the right hand side, there is a reproduction of the first edition of “Mazurka in B-flat major, Op.7, No.1” and the autograph of the composer. On the top of the Banknote is mentioned the name of the issuing Bank “Narodowy Bank Polski” (meaning “National Bank of Poland”). Steel engraving technique has been used on the Banknote. The Banknote is dated “WARSZAWA 19 MARCA 2009 r” (meaning “Warsaw, 19th March 2009). The denomination of the Banknote is mentioned as “DWADZIESCIA ZLOTYCH” (meaning “Twenty Zloty”). In the top left, on the right side of the name of the Bank is the “White Eagle” (“Orzel Bialy” in Polish) Emblem/Coat of Arms of Poland.

 The Back of the 20 Zloty commemorative Banknote bears a facsimile of a fragment of “Etude in F-minor, Op.10, No.9” against a landscape of willows, which are characteristic of Central Poland region.

 The designers of this Banknote are Grzegorz Pfeifer and Katarzyna Jarnuszkiewicz. The engraving of Chopin’s portrait has been done by Przemyslaw Krajewski, hand engraving artist at the Polish Security Printing Works, which has printed this Banknote. The size of this Banknote is 138 x 69 mm. On the upper right is mentioned “BANKNOTY EMITOWANE PRZEZ NARODOWY BANK POLSKI SA PRAWNYM SRODKIEM PLATNICZYM W POLSCE” (meaning “BANKNOTES ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL BANK OF POLAND ARE LEGAL TENDER/REMEDY FOR PAYMENTS IN POLAND”).


1) Currency & Coinage of Poland : Zloty & Grosz.

2) Honouring Marie Curie : A 20 Zlotych Banknote issued in her honour on the centenary of her winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911.


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