Who Was Frédéric Chopin?

Examine Frédéric Chopin’s revolutionary style of composing and his influence on classical music.

Jun 9, 2023By Klejton Cikaj, MSc in Social Philosophy, BA Philosophy

who was frederic chopin


Frédéric Chopin was a Polish composer who revolutionized the ways in which music was written and played. Born in 1810, Chopin challenged a lot of musical conventions of his time and managed to create his own unique sound. He was innovative and creative. An acclaimed maestro of the piano, Chopin would become one of the most influential musicians of the Romantic era. His music is transcendental, reaching far beyond its time.


Frédéric Chopin’s Musical Revolution

chopin playing radziwill family
Chopin concert by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1887, via Wikimedia Commons


Chopin is by no doubt, a household name in the fields of classical and Romantic music. The composer transformed and revolutionized music in ways that kept influencing composers for a long time. His pieces manage to perfectly capture the sublime and the harmonious. His music feels transcendental, cosmic, and stellar.


Chopin’s striking originality can immediately be sensed when hearing the first few notes. You don’t have to be an expert in musical theory or composition to hear that his unique style differs from the rest. His music stands out. Notes feel both excessive and unavoidable at the same time. Whilst most composers wrote their pieces in dialogue with others, Chopin’s music was inspired by other forms of art like literature and painting.


Chopin’s Piano

frederic chopin last piano
Chopin’s last piano (1848-1849) by Adrian Grycuk, 2012, via Wikimedia Commons


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A large majority of Chopin’s compositions only make use of a single instrument: the piano. Despite the one-dimensional sound that one instrument offers, Chopin makes up for it with his virtuosity. His pieces are incredibly complex and difficult to play. He doesn’t endlessly repeat progressions and his musical structure is unpredictable. Chopin’s unique style of composition is also referred to by its own name, Chopinism.


As a style of composition, Chopinism puts the lyrical and melodic elements of music at the forefront, sacrificing the harmonic and structural dimensions. This particular tradeoff played a crucial role in setting Chopin apart from other composers. Listening to his pieces today, one gets the feeling that all the notes fall just about right, in perfect symmetry. No note seems out of place. Every note compliments the other, like dominoes causing each other to fall down, creating a mesmerizing aura of sound. Chopin completely revolutionized the ways in which music was played and written. His pieces were unique and he wasn’t afraid of experimenting and going beyond the conventional ways of doing things.



frederic chopin piano Keys
Piano Keys by Rukma Pratista, 2018, via Unsplash


Chopin’s innovative style of composing music was characterized by an emphasis on lyricism, expressive melodies, and a unique approach to harmony. He was one of the first composers to use the expressive musical language of chromaticism and modulations, used to add emotional depth and complexity. His music is intricate and can often be difficult to follow along.


This is in full contrast to the music of many other composers. If you were to try, you could probably hum the melody to a Bach or Mozart piece. With Chopin, you’d need some professional training to be able to pull that off. Chopin rarely used short catchy melodies because they limited his style and ability to improvise.


Chopin was a master of the piano and his music has a certain reputation for its technically demanding piano writing. He was particularly renowned for his use of rubato, or the alteration of tempo and expressive phrasing, which he employed to great emotional effect. His music also featured a wide range of forms, from the traditional mazurkas, waltzes, and nocturnes to the more complex and innovative forms of the ballades, preludes, and sonatas.


Free Floating Composition

frederic chopin portrait
Frederic Chopin by Hadi Karimi, 2021, via hadikarimi.com


Unlike most composers of his era, Chopin mostly wrote solo piano pieces, rather than symphonies or operas. He wrote pieces that were technically difficult to play and that often had an improvisational element to them. This allowed him to explore new harmonic relationships and a variety of techniques. He was also known for his use of rubato, a type of tempo variation, as well as his use of chromaticism and frequent use of dissonance.


Listening to Chopin, you will notice that every phase and every progression feels like it’s floating in the atmosphere, only to get strapped down into a chain of progression after the next phase is determined. At once, it feels like his progressions could finish in a number of possible ways.


Gothic Inspiration

composer franz liszt
Portrait of Franz Liszt by Henri Lehmann, 1839, via Wikimedia Commons


Liszt described Chopin’s preludes as compositions of an order entirely apart that are not merely as the title would indicate introductions to other morceaux. Chopin’s works, especially his preludes, show some obvious Gothic inspirations. Liszt and another anonymous critic both mentioned that Chopin’s preludes elicited the same sensation as the poem Les Preludes by Lamartine. Chopin’s preludes have little in common with preludes composed previously by other musicians. They are more in touch with literary works of the time, especially those of Lamartine, than of any other preludes written before.


One of the very first elements that catches your ear when listening to Chopin’s pieces is the stark contrast in progression, the sudden calm, and the unexpected bursts of energy which create a wave-like feeling in the listener. The same style and contrast were prominent in Gothic writings of the time, especially in Lamartine’s poem. Chopin had a particular taste for macabre. He was fascinated with corpses, coffins, and skulls. This fascination can be observed in his compositions. He was attracted to death and the idea of his own eventual demise. During the time of his relationship with the writer George Sand, Chopin became obsessed with ghosts, graveyards, and other gothic symbols. This influence manifests itself in Chopin’s funeral marches and various preludes which seem to incorporate gothic elements.


Expression in Frédéric Chopin’s Work

frederic chopin museum
Ostrogski Castle in Warsaw and the Frederick Chopin Museum by Adrian Grycuk, 2022, via Wikimedia Commons


The emotional expression also radiates throughout Chopin’s pieces. The compositions are filled with raw energy and every note feels like it has something to say. Every phrase has a purpose and every progression points to a larger whole. In a single piece, Chopin could convey a wide range of emotions, swinging from one to the next, lifting you up and smashing you back down.


He often wrote pieces that were inspired by his own life experiences. He was inspired by his love of his homeland, his sorrow over his father’s death, and the joy he found in his marriage. This emotional quality was a major part of his compositions and made them stand out from the music of other composers of his era.


Chopin was very experimental at the time and his music was constantly breaking previously created conventions of musical composition. He made use of the mazurka, polonaise, and etude and utilized them to explore various feelings that he could provoke with a piano. He also used innovative structures in his piano concerts. These innovative forms and structures helped distinguish Chopin’s music from the music of other composers of the time.


composer sergei rachmaninoff
Portrait of Sergei Rachmaninoff by Kubey-Rembrandt Studios, 1921, via Wikimedia Commons


His radical approach to music writing wasn’t the only thing that set Chopin apart from others. He was also a virtuoso who could play incredibly demanding pieces. Like all musicians of his caliber, he was a child prodigy. Being able to write down notes is one thing but being able to play them as well as he did is another. His technical ability wasn’t behind his mental creativity. He was able to produce a wide range of sounds and textures for the piano and his technique was admired by other musicians.


Chopin was also known for his ability to improvise. His performances often featured improvised cadenzas and encores. This virtuosity allowed him to explore new musical ideas which further distinguished his music from that of other composers. It is difficult to appreciate how radical his music was at the time, mostly because his influence on other composers has been so immense that his unique sound eventually dispersed to other composers like Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Chopin’s ability to show different states of being, from divine happiness to existential turmoil, gives us access to the most intimate feelings of a genius almost 200 years later.

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By Klejton CikajMSc in Social Philosophy, BA PhilosophyKlejton holds an MSc in Social Philosophy from the University of Tirana in Albania. Klejton has a deep interest in all philosophy-related fields, from metaphysics to epistemology, to the philosophy of mind and politics. Klejton is dedicated to making the substance of philosophy accessible to regular readers without diminishing its quality.