Composer of the Month: Frederic Chopin


by Nathan Bessis

Welcome to Composer of the Month!

Each month, we celebrate the anniversary of a composer by highlighting their work and history, as well as giving you nice arrangements of some of the artist’s most iconic pieces that you can download directly into your Newzik library! This time, let’s talk about one of the greatest Polish composers of all times: Frederic Chopin.

We have prepared a dedicated setlist for our Premium users that contains all the scores that we will study in this article, so if you are already a Newzik Premium subscriber, go ahead and download it right away. If you are a free user, it’s best you download the pieces you want from our selection later in the article (mind the 15-file import limit of your free account). Subscribe to Newzik for unlimited import!

Finally, in case you’re not a Newzician yet, get Newzik for free on the App Store to download all our free sheet music from Chopin!

To skip this section about Chopin’s life and access the free scores directly…
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A few words about Frederic Chopin

Childhood and beginning of his career

Frederic Chopin was born on March 1, 1810 in Warsaw, Poland, from a French father and a Polish mother. At a very young age he began to study the piano and at the age of 8, only one year after his first lesson with Wojciech Zywny (also a violinist) he gave his first official concert at the Radziwill Palace.

He continued his training during his adolescence and finally joined the Warsaw Conservatory in 1826. He wrote his first sonata there only two years later, in 1828, with a perfectionism that later became his trademark. But it was in December 1829 that Chopin began to give his first paid performances.

He composed his first pieces in Poland, especially his 2 Piano Concertos (1830). In spite of a succession of concerts, in particularly the one of March 17, 1830 “Concerto in F minor” with which he made a strong impression, the young prodigy was forced to leave his country, reluctantly.

Indeed, in November 1830, an uprising began, violently repressed and led, at the end of 1831, to Russian Poland being brought to heel. Many members of the Polish army took refuge in France and other countries. It was thus under these tragic circumstances that Frédéric Chopin arrived in France, without being a direct refugee from the uprising.

A new beginning

After a short stint in Vienna, he arrived in Paris in 1831 where he was quickly successful. There he composed several works, mainly for piano, such as 55 Mazurkas, 27 Etudes, 24 Preludes (1838), 19 Nocturnes, 13 Polonaises and 3 Sonatas. Between 1830 and 1832 Chopin composed the Nocturnes (Op.9). A composition in 3 pieces for piano dedicated to his disciple Marie Pleyel, one of the most famous virtuoso pianists of the 19th century.

The distance from his native country undoubtedly exacerbated the composer’s nationalism and allowed works such as Etude op.10 n°12, “Revolutionary” to see the light of day. In Paris he quickly became a friend of musical personalities such as Liszt, Mendelssohn, Ferdinand Hiller, Berlioz and Auguste Franchomme, among others. After his highly successful tours in 1832, Frédéric Chopin ended up being one of the great names among the teachers in Paris.

“Simplicity is absolute success. After playing a large number of notes, more and more notes, simplicity emerges as a reward for art.”

Frederic Chopin

Between sickness and genius

In 1835, when he returned from a trip, his physical condition worsened and these were the first signs of his tuberculosis. Shortly afterwards, in 1836, he met the writer George Sand, and his relationship with the latter gave a social dimension to his stay in Paris.

While he is physically weak, it remains at this period of his life that his compositions will be at their most successful. The composer creates a music that is confusing by its colors and modulations, with a very complex writing. Chopin admired Bach, whose “Well-Tempered Clavier” he knew by heart and made his students work on it. It is in reference to this work that he wrote his 24 Preludes op. 28 in all the major and minor tones of the chromatic scale.

“Bach is an astronomer who discovers the most wonderful stars. Beethoven measures himself against the universe. Me, I seek only to express the soul and heart of man.”

Frederic Chopin

The end of his life

1847 marked the end of his passionate affair with the writer, a rupture that further weakened Chopin. He gave a last Parisian concert at Pleyel on November 16th and finally agreed to tour England in 1848, despite an alarming state of health. He returned to Paris exhausted and died surrounded by his friends on 17 October 1849.

“When heartache turns into disease, we are lost.”

Frédéric Chopin

And now, the music!

We selected some of our favorite pieces by Frederic Chopin and spent a little bit of time analyzing them. We also offer you free sheet music for all these tunes, so you can practice your instrument with Newzik! And don’t worry: even if Chopin mostly composed for the piano, we also found some arrangements for other instruments (guitar and violin).

Nocturne No.1 in B flat major

The Nocturnes (Op. 9) are a suite of lyrical and emotional pieces for the piano, composed between 1830 and 1832 which Chopin dedicated to her student Marie Pleyel, the spouse of his friend Camille Pleyel and one of the greatest pianists of the XIXth century.

The Nocturne No.1 is particularly remarkable and one of the most famous romantic pieces overall. A large melodic line, “bel canto” style, is accompanied by left hand arpeggios in spread voicing, at a larghetto tempo, which is reminiscent of the Nocturnes of John Field, which Chopin admired and whose music inspired him a lot.

While demanding, especially for beginners, this piece for piano remains accessible whatever your level as long as you’re willing to put some hard work into it.

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Nocturne No.20 in C# major

Chopin composed this work in 1830 for his older sister, Ludwika Chopin: “To my sister Ludwika, as an exercise before I begin the study of my second Concerto”. First published 26 years after the death of the composer, this piece is often called Lento con gran espressione because of its tempo. It is also called Reminiscence sometimes.

Among the famous interpretations of the piece, the one by Natalia Karp is especially touching. A detainee in the nazi camp of Amon Goeth during World War II, she played it for the nazi leaders of the camp who were so moved by her performance that they decided to spare Natalia’s life.

An expressive piece then, for which we offer you three arrangements: the original one for the piano of course, but also one for the violin, and a third one for the guitar. Pick the ones you want!

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Fantaisie Impromptue

The Fantaisie Impromptue is one of the most famous pieces for piano by Chopin, composed in 1835, but published only in 1855 by Chopin’s former assistant and pianist, Julian Fontana, 5 years after the death of the composer. As a matter of fact, Chopin himself didn’t want this work to be published at all!

That’s probably because of the similarities between this piece and “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven. Two bars after the entrance of the right hand, a rising line uses the exact same notes as the cadence of the last movement of “Moonlight Sonata”… The C# minor key, the tempo as well as the fourth and sixth degrees used during the climax are other analogies between the two pieces. Other comparisons can also be made with a work by Ignaz Moscheles composed in 1834, one year before the Fantaisie Impromptu… An inspired work by Chopin, to say the least.

Warm your finger up, because you will need all your dexterity to tackle this challenging piano part! To help you, we also included a MIDI accompaniment so that you can slow down the track and practice it before trying to play it at the original tempo.

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“3 Nouvelles Études”, No.1 in F minor

The Three New Piano Etudes are a contribution by Frédéric Chopin to the book Method of the Piano Methods by Ignaz Moscheles and François-Joseph Fétis, published in 1839. Although these studies do not reach the level of virtuosity of the composer’s Op.10 and Op.25, they are a good entry into Chopin’s repertoire for young pianists.

The Etude No.1, which we offer you here, is a good opportunity to work on your polyrhythm between the right and left hands: the piece constantly alternates between ternary and binary divisions, often superimposed. If you are not used to this composite rhythm, use the MIDI accompaniment provided with the score to familiarize your ear!

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Prelude No.4 Op.28 – “Suffocation”

Let’s conclude this episode of Composer of the Month with Chopin’s Prelude No. 4, often called “Suffocation” and published in 1839 along with the 23 other pieces making up the Romantic composer’s Preludes (Op. 28).

A piano piece darker than the previous ones, not unrelated to Chopin’s Funeral March, and in any case literally his own: in fact the work was played on an organ at his funeral. A piano score that we offer with his accompaniment, which can therefore be considered as the end point of Chopin’s musical epic. A good conclusion for this selection.

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We hope you liked this Composer of the Month and that you will have a great time practicing these tunes! See you next month for another episode of Composer of the Month!
Disclaimer: all the scores provided in this article were found online and all listed as either Public Domain or Creative Commons and encouraged to be shared freely by their creators. If you want to learn more about the best online sources for legally getting sheet music, go ahead and read this article. Also, if despite our best effort to respect the will of the original creators, you are one of these creators and disagree with our use of your work, please contact us.

Listen to this playlist while you read the article to put you in the right mood!