About the time of Chopin’s arrival in Paris the political effervescence of the recent revolution had passed into art and letters. It was the oft-repeated battle of Romanticism against Classicism. There could be no truce between those who believed that everything must be fashioned after old models, that Procrustes must settle the height and depth, the length and breadth of art-forms, and those who, inspired with the new wine of liberty and free creative thought, held that the rule of form should always be the mere expression of the vital, flexible thought. The one side argued that supreme perfection already reached left the artist hope only in imitation; the other, that the immaterial beautiful could have no fixed absolute form. Victor Hugo among the poets, Delacroix among the painters, and Berlioz among the musicians, led the ranks of the romantic school.
Chopin found himself strongly enlisted in this contest on the side of the new school. His free, unconventional nature found in its teachings a musical atmosphere true to the artistic and political proclivities of his native Poland; for Chopin breathed the spirit and tendencies of his people in every fibre of his soul, both as man and artist. Our musician, however, in freeing himself from all servile formulas, sternly repudiated the charlatanism which would replace old abuses with new ones.
Chopin, in his views of his art, did not admit the least compromise with those who failed earnestly to represent progress, nor, on the other hand, with those who sought to make their art a mere profitable trade. With him, as with all the great musicians, his art was a religion—something so sacred that it must be approached with unsullied heart and hand. This reverential feeling was shown in the following touching fact: It was a Polish custom to choose the garments in which one would be buried. Chopin, though among the first of contemporary artists, gave fewer concerts than any other; but, notwithstanding this, he left directions to be borne to the grave in the clothes he had worn on such occasions.
Frederick Francis Chopin was born near Warsaw, in 1810, of French extraction. He learned music at the age of nine from Ziwny, a pupil of Sebastian Bach, but does not seem to have impressed any one with his remarkable talent except Madame Catalani, the great singer, who gave him a watch. Through the kindness of Prince Radziwill, an enthusiastic patron of art, he was sent to Warsaw College, where his genius began to unfold itself. He afterward became a pupil of the Warsaw Conservatory, and acquired there a splendid mastery over the science of music. His labor was prodigious in spite of his frail health; and his knowledge of contrapuntal forms was such as to exact the highest encomiums from his instructors.