Happy 210th Birthday Chopin! Or not?

The music of Frédéric Chopin will sound in Warsaw for the next several days in celebration of the 210th birthday of the beloved composer. The Festival begins on February 22nd and will end on March 1st.

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The two dates have not been chosen at random. To this day, historians have not been able to establish for certain whether the birthday candles for the composer should be lit on February 22nd or March 1st.

February 22nd is mentioned in the earliest biography of Chopin, based on the composer’s baptism certificate, which was issued on April 23, 1810. However, nowadays, historians increasingly recognise March 1st as Chopin’s date of birth, because this date was quoted by Chopin himself in a letter addressed to the Literary Society of Paris.

At some point, the year of Chopin’s birth (1810) was also called into question, due to the inscription that appeared on the plaque marking the resting place of Chopin’s heart, located in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. The plaque mentioned 1809 as the year of the composer’s birth. However, this could have just been a mistake on the part of the then parish-priest.

Biographical anecdotes

Additionally, the biography of Frédéric Chopin, as with many biographies of genius artists, abounds in apocryphal stories. For example, since the museum of Chopin’s birthplace in Żelazowa Wola near Warsaw was, in the 1920s, remodelled in the fashion of a traditional manor house of the Polish nobility (the so-called polski dworek), the popular belief is that the composer was born in such a house. The truth is that Chopin was born in an outbuilding of the manor house, as Frédéric’s father was employed by a noble family owning the property as a French teacher for their children.

Another story refers to Chopin’s ability to charm his audience. Apparently, when Chopin attended school, a teacher asked him to play the piano to help calm down a classroom full of rowdy boys. There is even a painting depicting Chopin playing the piano, while a group of schoolboys are asleep or resting at their desks.

Chopin’s passion for playing music is reflected in another anecdotal story referring to the time when he was an organist in one of Warsaw's churches. According to the story, once young Frédéric began playing, he would forget about the world and the fact that the priest needed to celebrate the mass.

“This story would be believable, if not for the fact that exactly the same anecdote, just located in Leipzig, was included in the biography of Johannes Sebastian Bach, written by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. These are just stories that are attributed to many musicians. Whether they are true, we don’t know, but these legends circulate”, concluded Paweł Bień, educator from The Fryderyk Chopin Institute.

We might never know for sure the exact date of Frédéric Chopin’s birthday, however it gives us a good reason to celebrate the exceptional composer and his intensely Polish music for several days every year.