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He Left His Heart in Warsaw

"When the first notes of Chopin sound through the concert hall, there is a happy sigh of recognition. All over the world men and women know his music. They love it; they are moved by it," said Arthur Rubinstein, the famed Polish pianist. While the music belongs to everyone in the world, Chopin's heart always belonged to Warsaw.

It is in Warsaw that Fryderyk Chopin spent his youth, certainly most of the first 20 years of his life. He was born in Żelazowa Wola in the region of Masovia in 1810, where his father Nicolas Chopin, a Frenchman of distant Polish ancestry, had moved from in 1787; Nicolas then married a Pole, Justyna Krzyżanowska.

The family moved to Warsaw in October 1810. A child prodigy of great musical talent, Fryderyk Chopin soon gained a reputation as a "second Mozart" who composed his first two polonaises by the age of 7; he performed his first piano concert at the age of 8. It was in Warsaw that he got his education, including music lessons from Wojciech Żywny and then Wilhelm Würfel. He attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where his father was a professor, and then the Warsaw Conservatory, where he was taught by composer Jozef Elsner. In Warsaw, Chopin first heard Paganini play; the city is also where he met his first love, a singing student named Konstancja Gładkowska.

While giving concerts in Vienna in late 1830, Fryderyk learned about trouble at home: the November Uprising had begun. He decided not to return to Warsaw immediately but went on to Munich and Stuttgart (where news reached him of Poland's occupation by the Russian army), finally arriving in Paris—where most of the Polish political refugees had relocated—in 1831.

He never returned home. Chopin died in Paris in 1849 and is buried at Père-Lachaise Cemetery, where, according to legend, there has never been a day when flowers were not placed on his grave. At his own request, his heart was removed upon his death and sent in an urn to Warsaw, where it rests in the Church of the Holy Cross at Krakowskie Przedmieście.

Updated: 2014-01-28

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