Last year, on November 11, 2018, Poland celebrated its centennial since being restored as a nation in 1918.
My favorite composer, Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849), never was able to experience his homeland's independence, but he remains the musical voice of it.
I will be sharing some thoughts on how his music has so greatly influenced my own composing and musical outlook.
(By the way, let me add my voice to those who are horrified by some of the leaders in the current Polish government who are trying to deny any compliance by some Poles in the holocaust. Like any other nation that fell under the control of the third reich, there were both heroes and villains, and to deny the latter is outrageous. It's certainly causing pause for some of us who would have otherwise been more inclined to celebrate the centennial here in the USA.)
By the way, you are looking at the only known photograph of Chopin. (There are also two surviving daguerreotypes that are probably his image, but that has not been completely verified.)
Perhaps it's obvious that he was already fairly sick by this point, and didn't have very long to live. He died a few months later.
We can only imagine what brilliant gems of music he would have produced in his forties and beyond, but he sure left us a rich trove of treasures as it was. He still is the greatest composer for the piano, and I don't think you'll find too many pianists who would argue that point.
I was just recently informed that Chopin was the first composer to use the term rubato in written music in 1820. (What piece he wrote it for is still being checked.) This hallmark term of primarily the romantic era and beyond that allows for flexibility in the rhythm of the melody is a big part of why there is no single one way to play Chopin.
If I had only one hour of music to listen to, I would choose Chopin's two sets of twelve etudes, Op. 10 & Op. 25, preferably Maurizio Pollini, or Murray Perahia. Not only do they represent some amazing technical mastery of the piano, but they are absolutely beautiful to listen to.
There has been a handful of theories about why Chopin wrote more than twice as many mazurkas as any of his other genres. They certainly weren't his most popular ones. (That would be the nocturnes.)
Some think that he was recalling some positive childhood memories, maybe of watching villagers dance the various forms of the mazurka (the mazur, the kujawiak (slow), and the oberek (fast)), or perhaps watching his mother play them on the piano. There may be an element of truth to both, or something similar, but I also have another idea.
As a composer, I sometimes need a particular genre to "start the engine", so to speak, to get the creativity flowing. For me, it's often waltzes on the piano. Perhaps for Chopin, it may have been mazurkas that were the easier entry point back into being on a roll.