Though a genius when composing for the piano, Chopin wasn't a natural when it came to writing for the orchestra. The two piano concertos, composed in 1829-30 before he left his native Warsaw, serve primarily as vehicles for piano virtuosity. Berlioz, in particular, criticised his use of the orchestra as 'nothing but a cold and almost useless accompaniment'.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 was performed at Chopin's first big concert at Warsaw's National Theatre on 17 March 1830. The concert was such a success it had to be repeated, the audience delighted by the combination of Polish folk material and astonishing piano virtuosity.
Chopin later revealed that the larghetto of the concerto was composed while he was in love with a young singer at the conservatory, Konstancia Gladkowska. It's not hard to see the effect his passion had on the writing of this movement.
The finale, like the First Piano Concerto, is based on a Polish folk dance. Listen for the string players using the wood of their bows to produce a rattling accompaniment (col legno).
Since all that survives of Chopin is the brilliant music that he wrote, it's all too easy to forget that he was also a great performer. He wrote difficult and innovative music so that he could perform it himself.
Chopin’s father was a French schoolteacher, and his mother was Polish. He grew up in Warsaw, Poland, and studied music as a child, and then at the Warsaw Conservatory between 1826 and 1829. He had already published several pieces of music, and during 1829 and 1830 he became well-known as a pianist, giving concerts in Warsaw and Vienna. He composed almost all of his music for the piano (although sometimes with orchestral accompaniment). He tended to write his music actually at the piano, sometimes struggling to put his ideas onto paper. But he was unhappy in Poland and set off on a European tour, stopping in 1831 in Paris, one of the great musical centres of Europe.
Here, Chopin was praised as a musician by such composers as Liszt and Schumann , among others, and rapidly became famous. He played mostly for private audiences, although he did give a few public performances, and he was particularly known for his skill at improvising. He would use many of the musical ideas and styles from Polish folk music, and many of his compositions are directly linked to Polish dances and musical forms, such as the Mazurka. Chopin also established himself as a teacher, and many of his compositions were written to be used by his pupils, such as studies, preludes, waltzes, nocturnes, mazurkas and impromptus. These pieces are not perhaps as difficult as the larger-scale works he produced for concert performance, such as the scherzos, ballades, sonatas and the barcarolle, which were written for himself to perform.
Chopin was very inventive in the way he wrote music. While in form it was often quite simple - basically a tune and an accompaniment - it was often full of variation and interest. He used the sustaining pedal of the piano in a way which composers had not done before, and produced a delicacy both when playing and when composing which was considered highly innovative. This made it very popular, and his music was published in Paris, London and Leipzig. As a measure of Chopin’s popularity and fame, when he died of tuberculosis in 1849, 3,000 people attended his funeral.