The idea of writing a set of pieces in all the keys was made famous by J.S. Bach in his 48 Preludes and Fugues. This set became the inspiration for many similar works, including Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues and Chopin's Etudes and this set of Preludes. This set is more that a technical exercise, however. Individually, the pieces display the full range of Chopin's compositional styles. As a whole it is a well balanced and structured set, the extremes of writing being carefully placed. The beautiful, lyrical yet dramatic 'Raindrop' prelude, so-called because of the repeated-note accompaniment, forms the central pivot of the set (no. 15). The journey ends with the virtuosic D minor prelude.
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.