Chopin arrived in Paris in late September 1831, still uncertain whether he would settle there for good. In fact he would never return to Poland, becoming one of many expatriates of the Polish Great Emigration. In February 1832 Chopin gave a concert that garnered universal admiration. The influential musicologist and critic François-Joseph Fétis wrote in Revue musicale: “Here is a young man who, taking nothing as a model, has found, if not a complete renewal of piano music, then in any case part of what has long been sought in vain, namely, an extravagance of original ideas that are unexampled anywhere…” Only three months earlier, in December 1831, Robert Schumann, reviewing Chopin’s Variations on “La ci darem la mano”, Op. 2 (variations on a theme from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni), had written: “Hats off, gentlemen! A genius.”

After his Paris concert début in February 1832, Chopin realized that his light-handed keyboard technique was not optimal for large concert spaces. However, later that year he was introduced to the wealthy Rothschild banking family, whose patronage opened doors for him to other private salons.

In Paris, Chopin found artists and other distinguished company, as well as opportunities to exercise his talents and achieve celebrity, and before long he was earning a handsome income teaching piano to affluent students from all over Europe. He formed friendships with Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Vincenzo Bellini, Ferdinand Hiller, Felix Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Eugène Delacroix, Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, Alfred de Vigny, and Charles-Valentin Alkan.

Though an ardent Polish patriot, in France he used the French versions of his given names and traveled on a French passport, possibly to avoid having to rely on Imperial Russian documents. The French passport was issued on 1 August 1835, after Chopin had become a French citizen.

In Paris, Chopin seldom performed publicly. In later years he generally gave a single annual concert at the Salle Pleyel, a venue that seated three hundred. He played more frequently at salons – social gatherings of the aristocracy and artistic and literary elite – but preferred playing at his own Paris apartment for small groups of friends. His precarious health prevented his touring extensively as a traveling virtuoso, and beyond playing once in Rouen, he seldom ventured out of the capital. His high income from teaching and composing freed him from the strains of concert-giving, to which he had an innate repugnance. Arthur Hedley has observed that “As a pianist Chopin was unique in acquiring a reputation of the highest order on the basis of a minimum of public appearances—few more than thirty in the course of his lifetime.”

In 1835 Chopin went to Carlsbad, where, for the last time in his life, he met with his parents. En route through Saxony on his way back to Paris, he met old friends from Warsaw, the Wodzińskis. He had made the acquaintance of their daughter Maria, now sixteen, in Poland five years earlier, and fell in love with the charming, intelligent, artistically talented young woman. The following year, in September 1836, upon returning to Dresden after having vacationed with the Wodzińskis at Marienbad, Chopin proposed marriage to Maria. She accepted, and her mother Countess Wodzińska approved in principle, but Maria’s tender age and Chopin’s tenuous health (in the winter of 1835–1836 he had been so ill that word had circulated in Warsaw that he had died) forced an indefinite postponement of the wedding. The engagement remained a secret to the world and never led to the altar. Chopin finally placed the letters from Maria and her mother in a large envelope, on which he wrote the Polish words “Moja bieda” (“My sorrow”).

Chopin’s feelings for Maria left their traces in his Waltz in A-flat major, “The Farewell Waltz”, Op. 69, No. 1, written on the morning of his September departure from Dresden. On his return to Paris, he composed the Étude in F minor, the second in the Op. 25 cycle, which he referred to as “a portrait of Maria’s soul.” Along with this, he sent Maria seven songs that he had set to the words of Polish Romantic poets Stefan Witwicki, Józef Zaleski and Adam Mickiewicz.

After Chopin’s matrimonial plans ended, Polish countess Delfina Potocka appeared episodically in Chopin’s life as muse and romantic interest. He dedicated to her his Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, the famous “Minute Waltz”.

During his years in Paris, Chopin participated in a small number of public concerts. The list of the programs’ participants provides an idea of the richness of Parisian artistic life during this period. Examples include a concert on 23 March 1833, in which Chopin, Liszt and Hiller performed J. S. Bach’s concerto for three keyboards; and, on 3 March 1838, a concert in which Chopin, his pupil Adolphe Gutman, Alkan, and Alkan’s teacher Pierre Joseph Zimmerman performed Alkan’s arrangement, for eight hands, of Beethoven’s 7th symphony.

Chopin was also involved in the composition of Liszt’s Hexaméron; Chopin’s was the sixth (and last) variation on Bellini’s theme.