cover image Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times

Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times

Alan Walker. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40 (762p) ISBN 978-0-3741-5906-1

Nineteenth-century pianist and composer Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849) emerges as a reserved, inward man who creates passionate music in this expansive, authoritative biography. Musicologist and biographer Walker (Franz Liszt) paints Chopin, who was born in Poland and spent his adult life in Paris, as frail, consumptive and fussy, with a polite but aloof manner, a dry wit, and an aversion to disruptions and tumults. Though a Polish patriot, he avoided involvement in Polish uprisings against imperial Russian and Prussian rule and the French revolutions of 1830 and 1848. The saga’s great adventure is Chopin’s years-long relationship with the cigar-chomping, cross-dressing, scandal-courting novelist George Sand; he at first considered her an “antipathetic woman,” but she seduced and then became a caregiver to the sickly musician. Walker sets Chopin’s life against a vivid re-creation of the culture of virtuoso piano-playing in 19th-century Paris, where Chopin’s music stood out for its unaffected delicacy amid the clanging histrionics of rivals. Chopin sometimes seems like a cold fish, but Walker manages to unearth a warm, intelligent soul that matches the sublime music he wrote. The study is packed with information and insightful analyses of Chopin’s major works that will interest professional musicians, and even nonspecialists will be entranced by Walker’s piquant storytelling and graceful prose. Photos. [em](Oct.) [/em]