Crudely assembled and a stylistic funhouse, the Figaro music critic's biography of the Polish-French composer-performer who...

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CHOPIN

Crudely assembled and a stylistic funhouse, the Figaro music critic's biography of the Polish-French composer-performer who ""did nothing less than create modern piano"" is nonetheless an arresting document. Relegating the music appreciation to a breezy, non-technical, piece-by-piece appendix (""Slavic genius or French genius? We will answer: universal genius. . .""), Gavoty embraces Chopin with Gallic fervor--defending him from enemies, sharing his salon and concert-hall triumphs, often attempting to enter his mind, paraphrase his thoughts, and suffer with him through those traumatic moments: the night in Stuttgart when news of the Polish insurrection unhinged him (""Misery without escape, merciless funeral march, abyss of pain!""); the separation from Sand; the ravages of tuberculosis (""Let us examine Chopin, as the doctors should have done. . .""). Not that Gavoty is blind to Frycek's faults. ""Difficult and fussy"" and ""the least eclectic man ever,"" ""no one is less male than our Frederic Chopin,"" since he wrote near-erotic letters to chums, always hesitated in romance long enough to lose out, and wound up in ""arms like the hooked claws of a preying mantis,"" the arms of that ""born liar,"" George Sand. ""We must try to be equitable"" to Sand, Gavoty avers, but he soon joins those who make her the villainess of the Chopin story, a spiritual transsexual (""Sand a woman? Come now!"") who mothered and smothered her ""Chip-Chip"" on Mallorca and her Nohant estate, used him up, and found excuses to dump him before his slow death. ""She kept up an insane correspondence with every Tom, Dick, and Harry,"" and Gavoty virulently annotates her letters, which--along with those of Balzac, Pauline Viardot, Delacroix, and Frederic himself (despite his ""instinctive horror of pen and paper"")--give this book its drive. Its drawbacks: the failure to integrate man and music; uncoordinated digressions (""How can we think of Chopin without thinking of Marcel Proust?""); rambling footnotes (""Speaking of pathology--was Chopin schizophrenic, schizoid, or merely psychasthenic?""); listmaking; cliches; and excesses, like the embarrassing envoi: ""The suffering is over for you. . . ."" Still, as Sand said, ""Can one complain as long as the heart lives?"" And the heart is here, so Chopin lives.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1977

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Scribners

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1977