A sensitively discerning examination of a 19th-century superstar.
Citing a proliferation of newly available material relating to Chopin (1810-1849), award-winning musicologist Walker (Emeritus, Music/McMaster Univ.; Hans von Bülow: A Life and Times, 2009, etc.) delivers a magnificent, elegantly written biography of the famed composer. Besides Chopin’s revealing correspondence and recollections of him by childhood friends, the author’s extensive sources include a 26-volume edition of George Sand’s letters as well as a groundbreaking biography of Sand, which illuminate the French writer’s liaison with Chopin; and two recent, richly detailed studies of Chopin’s family and youth in Warsaw. Although Walker admits that Chopin’s “life and music unfolded along parallel planes, with no point of intersection,” his findings amply support the contention that the composer’s works “are woven so closely into the fabric of his personality that the one becomes a seamless extension of the other.” Investigating his life and times, the author argues persuasively, illuminates “the conditions that aroused the creative process from its slumbers.” Chopin was a prodigy: Before he turned 8, he gave his first public concert, and by 12, he dispensed with lessons, developing into “a fully formed virtuoso” by age 19. Although he gave fewer than 20 public concerts, Chopin became renowned for the grace and sweetness of his technique. “The lightness with which those velvet fingers glide, or rather flit across the keyboard is astonishing,” one listener remarked. Chopin the man was hardly sweet: He coveted admiration, became terribly upset over any change to his daily routine, could be irritatingly demanding of friends, and, according to Sand, was “terrifying when angry.” But he was indisputably a genius whose composing process, wrote Sand, “was spontaneous, miraculous.” Walker authoritatively analyzes his compositions and closely examines his friendships, relationships with family, early loves, tormented affair with Sand, debilitating illnesses, and, above all, his desire to create “a new world” with his composing.
An absorbing biography unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon.