LaFarge delves passionately into the history and culture—up to the present day—surrounding Chopin's legendary Opus 35 sonata, whose third movement contains “the world’s most famous funeral march.”
In a singular work combining historical research and personal and musical passion, the author, who is also an accomplished pianist, demonstrates how Opus 35 encapsulated many components of the brief and stormy life (1810-1849) of its composer. Exiled from his native Poland, the innovative young pianist, teacher, and composer set out on a series of “peregrinations” throughout Europe, finally settling in the piano capital of the world, Paris, where he was swept off his feet by author George Sand. As LaFarge makes abundantly clear, Chopin’s time living with Sand and her family deeply informed his best work. Both artists were visionaries in their chosen mediums: Sand effectively challenged the misogynistic literary formulas of her day, and Chopin pioneered a distinct style via a diligent search for a new tone, made possible by the technological advances in the piano at the time. LaFarge is at her best writing about the techniques of piano playing, and while certain passages will be challenging for nonmusicians, the author points to an accompanying website, whychopin.com, which offers a host of relevant musical selections for each chapter of the book. Moreover, the author embarked on the requisite pilgrimages to the lovers' haunts in Majorca, Paris, and Nohant, Sand's country estate in central France, where Chopin completed his sonata. In addition to her engaging history, LaFarge energetically pursues Chopin's continued influence on musicians today—especially jazz musicians, who have relished his liberating style, best described by Sand as a unique combination of "severity and grace, melancholy and magnificence.” Indeed, it’s apparent that Chopin endures today, “as fresh, inspiring, and inventive as ever.”
A seamless blend of the musical and literary verve, with just enough research to ground and elucidate.