Veteran music historian Marek brings style and balance, if not much passion, to this swiftly narrated, correspondence-heavy biography of the pianist-composer who has been sentimentalized, the author says, as ""the languid genius with the pale brow."" Marek sees Chopin instead as a revolutionary composer but a rather conservative, ""normal man""--not the neurotic, passive, essentially feminine man-child so often portrayed. ""No composer walked his way with firmer steps or lost himself on fewer side paths,"" says Marek, following FrÃ‰dÃ‰ric from idyllic childhood in Warsaw to struggles in Vienna to Paris, where he became the fashionable piano teacher and, swept up by society, burned the ""perfumed candle at both ends."" As for mysterious Delfina Potocka, Marek cautiously guesses that this much-debated relationship (forged letters, etc.) was indeed ""one of intimacy and love."" And George Sand is treated far more sympathetically here than in most evocations of the doomed Sand-Chopin pairing--""that muddy torrent of a writer and that clear brook of a composer."" Chopin was no weakling and certainly not impotent (till illness struck); Sand was no manipulative villainess. But, given their incompatibility, ""it is remarkable that the relationship lasted as long as it did."" This anti-romantic approach may well be the most accurate reflection of Chopin's short life; but dramatic it isn't. And, without drama, the pages of long, quoted letters become slightly tiresome. Marek's sober, skeptical contribution is a welcome addition--and his few comments on the music are engaging--but those in search of more than just the facts will probably prefer the melodramatic but enthralling excesses of Gavoty's Chopin (1977).