CHOPIN: The Reluctant Romantic by Jeremy Siepmann

CHOPIN: The Reluctant Romantic

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A short biography of the Polish composer and piano virtuoso, seasoned with nontechnical musical discussion. Entering a not overcrowded field, at least in English, Siepmann (director of music at Bruern Abbey) has here designed a compact ""life and works"" of the genius of the polonaise, mazurka, and waltz. Siepmann argues persuasively that Chopin's (1810-49) continued popularity has had the perverse effect of obscuring his known personality--thoughtful, mordantly witty, and not as representative of his era as one might imagine--behind a Hollywood-lit gauze of ""Romanticism."" Unfortunately, even uncritical readers will balk at some sloppy historical analysis (""In 1825 Russia was the last bastion of old-fashioned stability in Europe, though even she was not immune to change"") and much prose in need of rewriting (""Sand's sexual appetite demanded some form of release, and it was during this period that she found solace between the sheets. . .""). If you can stand this sort of thing and are not afraid to accept Siepmann's discussion of Chopin's music for what it is--one man's opinion, not gospel--this is a useful volume. The author is best when he lets the characters speak for themselves, which he does often. Siepmann also offers some interesting if not fully explored arguments, including a refutation of Bart¢k's canard that Chopin did not really concern himself with genuine folk music. Best of all, as appendices, are a selective discography of legendary Chopin performers from Vladimir de Pachmann (born in 1848, the year before Chopin died at age 39, but who lived well into the electrical recording era) to the magisterial Maurizio Pollini and the young Evgeny Kissin, as well as a fascinating round-table ""symposium"" on Chopin created from the author's interviews with nine leading contemporary concert pianists. If these features lead the Chopin novice to further exploration, Siepmann's literary smudges will merit forgiveness.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1995
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Northeastern Univ.