HarperPress, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop : 08430 600 030
Chopin: Prince of the Romantics, By Adam Zamoyski
Composer's life hits the high notes
Wednesday 07 April 2010
Fryderyk Chopin was born in Warsaw 200 years ago. By the time of his death from tuberculosis in 1849, the virtuoso and composer seemed to float gracefully above his troubled age. He came to resemble a musical "angel", "too fine, too exquisite, too perfect" for this crude world, as his great love, and great torment, the feminist novelist George Sand, once expressed it.
Adam Zamoyski's bicentenary biography brings the angel down to earth without quite banishing his fey allure. As ever, the historian writes with absolute assurance about the politics and culture of his ancestral homeland. Zamoyski's narrative reveals an ambitious and even calculating piano prodigy. Young Chopin fast absorbed Poland's "new national idiom", a blend of folk customs and chivalric idealism. Soon he channelled this Polish "sound" into a trademark piano style.
It enchanted Europe. After 1831, Chopin lived, a celebrity exile, in Paris. He composed and performed in "the kitchen of the Romantic movement", abetted by a galaxy of fellow-chefs: Liszt, Berlioz, Heine, Delacroix, and Sand herself. What a mad duet Zamoyski records! Much more mother-son interdependence than sexual passion, their partnership staggered on through six years of mutual manipulation. Yet this odd coupling gave a charming but controlling "spoilt child" the platform on which he built mature works of ever more finesse, panache and originality.
Zamoyski recounts the private life, and public events, with ringing authority. He never seeks to analyse this elusively "intimate" work at length. Instead, he quotes the cloudy critical rhetoric of Chopin's peers, with their rainbows and moonbeams and piano-playing like "the sighing of a flower". So the music itself slips between the staves of history. The publisher should have included access to downloads from Chopin's supreme interpreters, such as Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich or Krystian Zimerman. Then this fine anniversary account might have ended with the flourish it deserves.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 AirAsia flight QZ8501 missing: Search for plane carrying 162 passengers from Indonesia to Singapore suspended overnight
- 5 Naomi Wolf reacts to Isis 'conspiracy theories' critism after she questions whether beheading videos are real
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The golden age of TV comedy is here
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
From Marvel to Star Wars: The rise of cinema’s shared universes
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk