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Chasing Chopin

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Member Reviews

Most people would recognize Chopin's "Funeral March," even if they didn't know its composer. But this novel tells the surprisingly complex story behind it, detailing three years of Chopin's life that were marked by personal and political change as well as the development of musical technology. As the introduction notes:
"The Frédéric Chopin Annik LaFarge presents here is not the melancholy, sickly, romantic figure so often portrayed. The artist she discovered is, instead, a purely independent spirit: an innovator who created a new musical language, an autodidact who became a spiritually generous, trailblazing teacher, a stalwart patriot during a time of revolution and exile..." Someone like this, naturally, has some stories to tell.

LaFarge presents many interesting contrasts of joy and grief, hope and despair, and yet the question she poses about Opus 35 (the Funeral March) ultimately seems to go unanswered--why does it resonate with so many people instantly, at first hearing?

Nonetheless, this is a fascinating window into the relationship between two brilliant but different artistic personalities, Chopin and George Sand, and into the former's creative process. There is even a companion website, whychopin.com, to help you locate the pieces being discussed and listen to them.

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to review a temporary digital ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
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We've all heard the music of Chopin but few of us know the story of the man himself - this book tells the story of a brief but important time period of his life that you likely don't know anything about. You'll get new insight into the music the next time you hear it. As a former piano player, I really enjoyed learning the story of some of the songs I played.
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This is a very interesting, readable book with a fairly extensive bibliography that seems to be part-way between biography and travel writing. Despite my near-complete lack of any background in music, I found it easy to understand and enjoy the descriptions of music--and the availability of the companion website made it that much more accessible.

I went into reading this book with an understanding of Chopin as a symbol of Polish national identity far more than of his work as a pianist and composer--as a Polish American who has had some proximity to the cultural side of American Polonia, having some exposure to Chopin in this context is likely inevitable. The book’s narrative seems to approach Chopin almost from the opposite direction, predicting that the reader is familiar with Chopin first as a piano composer and second as a feature of Polish identity worldwide; I suspect that for such a reader, the way the author deals with Chopin-and-Poland would be just as readable and understandable as I found her approach to Chopin-and-piano-music.

There are places in the narrative where it briefly becomes more a story about someone else (the Marquis de Custine for a while, George Sand fairly regularly), but I don't consider that really a weakness--it is important context, and it is interesting.

All in all, it's a really interesting look at Chopin's impact on many people around the world both during his life and well after his death, but also at how Chopin's world shaped him.

I received an electronic copy of this book free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Hooray for Annik LaFarge for giving us Chasing Chopin! I was transported into another time and place, immersed in gorgeous piano music, and enthralled by the unlikely romance story.

LaFarge uses Frédéric Chopin's music to reveal the history of his beloved home country of Poland, a country only in spirit during his lifetime.

Plagued by tuberculosis, Chopin preferred to play in small venues and publish his music. At a time when Berlioz's bellicose works for large orchestras and opera were esteemed as the highest musical art forms, Chopin remained true to writing for the piano, an instrument still in development.

On first sight, Chopin thought George Sand unattractive. Their next meeting they fell in love. Their relationship traversed from lovers to estrangement.

After every chapter I turned to the companion site WhyChopin where I listened to the music discussed in that chapter. LaFarge offers a variety of artists on instruments contemporary and from Chopin's time. I personally loved hearing the music on Chopin's preferred Pleyel pianos.

I loved this book for so many reasons: because I love piano music; for learning more about author George Sand; for the insight into the history of Poland; and the portrait of the Romantic Era.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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