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Chopin: A New Biography

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The definitive biography of Chopin, by one of the finest of contemporary European historians. Two centuries have passed since Chopin's birth, yet his legacy is all around us today. The quiet revolution he wrought influenced the development of Western music profoundly, and he is still probably the most widely studied and revered composer. For many, he is the object of a cul The definitive biography of Chopin, by one of the finest of contemporary European historians. Two centuries have passed since Chopin's birth, yet his legacy is all around us today. The quiet revolution he wrought influenced the development of Western music profoundly, and he is still probably the most widely studied and revered composer. For many, he is the object of a cult. Yet most people know little of his life, of the man, his thoughts and his feelings; his public image is a sugary blur of sentimentality and melodrama. Adam Zamoyski cuts through the myths and legends to tell the story of Chopin's life, and to reveal all that can be discovered about him as a person. He pays particular attention to recent revelations about the composer's health, and places him within the intellectual and spiritual environment of his day.


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The definitive biography of Chopin, by one of the finest of contemporary European historians. Two centuries have passed since Chopin's birth, yet his legacy is all around us today. The quiet revolution he wrought influenced the development of Western music profoundly, and he is still probably the most widely studied and revered composer. For many, he is the object of a cul The definitive biography of Chopin, by one of the finest of contemporary European historians. Two centuries have passed since Chopin's birth, yet his legacy is all around us today. The quiet revolution he wrought influenced the development of Western music profoundly, and he is still probably the most widely studied and revered composer. For many, he is the object of a cult. Yet most people know little of his life, of the man, his thoughts and his feelings; his public image is a sugary blur of sentimentality and melodrama. Adam Zamoyski cuts through the myths and legends to tell the story of Chopin's life, and to reveal all that can be discovered about him as a person. He pays particular attention to recent revelations about the composer's health, and places him within the intellectual and spiritual environment of his day.

30 review for Chopin: A New Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    Adam Zamoyski's biography of the brief but eventful life of the great Romantic composer Frederic Chopin, from Polish child prodigy to Paris dandy, his turbulent relationship with George Sand and his early death, penniless in Paris. Chopin's prodigious talent as a pianist is recognised early on. But despite being lauded as the great nationalist hope in his native Poland, where his polonaises and mazurkas are inspired by the harmonies of Polish folk songs, the teenage Chopin soon becomes stifled Adam Zamoyski's biography of the brief but eventful life of the great Romantic composer Frederic Chopin, from Polish child prodigy to Paris dandy, his turbulent relationship with George Sand and his early death, penniless in Paris. Chopin's prodigious talent as a pianist is recognised early on. But despite being lauded as the great nationalist hope in his native Poland, where his polonaises and mazurkas are inspired by the harmonies of Polish folk songs, the teenage Chopin soon becomes stifled by the provincialism of Warsaw. At 19, he leaves Poland for the temptations of bohemian Paris, never to live in his homeland again. Categories: Factual, Life Stories, Music, Classical, Drama Abridged by Doreen Estall.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Adam Zamoyski's biography of the brief but eventful life of the great Romantic composer Frederic Chopin, from Polish child prodigy to Paris dandy, his turbulent relationship with George Sand and his early death, penniless in Paris. Chopin's prodigious talent as a pianist is recognised early on. But despite being lauded as the great nationalist hope in his native Poland, where his polonaises and mazurkas are inspired by the harmonies of Polish folk songs, the teenage Chopin soon becomes stifled by Adam Zamoyski's biography of the brief but eventful life of the great Romantic composer Frederic Chopin, from Polish child prodigy to Paris dandy, his turbulent relationship with George Sand and his early death, penniless in Paris. Chopin's prodigious talent as a pianist is recognised early on. But despite being lauded as the great nationalist hope in his native Poland, where his polonaises and mazurkas are inspired by the harmonies of Polish folk songs, the teenage Chopin soon becomes stifled by the provincialism of Warsaw. At 19, he leaves Poland for the temptations of bohemian Paris, never to live in his homeland again. Abridged by Doreen Estall. Broadcast on:BBC Radio 4, 9:45am Monday 15th March 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qftk

  3. 5 out of 5

    anna ✨

    “At noon, the grim servants of death appeared at the entrance to the temple bearing the coffin of the great artist. (…) A shiver of death ran through the congregation, (…) As for me, I fancied I could see the sun grow pale and the gilding of the domes take on an evil greenish tint…” It has only been several months that I have taken an interest in classical music. I was raised on rock music – I had never heard anything by Chopin. That has changed completely – ever since I heard the Prélude no. 4, “At noon, the grim servants of death appeared at the entrance to the temple bearing the coffin of the great artist. (…) A shiver of death ran through the congregation, (…) As for me, I fancied I could see the sun grow pale and the gilding of the domes take on an evil greenish tint…” It has only been several months that I have taken an interest in classical music. I was raised on rock music – I had never heard anything by Chopin. That has changed completely – ever since I heard the Prélude no. 4, op. 28 in E minor, I have been enchanted by his music and the thought of him. Curious, I started reading this biography – thinking this would be the perfect timing, as I am now also enrolled in a course about Romanticism. I cannot tell you how glad I am I did this – I cannot explain how much I appreciate Chopin and his work and cannot put it into words. “The incomparable genius for whom heaven was jealous of the earth, and of whom I think so often, no longer being able to see him in this world, nor to hear his divine melodies. (…) Is it because his life was a thirty-nine-year agony that his music is so lofty, so sweet, so sublime?”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Larson

    Well I have mixed feelings about it. Author Zamoyski has researched his subject well and he portrays Chopin and those around him clearly. At various points in the biography Zamoyski relates common public opinion from Chopin's contemporaries as well as opinions of Chopin's biographers and states his own well researched opinion, at times in disagreement with the commonly held belief. So I appreciated the author's clear prose style, thoroughly researched as it was but at the same time I found it so Well I have mixed feelings about it. Author Zamoyski has researched his subject well and he portrays Chopin and those around him clearly. At various points in the biography Zamoyski relates common public opinion from Chopin's contemporaries as well as opinions of Chopin's biographers and states his own well researched opinion, at times in disagreement with the commonly held belief. So I appreciated the author's clear prose style, thoroughly researched as it was but at the same time I found it somewhat tedious to read and a bit dry because he often goes into great detail about day to day events in the composer's life and sprinkles it liberally with quotes taken from letters of Chopin's friends and contemporaries. I am glad I have read this none the less, as it gave me a clearer picture of Chopin and his life, whose music I love. The book has corrected some of the mistaken beliefs I had about Chopin. I didn't realize that he had made quite a name for himself in his youth in Poland. He was born there and moved away at age 19 never to return, though he did make initial plans to return a couple of times. Those plans never materialized. But before leaving Poland he had left quite a mark on the musical scene of that country. I had always believed that he was virtually unknown before he came to Paris. I am glad to have a clearer picture. Also it is interesting to see how the Polish culture influenced his various genre (i.e. Polonaises, Mazurkas, etc.). Another interesting tidbit was that Chopin's teacher in Poland, (not remembering his name right now), gave to Chopin what may be the best gift he ever received and may be the core of Chopin's musical genius. That gift was that he (the teacher) gave Chopin mostly free reign on what to explore and how to do it in his compositions. The teacher broke with the tradition (at least in Poland) of giving students definite and fairly strict compositional guidelines. So in his formative years, Chopin never went through what most music/composition students went through to become musicians and composers. Also, most other biographies of Chopin have usually stated that the composer died penniless. While true in some respects, Zamoyski paints a slightly different picture. Immediately after his death Chopin's sister, who was present at his death, found among his affects a moderately large sum of cash. Zamoyski doesn't state how much but it was apparently much more than anyone expected to find and it was enough to pay off nearly all of Chopin's outstanding debts. So while Chopin wasn't fabulously wealthy nor did he leave any money to his friends or family, he did have more money than most people thought given his habit to spend so freely during his lifetime. Chopin was a poor money manager as Zamoyski clearly portrays but this somewhat unexpected discovery after his death was interesting. This book is a biography only and the author does not talk in much depth about Chopin's music. He mentions many of Chopin's works but mostly in reference to when they were written or published with an occasional comment about how the mood of a given piece matches Chopin's at the time it was written. Zamoyski does include quite a few quotes from Chopin's contemporaries about particular pieces but there is no musical assessment or analysis that a musician or musicologist would appreciate. As a musician I was hoping for that. The book also clarified for me the cause of Chopin's death at age 39. While in retrospect it can't be confirmed definitively, all the available evidence was that he had Tuberculosis or Consumption as it was called back then. Apparently he had it for several years prior to his death in spite of the fact that some of the doctors who treated him stated that he didn't. Also it would have helped to have a glossary of people in the back. I understand that isn't common in biographies but there were so many people in Chopin's day to day life that I found it confusing to keep track of which were which. I had no problem with all the musicians (e.g. Liszt, Schumann, Berlioz, etc.) since I know of them well, nor of a few others (e.g. George Sand, Fontana). But everyone else, especially all the Polish names and some of the French names, were difficult to keep track of. So a glossary of people would have been helpful. Worth reading for a clear portrayal of Chopin's life.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Surreysmum

    [These notes were made in 1983:]. A most interesting book. It's written in good scholarly prose - clear, to the point, and readable without being flamboyant. Only the occasional slip in idiom betrays that the author was perhaps not always thinking exclusively in English. The research looks fairly thorough, and appears to have been derived from a great many contemporary documents, including substantial collections of letters. Zamoyski does not try to hide the fact that he has a thesis - that Chop [These notes were made in 1983:]. A most interesting book. It's written in good scholarly prose - clear, to the point, and readable without being flamboyant. Only the occasional slip in idiom betrays that the author was perhaps not always thinking exclusively in English. The research looks fairly thorough, and appears to have been derived from a great many contemporary documents, including substantial collections of letters. Zamoyski does not try to hide the fact that he has a thesis - that Chopin was by no means the ultra-Romantic that the common image suggests. But he does not seem to be doing anything Procrustean to the facts to fit that thesis, although to a certain extent we always have to trust the author's general interpretation, based as it is on far wider reading than he can conveniently present to us. Chopin himself emerges as a human and almost commonplace creature, except for the extraordinary gift of music in his head and fingers. George Sand is treated evenhandedly and without either vituperation or misguided sympathy. Zamoyski tempers her own rather bitter account of the affair (from her later autobiography) with quotations from her letters at the time. And the account of Chopin's death is simple and not maudlin. I found the whole thing very good reading.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Randall Wallace

    1. Chopin, more than any other great composer was left alone enough to create his own style of writing for piano – which is why Liszt said Chopin was never able to achieve perfection with any form he had not invented himself (like the Polonaises, Ballades, and Mazurkas). 2. Chopin’s secret performance skill was a steady left hand with a tempo rubato right hand “the right would just hint at the anticipation of the phrase or else reluctance to begin it.” 3. “Fingers should fall, not strike. And ca 1. Chopin, more than any other great composer was left alone enough to create his own style of writing for piano – which is why Liszt said Chopin was never able to achieve perfection with any form he had not invented himself (like the Polonaises, Ballades, and Mazurkas). 2. Chopin’s secret performance skill was a steady left hand with a tempo rubato right hand “the right would just hint at the anticipation of the phrase or else reluctance to begin it.” 3. “Fingers should fall, not strike. And caress rather than hit the keys.” 4. Chopin felt bad musical phrasing was similar to saying a sentence one did not understand. 5. Chopin believed “you must sing with the fingers” as though you were an opera singer. He made some students take singing lessons to help them understand. 6. Keep your piano seat low with you elbows level with the white keys. 7. Best line of Zamoyski‘s was about Chopin “regarding technique as no more than a means of unlocking their powers of expression.” 8. Chopin considered his musical style, “Slavonic”. 9. Always use a metronome – he did. If you are a Chopin nut like I am, you will love reading this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Adri

    I thought it an excellent biography. I could not put it down and went through it in one reading. It is unsentimental, and leaves one with a feeling of having had the opportunity to 'understand' Chopin a little. This biography made me rush to my collection of Chopin CDs.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Een goed en toegankelijk geschreven biografie van Chopin. De auteur houdt zich aan de feiten, en waar bepaalde beweringen of anekdotes over Chopin twijfelachtig of ongefundeerd zijn, benoemt hij dit of verwijst ze naar het rijk der fabelen. Zo leer je als lezer de mens Chopin kennen alsook het wonderbaarlijke genie dat hij moet zijn geweest, getuige de reacties die hij opriep als hij plaatsnam achter de piano. Ook maakt Zamoyski duidelijk dat Chopin een vernieuwer was in de muziek. Voor liefhebb Een goed en toegankelijk geschreven biografie van Chopin. De auteur houdt zich aan de feiten, en waar bepaalde beweringen of anekdotes over Chopin twijfelachtig of ongefundeerd zijn, benoemt hij dit of verwijst ze naar het rijk der fabelen. Zo leer je als lezer de mens Chopin kennen alsook het wonderbaarlijke genie dat hij moet zijn geweest, getuige de reacties die hij opriep als hij plaatsnam achter de piano. Ook maakt Zamoyski duidelijk dat Chopin een vernieuwer was in de muziek. Voor liefhebbers van klassieke muziek een heerlijk boek. Neem alleen al de vele opmerkingen en opinies van of over Chopin die de revue passeren. Een kleine greep: Toen in het najaar van 1831 Polen werd verslagen door de Russen, schreef Chopin dat hij ‘de wonden van het heden [zou] genezen met herinneringen aan het verleden’ Tegen Liszt: ’Concerteren past mij niet, het publiek jaagt mij angst aan, zijn verwachtingsvolle adem verstikt mij, zijn onderzoekende blikken verlammen mij, zijn vreemde gezichten doen mij verstommen, maar jij, jij bent ervoor gemaakt. Als je het niet weet te boeien, weet je minstens te verdoven.’ Over Beethoven: ‘zijn hartstocht klinkt te vaak alsof er een natuurramp plaatsvindt’. Schumann over Chopin: ‘Als de machtige despoot van het Noorden (de tsaar) zou weten welk een gevaarlijke vijand hem bedreigt in de werken van Chopin, in de eenvoudige melodieën van deze mazurka’s, dan zou hij deze muziek verbieden. De werken van Chopin zijn als onder bloemen verborgen kanonnen.’ Heine over Chopin: ‘Chopin ontleent er geen voldoening aan dat er door andere handen wordt geklapt om de vlugge behendigheid van zijn handen. Hij streeft een groter succes na; zijn vingers zijn de dienaren van zijn ziel, en voor zijn ziel wordt geapplaudisseerd door degenen die niet alleen met hun oren, maar ook met hun ziel luisteren.’ Mendelssohn over Berlioz: ‘Zijn orkestratie is een verschrikkelijke bende, zo’n chaotische knoeiboel dat men na het doornemen van zijn partituren zich gedwongen ziet de handen te wassen.’ Debussy over Chopin: ‘Door de aard van zijn genie onttrekt Chopin zich aan elke poging tot classificatie.’ Markies de Custine (een markante homoseksuele aristocraat met wie met Chopin bevriend raakte) over Chopin: ‘Zorg dat je overleeft omwille van je vrienden; het is een grote troost je af en toe te horen spelen; in de moeilijke tijden die nu dreigen, zal alleen de kunst zoals jij die ervaart, in staat zijn mensen te verenigen die in het dagelijks leven tegenover elkaar staan; mensen hebben elkaar lief, mensen begrijpen elkaar in Chopin.’

  9. 5 out of 5

    Izabela

    I liked the real letters text included. Overall interesting reading, however, it's visible that the text is composed by a polish writer and some phrases and sentences are of typical polish structure which were only translated to english so this made the book slightly hard to read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Zoë🔮

    Loved it! It took me some time to finish the book due to school assignments, but I still got fascinated by Chopin's life and the amazing prose of Zamoyski.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Derk

    A very good, thoroughly researched biography of Chopin. The life of Chopin is beautifully portrayed against the historical events of his time, with a lot of insights by the Polish historian Zamoyski. A wonderful book for musicians and lovers of the music by Chopin. The book makes you understand better, and marvel once more upon the miracle how the completely new and stunningly expressive musical language of Chopin came into being.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eliza

    A fascinating picture emerges from this wonderful biography. For any musician, to understand what was going on in his head, and in his life, this one is way too short.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mieszko Pelc

    8

  14. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne

    Very detailed.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Aida Al-jawahri

    I loved this book! Chopin biographies are rare, and good ones are even rarer. I liked the way in which Zamoyski depicted Chopin's personality, both as a teacher and human being.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lorens

    Easy to read, interesting depiction of Chopins life in the cultural hub of Paris. I missed more in-depth information about his music and the different pieces he composed. Easy to read, interesting depiction of Chopin´s life in the cultural hub of Paris. I missed more in-depth information about his music and the different pieces he composed.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michaelchan

    A book with a good glimpse into the life of Chopin, painstakingly researched by the author. The general reader is saved by not devoting too much detail on the his musical compositions, since this is more of a general biography. But for someone who like to have a biography that is more intertwined with his music might be a little disappointed. Nevertheless, I still like this book which allow me to see into Chopin's life and with respect to the social-political scene at that time. Towards the end A book with a good glimpse into the life of Chopin, painstakingly researched by the author. The general reader is saved by not devoting too much detail on the his musical compositions, since this is more of a general biography. But for someone who like to have a biography that is more intertwined with his music might be a little disappointed. Nevertheless, I still like this book which allow me to see into Chopin's life and with respect to the social-political scene at that time. Towards the end of the book, I like the obituaries given by or being suggested that Chopin was a half angel, half man who was in exile from heaven, had came into our world to inspire mankind, and he did not belong here and had to suffer like a creature out of its natural element. It is a rather sad but yet blissful description of Chopin's life I feel. What Chopin has left is a staggering legacy of his work and his spirit will continue to live among us through his music.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    I am giving this book three stars instead of four simply because I am unfamiliar with the biographical and musicological literature on Chopin. Zamoyski is very sure-footed when it comes to describing the social, political and cultural contexts of the two countries where Chopin passed most of his life. Similarly his comments on George Sand and the other public personalities that he was associated with throughout his life all have a ring a credibility. As far as Zamoyski's assessments of Chopin's c I am giving this book three stars instead of four simply because I am unfamiliar with the biographical and musicological literature on Chopin. Zamoyski is very sure-footed when it comes to describing the social, political and cultural contexts of the two countries where Chopin passed most of his life. Similarly his comments on George Sand and the other public personalities that he was associated with throughout his life all have a ring a credibility. As far as Zamoyski's assessments of Chopin's compostions go, I am simply unable to make any comment lacking the musical training required to do so. This is clearly a very strong book about the man and his times that may or may not also contain sound musicological judgements. I certainly enjoyed the book and suspect it is as good or better than anything else on the market.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Julian

    Entertaining biography on Chopin. Easy read. Read kindle edition.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ben Garrison

    A wonderful book that explains the man behind the music as well as his times, friends and fellow musicians. It was good to know that Chopin was greatly appreciated during his time. The poetic descriptions of his music and how he played it were delightful. A very sickly man (many now think he had cystic fibrosis) who suffered greatly produced some of the best music heard by man. A reviewer after hearing one of Chopin's concerts wrote: Le Ménestrel called him 'the sylph of the piano, the ineffable A wonderful book that explains the man behind the music as well as his times, friends and fellow musicians. It was good to know that Chopin was greatly appreciated during his time. The poetic descriptions of his music and how he played it were delightful. A very sickly man (many now think he had cystic fibrosis) who suffered greatly produced some of the best music heard by man. A reviewer after hearing one of Chopin's concerts wrote: Le Ménestrel called him 'the sylph of the piano, the ineffable artist, attached to this mortal world by the merest touch of a finger and nourished by dreams from on high,' and compared his playing to the 'the sighting of a flower, the whisper of clouds or the murmur of stars.'

  21. 5 out of 5

    K.P.B. Stevens

    A beautifully written book, and one that, at least early on, pays as much attention to Chopin's art as his person. But the book bogs down in its final third. Chopin is always sick and moving from place to place and playing the piano very quietly. I'm becoming convinced that most of human life lacks a narrative arc. At least Chopin's narrative arc seems to have ended by the time he and George Sand split up. He had also written most of his compositions by that point, and I wish the book had ended A beautifully written book, and one that, at least early on, pays as much attention to Chopin's art as his person. But the book bogs down in its final third. Chopin is always sick and moving from place to place and playing the piano very quietly. I'm becoming convinced that most of human life lacks a narrative arc. At least Chopin's narrative arc seems to have ended by the time he and George Sand split up. He had also written most of his compositions by that point, and I wish the book had ended there, or at least practiced brevity as it reported about the following years.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Doug Newdick

    I'm not a fan of biography, generally, but I really enjoyed this book. I am a big fan of Zamoyski, but here he seems to be a little bit too engaged in his subject. The prose got a bit too prolix and over-involved with Chopin at times, and boy does Zamoyski not like Georges Sand! Zamoyski does do a good job of placing Chopin in the cultural context that he operated in, and tt was very interesting to read about Chopin's relation ship to his native Poland, something you don't hear much about. Read I'm not a fan of biography, generally, but I really enjoyed this book. I am a big fan of Zamoyski, but here he seems to be a little bit too engaged in his subject. The prose got a bit too prolix and over-involved with Chopin at times, and boy does Zamoyski not like Georges Sand! Zamoyski does do a good job of placing Chopin in the cultural context that he operated in, and tt was very interesting to read about Chopin's relation ship to his native Poland, something you don't hear much about. Read this if you like Chopin, or if you like Zamoyski's other work.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ekaterina

    I've been playing the piano for 8 years, and I got this book as a gift from a friend of mine who knows how fond I am of Chopin. I loved how accurate the writer is and how greatly he shows Chopin's nature. Bravo!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jos

    a readable overview of a fascinating man. The story with Georges Sand and how he wrote his music has a definite influence on how i liste to his music. I knew and loved his nocturnes, now I discovered hsi mazurka's.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Max Gibson

    An intense biography of Poland's greatest composer; Frederyk Chopin. Beautifully written, easy to read, a great guide to the life of Chopin. Once finished it was sad, and a bit depressing. A person such as Chopin who at times was not the easiest of people should not have had to suffer what he did.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paul Servini

    I enjoyed this book a lot for the insights it gave into one of the greatest, European composers. His music enchants; unfortunately life brought him a lot of pain; some of it brought on by bad choices.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Treger

    This book is tedious to read and provides over excess details of Chopin's life, but it also provides the most complete description, analysis, and documentation of the composer's life. Worked great for my research paper.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Sánchez

    I read this in 2011

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Kennedy

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