PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... charming and loving ... For a book about death, it’s bursting with life and lively research. LaFarge writes passionately about Bach’s influence on Chopin, and the virtues of listening to period pianos to know what Chopin heard and imagined ... only a partial biography, with much of its focus falling on the odd celebrity couple of Chopin and George Sand: tubercular composer, gender-bending author ... It’s hard to argue with such a personal interpretation, and I love the word \'smuggled,\' but there are other ways to read this contrast. It’s not so much what Chopin does, as what he doesn’t do. Chopin was an incomparable crafter of transitions, and he loved asymmetry, but his Funeral March has almost no transitions, and heaves back and forth in symmetrical twos and fours. The form is static and ritualized. The minor march and its major antidote stare at each other across section breaks, socially distanced, unable to interlace ... This book took me into many unexpected corners — often I wished LaFarge had taken more time to explore the nooks she uncovered. I especially wish she had spent more time on the march’s sequel, the last section of the grand sonata, an epilogue to a funeral.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"Without hitting you over the head, Chernaik allows you to feel the core of Schumann’s story: his love for his wife, Clara, a great concert pianist and formidable muse. Between this and the battle against his own demons to compose truthful music, Schumann’s spirit comes across as an antidote to all the hate and perverse self-love we are forced to swallow in public affairs, day after day ... Chernaik gets the incredible essence of this: how he offloaded his difficult emotional world onto an imaginary band of alternative identities, partly for survival, to fight the philistine world on better terms. I wish she had dug a bit further into the way he translated them into music ... Chernaik, drawn to this supercharged story and the music, has backed up her affection with solid research.\
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewIt’s lovely, but even at this moment you might wonder: Is this how a man thinks, in the throes of mortal fear for himself and for his family? Or does it sound a tad like a novelist contemplating a man contemplating these things? Shostakovich’s musical voice is far more jittery and austere: uncanny, often maniacal, hollow. Either you accept Barnes’s premise, and the resulting style, or you may find yourself dissatisfied, wishing for the narrator of Notes From the Underground to come and make everything feel more neurotic and Russian...I felt that [Shostakovich] emerged as a (strangled) hero, but wished that Barnes would explain a little less, and show a bit more.