... more than an exploration of a famous piece of music. It's a wonderfully smart, fascinating look at Chopin's life and times ... There are, of course, already several biographies of Chopin out in the world. LaFarge's slim book—only 160 pages—stands out because it's a hybrid work—biography and journalism—with utterly lovely, vivid descriptions of Chopin's music. It's all the more compelling because LaFarge looks carefully at the circumstances that made the composition of Opus 35 possible ... The 19th century history in this book is seamlessly interwoven with the journalism exploring Chopin's sound and message. LaFarge moves between the past and present seemingly without effort ... In her book, [LaFarge] doesn't attempt to rescue Chopin from this reputation, but her precise description and thoughtful analysis of Opus 35 somehow do that job ... If only all the great composers could be reintroduced to us in this fashion.
... 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.
[LaFarge's] loving pursuit of the man behind such music is an intriguing collage of people, places, relationships, instruments, and national struggles ... well worth reading. It is instructive, engaging, and sincere. It would be a shame, though, to take the book’s central question about Chopin to have been answered. It is not.
... engaging ... Well recommended to anyone with an interest in Chopin, though those seeking a definitive study of the composer’s life and music are directed to Alan Walker’s Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times.
LaFarge delves passionately into the history and culture—up to the present day—surrounding Chopin's legendary Opus 35 sonata ... a singular work combining historical research and personal and musical passion ... LaFarge is at her best writing about the techniques of piano playing, and while certain passages will be challenging for nonmusicians, the author points to an accompanying website, whychopin.com, which offers a host of relevant musical selections for each chapter of the book ... In addition to her engaging history, LaFarge energetically pursues Chopin's continued influence on musicians today ... A seamless blend of the musical and literary verve, with just enough research to ground and elucidate.
... entertaining ... The Chopin that emerges from LaFarge’s portrait is an independent spirit who shunned the limelight, was a generous teacher and friend, and encouraged his students to develop their own voices. LaFarge’s affectionate fan’s notes flow as melodiously as a Chopin opus.