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.
... 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.