For a biographer, there’s a lot to untangle [with Chopin]. Alan Walker does so brilliantly in Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times, a magisterial portrait of a composer who fascinated and puzzled contemporaries and whose music came to define the Romantic piano ... Drawing on a wealth of letters and fresh scholarship, Walker creates a polyphonic work that elegantly interweaves multiple strands. He sketches key events in the history of Poland and portrays the burgeoning society of Polish exiles in Paris in a way that lends depth to Chopin’s oft-cited patriotism ... Walker offers insightful comments on some of his most important compositions with their pianistic innovations and expressive elegance.
An ideal composer biography should combine several qualities: a deep knowledge of the artist’s life and milieu, fortified by a reexamination of all available sources; an intimate understanding of the composer’s personality (and, when possible, some affection for it, too); and an ability to speak of the creative work in a manner that will edify both scholars and the general public, and take us all back to the music. Alan Walker’s Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times manages this hat trick very well indeed ... This is now the best biography of Chopin—meticulous, scholarly and well-told. Whatever the composer’s shortcomings as a person, his music grows only more moving.
[A] literary feast ... Walker’s MRI-thorough biography leaves no letter unopened, no salacious love story un-debunked, no scathing musical criticism untranslated ... Walker’s narrative style reflects the very music of his subject: He has a light, delicate touch when making apt inferences, and a soft and rather ornate style when providing descriptions of the artist ... already qualifies as one of the best biographies of the year.