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.
[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.
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.