Chopin: Prince of the Romantics by Adam Zamoyski – review

A revisionary biography of Chopin succeeds in reminding us of his extraordinariness

"A great, grrreat piece of news is that Little Chip-Chip is going to give a grrreat concert," wrote the cigar-smoking, larger-than-life George Sand in 1841. The news was indeed significant, because Chip-Chip – one of Sand's numerous nicknames for her unlikely lover, Frédéric Chopin – had all but retired from the concert platform. "He doesn't want any posters, he doesn't want any programmes, he doesn't want anyone to talk about it. He is afraid of so many things that I have suggested he play without candles, without an audience on a mute piano."

In the event, the concert, given to an audience of some 300 friends and admirers, was a great success. The tone of the reviews – "heart and genius alone speak" and "[Chopin] should not and cannot be compared with anyone" – shows how the cultish aura surrounding the composer-pianist was well on its way to becoming a fully fledged religion.

Both then and now, Chopin has always been a largely mythical creature. Child prodigy, divinely inspired improviser, poetic genius, his posthumous reputation has been claimed by Poles, French and even Germans, and told in biographies, novels, poems and an opera. During his lifetime, his person was thought to partake of something otherworldly; during ours, his grave remains a place of pilgrimage and veneration.

Read the full review here

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