Chopin: The Reluctant Romantic by Jeremy Siepmann - review by Patrick O'Connor

Patrick O'Connor

Zywny’s Pupil

Chopin: The Reluctant Romantic


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After their separation, George Sand asked for news of Chopin from their mutual friend Pauline Viardot, and said that she was unable ‘to repay his furor and hate. I think of him often as a sick child, embittered and lost.’ Jeremy Siepmann’s subtitle, The Reluctant Romantic, is the theme of his biography, in which he sets out to demystify Chopin’s career and replace some of the romantic images of him with a more realistic appraisal of his career.

The success of any book about a composer must be judged by the reader’s reaction – while following the story, does one hear the music in the mind’s ear, and does the author send one to play the music, or if that is impossible, at least to listen to it? Siepmann succeeds admirably, for he never lets the music stray too far out of reach, even when the more sensational parts of the Chopin – Sand affair are being dealt with. He punctuates the biography with short ‘interlude’ chapters dealing with specific groups of compositions, so that Chopin’s life is seen all along within the context of a modern view of his music.

The Victorians regarded Chopin as a ladies’ composer, and even as late as the 1900s the then respected German critic Oscar Bie wrote: ‘Chopin’s ... sorrowful chords ... do not occur to healthy, normal persons’, and he warned against the ‘very bad habit’ of placing ‘this poet in the hands

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