The Music Column

Chopin’s Life and Times

Alan Walker has insisted, at the very beginning of his massive new biography of Chopin, that the composer has today a unique global reputation and appeal.  And when we consider the evidence that justifies his claims, we must admit that this evidence is most impressive—and also that some of it is the opposite: doubtful and even disturbing.  Chopin has been butchered by Tin Pan Alley, by Hollywood, and by Liberace.  Those are only some of the cards that we may regret were ever shuffled and dealt.  Even so, Walker’s larger point is valid.

That larger point is that Chopin is hardly the possession of the Poles, being as well-known to the Russian and the French, not to mention the Japanese and the Chinese, et al.  Chopin’s works are well-known and even understood by thousands of people today, and certainly by most who take music seriously.  Even his most challenging works, some of which are virtually overwhelming in their demands upon the listener, not to mention the performer—even these are a part of the legacy.  And I know of no one who is more suited to the task of expounding the life behind the works than the present author and international researcher.

Walker himself has worked wonders as a biographer of musicians, and he has no intentions of letting us down.  I must say that his three-volume treatment of Franz Liszt and also his volume on Hans von...

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