More than any musician or composer in history, Fredrick Chopin owned the piano as an instrument, and made it sing. His fascinating life from prodigy to tragic death by consumption at age 39 is chronicled in The Life and Works of Chopinby Jeremy Siepmann, who also narrates, (with actor Anton Lesser reading excerpts from Chopin's letters). The audiobook intersperses biography with a wide sampling of music in such a way that the listener is beguiled into visualizing that bygone era in Paris when Romanticism flowered with imaginative, new melodies and tonal colors grown out of folk tunes and the symmetry of a classical past. Words fail to evoke the timeless and unique beauty of Chopin's creations then, which were not only among the greatest works for keyboard ever composed, but also the most universal. The story behind it all including Chopin's unusual life and loves is an intriguing snapshot of early 19th Century France, yet its distance in time shrinks to nothing with such a musical score as accompaniment. (As a companion video, we recommend the movie Impromptu, which starred Hugh Grant as Chopin.) A free thinker, shy and modest, Chopin was an unrivaled poetic genius who evolved, from nowhere, a new style of playing with a gift for composition that was boundless. His was art, not for art's sake, but for the heart's sake. Chopin's own words tell us why: Bach is like an astronomer who, with the help of ciphers, finds the most wonderful stars. Beethoven embraced the universe with the power of his spirit. I do not climb so high. A long time ago I decided that my universe will be the soul and heart of man. --Jonathan Lowe, burjreview.blogspot.com/
Chopin wrote the most romantic music ever composed. Thirty-four extracts are included here, the sensitive Nocturnes and Etudes and the Polish Mazurkas, entwined with his vividly told life-story. His long and rewarding affair with George Sand (which ended in illness and tears) and their miserable winter in Majorca are fascinating. So are his physical suppleness (he had boneless fingers and could place his legs around his shoulders), his daily hairdressing, his flight from cholera, and the dreary teaching necessitated by his constant money worries. --Rachel Redford, The Oldie
This is the first of what is bound to be a stream of biographies celebrating the bicentenary of the composer's birth but none, I bet, will include as much if any of the music. At least half this audio is devoted to the works, played with great passion and even greater panache by Turkish virtuoso Idil Biret. Everyone knows about Chopin's affair with George Sand, but I hadn't realised what a bitch she was towards the end, mocking his pain and accusing him of hypochondria. Fascinating older women, even if they're famous, sexy, clever and French, have their disadvantages. The story about Poland's national treasure penniless, alone and close to death in 1848, being taken to Edinburgh by rich, well-meaning patrons and seeking out a Polish family to talk to in his own all-but-forgotten native tongue, is heartbreaking. Just like his nocturnes. --Sue Arnold, The Guardian
About the Author
Though long resident in England, Jeremy Siepmann was born and formally educated in the United States. Despite a late start, he was encouraged by both Rudolf Serkin and Virgil Thomson to pursue a career in music. He studied in New York and later in London where he began teaching for the WEA and later for London University. For most of the last 20 years he has confined his teaching activity to the piano. As a writer he has contributed articles, reviews and interviews to numerous journals and reference works (including New Statesman, Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians), some of them being reprinted in book form (Oxford University Press, Robson Books). His books include a widely acclaimed biography of Chopin (The Reluctant Romantic, Gollancz, July '95), two volumes on the history and literature of the piano, and a biography of Brahms (Everyman/EMI, 1997). In December 1997 he was appointed editor of Piano magazine. His career as a broadcaster began in New York in 1963 with an East Coast radio series on the life and work of Mozart, described by Alistair Cooke as 'the best music program on American radio'. On the strength of this, improbably, he was hired by the BBC as a humorist, in which capacity he furnished weekly satirical items on various aspects of American life. After a long break he returned to broadcasting in 1977. Since 1979 he has devised, written and presented more than 1,000 programmes for BBC radio including the international-award-winning series 'The Elements of Music'. In 1988 he was appointed Head of Music at the BBC World Service, broadcasting to an estimated audience of 135 million. He left the Corporation in Spring 1994 to form his own independent production company.
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