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Publisher's Summary

A landmark biography of the Polish composer by a leading authority on Chopin and his time.

Based on 10 years of research and a vast cache of primary sources located in archives in Warsaw, Paris, London, New York, and Washington, D.C., Alan Walker's monumental Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times is the most comprehensive biography of the great Polish composer to appear in English in more than a century. Walker's work is a corrective biography, intended to dispel the many myths and legends that continue to surround Chopin. 

Fryderyk Chopin is an intimate look into a dramatic life; of particular focus are Chopin's childhood and youth in Poland, which are brought into line with the latest scholarly findings, and Chopin's romantic life with George Sand, with whom he lived for nine years. Comprehensive and engaging, the biography wears its scholarship lightly: This is a book suited as much for the professional pianist as it is for the casual music lover. Just as he did in his definitive biography of Liszt, Walker illuminates Chopin and his music with unprecedented clarity in this magisterial biography, bringing to life one of the 19th century's most confounding, beloved, and legendary artists.

©2018 Alan Walker (P)2018 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Packed with information and insightful analyses of Chopin's major works that will interest professional musicians, and even nonspecialists will be entranced by Walker's piquant storytelling and graceful prose." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

What listeners say about Fryderyk Chopin

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

This book is a masterpiece

This book is a masterpiece that I could not put down. Scholarly yet entertaining, detailed yet not excessively so, read beautifully with perfect pronunciation. His early life, the love of his father and family, details of his training with Józef Elsner were particularly interesting. I learned for the first time Chopin had a delightful sense of humor. His long affair with Sands was nuanced and detailed and the platonic devotion of Jane Sterling also detailed. Discussions of the music and how to perform it were the most meaningful to this musician. Long lived hoaxes are analyzed and put to rest. Thank you to Alan Walker who created this masterpiece for his depth of insight, even handed approach, and pure enjoyment to discover more about this compassionate, authentic, courtly well mannered, thoughtful, kind and ground breaking composer. Buy this enjoyable and insightful biography without a second thought.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Excellent book, annoying reader

This is a well-reserached and well-written book undone by a most annoying reader who pauses to over-prounounces every "foreign" name and phrase. Are there not editors who listen to these things before committing a whole book to such a terrible presentation? Buy the book, it is great. I did finish it and kind of blocked out the terrible reading, but it should never have been recorded with Corrie James.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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mistitled

The title really should be: The Adventures and Debates of a Biographer of Fryderyk Chopin. the author is captured by the drama of the research, and frequently loses sight of the story of Chopin. The narrator's extreme efforts to correctly pronounce Polish names are a distraction from the story of the biographer, in turn a distraction from the promised story of Chopin himself. And, no music.

1 person found this helpful

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A wonderful book for pianists!

I’ve been playing the piano all my life. I was trained in Czerny’s “finger equalization school,” which was rejected by Chopin as this book pointed out. Dr. Walker’s detailed description shed a great deal of light on Chopin’s unique technique. As Czerny’s pedagogy remains prevalent in many parts of the world to this day, I found Chopin’s more natural—yet little-known—method incredibly eye-opening.

More specifically, after finishing the “Chopin and the Keyboard” chapter, I sat down at my piano and tried the new technique on Grande Valse Brillante in E-flat Major. The improvements were immediately palpable. Then I tried the Polonaise in C-sharp Minor using the new technique. Same—a particular problem that had bothered me for ten(!) years solved itself just like that.

This book has made me a better pianist. I only wish I had encountered it sooner.

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What Language Was That?

No matter how interested you are in Chopin, this book will seem endless. It is little consolation to reflect that it at least is shorter than Dr. Walker's previous biography of Liszt, which spanned three weighty tomes -- if you bought the print edition of all three at once they'd have to deliver your purchase with a forklift.

The length becomes wearying in the audible book due largely to the frankly appalling job of reading by the performer. In a book filled with the names of people, places and works in Polish, Italian, French and German, this performer does an oppressively bad job of pronouncing any of the languages. I cut her some slack on the Polish, since no one not born to it can pronounce that language, but alas the performer can't manage any of the others either. Many of her attempts clearly have had re-recordings punched in, but it doesn't help. Particularly annoying is her rendition of the subject of the variations on the Zerlina/Don Giovanni duet from Mozart's opera, which she renders as "LAH ! - ci darem la mano." This, one of Chopin's first big hits, gets many references throughout the book.

The author is first of all a musicologist, and (with so many pages to fill) offers rather detailed musical analyses of many of Chopin's works. If you're not a musician none of this will make any sense to you. My wife and I listened to the book on a multi-day car trip: I'm a musician and she isn't. I could follow along, although there was no score to which to refer (which must have been present in the printed version), but my wife quickly got bored with it all, saying it was just gibberish. (Much musical analysis IS gibberish, but in the present case it seems at least to be competent.) My wife asked me if this was supposed to be a textbook, because it didn't sound quite like a biography. In respect to Dr. Walker's endurance at the typewriter keyboard I described it to her as "an appreciation."

Other fill-up-the-pages material detours you into mini-biographies of all Chopin's ancestors, people he knew, students he had and on and on.

I did find interesting the information about the difference between the pianos of the day (Chopin always used a Pleyel) and the much heavier, stiffer and louder concert grands of today. The author made clear that Chopin could coax untold divisions of nuance and texture from those instruments, and I could almost imagine how he must have sounded. Wish I'd heard it. (The author does not go into tunings that others have said were used commonly in those days, subtle differences from today's normal tempered scale that give each key its own characterestic.)

Without mentioning that it's even a matter of discussion in other accounts of Chopin's life, the author treats as given fact that (1) Chopin was not homosexual and in fact had a sexual relationship with George Sand until she cut him off (for reasons I couldn't quite puzzle out from the book), and (2) That the illness he suffered from most of his life was tuberculosis (evidently all his family had it and many of the people he knew had it -- the COVID of its day it seems). So there.

Don't try the written version unless you have wrists strong enough to stand many MANY hours of holding up the book. For a multi-day road trip the Audible version at least lets you travel with no fear the book will unexpectedly end when you're stuck in traffic. Indeed, you may have rather a lot of book left for your next journey.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Well researched and written

There is a lot of good information in this book about the life of this great composer, but I have to say, if I were not a musician, I would have given up on it. Any biographer needs to be thorough, and Dr. Walker was that! I enjoyed most of what he had to say, but even for me, the minutiae became a little overwhelming.

I have always thought Chopin’s music sounds fresh, almost as if he just sat down and improvised his music, and then quickly wrote it down before he forgot what he had played. So I was most surprised to find that he labored over every bit of music he wrote, even sometimes spending weeks on one measure. He was a perfectionist who asked that all of his unpublished music be burned upon his death, because he did not have a chance to go over and over it to make sure it was up to his high standards. His untimely death at age thirty-nine would have left a treasure-trove of music to be destroyed, had it not been for his sister, who did not allow that to happen, but rather made sure that those yet-to-be-published masterpieces be published. Blessings on your head, my dear! The world is all the richer for having all of Chopin’s music.

Like Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn, Fryderyk Chopin died way too soon. One cannot help but wonder what masterpieces were left unwritten, but we can all thank heaven for the ones we have. He truly left the world a better place.

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    4 out of 5 stars

Very good but somewhat overwhelming

The biography is exhaustive and taught many things that I did not know about the composer's life. Influences on the music are well described. However, sometimes, the detail can overwhelm. How many times do we need to be told the name of the street in Paris where Chopin lived? There is a large section on musical technical analysis that is lost on those (including me) who are not professional performers or scholars. I like this in audio format where the listener can be pulled along. I might not have made it through the print version.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Too much for someone with a passing interest..

If someone has a passing interest in music, like myself, this is not the book for you. "Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times" is geared toward a person who has a most vested interest in the subject. I bought this book hoping to learn. But it's honestly too tedious to gain a great deal of knowledge because you have no frame of reference. Maybe an hourly history on the subject is a a better place to start. The book is VERY detailed and delves into every possible facet of Chopin's life. It lags in many places. If it was half as long it would be much better. Corrie James's narration is as always the high point.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Boring

I was so disappointed. Didn't learn much about who Chopin really was or how he thought. It was more about the people around him.

1 person found this helpful