Benita Eisler begins her biography of Frederic Chopin with his funeral in Paris on October 30, 1849, and weaves a retrospective story of his life. She details his forced exile in 1831 from his native Poland, first to Vienna, then to France, where he spent his remaining eighteen years.
Eisler provides a lively account of Chopin’s romantic relationship from 1836 to 1847 with George Sand, six years his senior. Sand nursed Chopin through nearly fatal bouts with the tuberculosis that killed him at thirty-nine. She portrays a Chopin philosophically and politically opposite of Sand. Sand championed social causes that Chopin considered contemptible. She was liberal in matters of race and social injustice, whereas Chopin was a racist and blind to many social inequalities.
Eisler’s insights into Chopin’s close artistic relationships, particularly with Franz Liszt and Eugene Delacroix, are valuable. She comments on his veneration for earlier composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and his initial disdain for the compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Chopin preferred to perform his own compositions in the intimate surroundings of drawing rooms. When he played in large concert halls, his music was scarcely audible, especially before the pianoforte was in common use.
Eisler writes with grace and precision. Her use of the exact word or phrase makes her writing exceptionally clear and accessible. Commenting, for example, on the Chopin/Sand correspondence, she writes, “. . . the few notes that survive deal with the small change of domestic life that, bit by bit, becomes the accumulated capital of intimacy.”
Booklist 99, no. 13 (March 1, 2003): 1134.
Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 2 (January 15, 2003): 123-124.
Library Journal 128, no. 4 (March 1, 2003): 90.
The New York Times Book Review 152, no. 52501 (June 1, 2003): 21.
Publishers Weekly 250, no. 5 (February 2, 2003): 65.