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Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  130 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Based on ten 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. Walker's work is a corrective biography, intended to dispel the many myths and ...more
Hardcover, 768 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this book on the 2018 Economist Books of the Year and selected it because it appeared rich enough for a week long immersion with Chopin and a deeper understanding of Poland in his time. Author Alan Walker did not disappoint.

You see Fryderyk Chopin’s development as a composer and performer at a young age. He became known as the “Polish Mozart”. Because he had performed nationalistic music in the homes of his patrons and had friends in Poland’s resistance he was known to the Russians
Philip Koslow
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Alan Walker, author of the monumental biography of Franz Liszt (3 volumes) has struck gold again. Chopin's life, times and music have been previously surveyed by such luminaries as James Huneker, Arthur Hedley, Ferdynand Hoesick (4 volumes) and Sir Charles Halle among others. What could be added to illuminate an extraordinary life of one of the Romantic era's most esteemed composers and piano virtuosi? Details of a life lived is the answer Mr. Walker provides. And they are presented in a fashion ...more
Sep 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
An incredibly detailed and thoroughly researched biography of the “Raphael of the piano.” Listening to and playing music have offered me many years of passion and solace. My alleged good ear and musical memory have done little in the way of mastering Chopin’s music. I approached this lengthy book thinking it would somehow provide me with whatever element I seem to be missing. No such luck. I continue to be frustrated with my lack of expertise but I sure learned a great deal about this musical ...more
Andrew Howdle
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Walker's biography is lucid and finely written in a literary style without lots of flourishes. His view of Chopin is based on a view that he was a gentle pianist, not given to thunder and over-elaboration, and this is the style adopted, in tribute. Walker is a competent biographer, well able to sort out fiction from fact, with an added dimension-- he is perfectly suited to the task of analysing Chopin's musical achievements. The only false note in the book is his explanation of the The Preludes ...more
William Schram
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history, music
Fryderyk Chopin is one of my favorite composers of classical music, so when I saw this book on the shelves of my local library, I felt I had to snatch it up and read it. I have never heard of Alan Walker but apparently, he also did a definitive biography of Franz Liszt, so if I can find that I will be quite satisfied.

As with most biographies that I have read, Walker begins at the beginning, with Chopin’s family heritage and where his father and mother were from. The book has enjoyable extras in
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wrote quite a detailed appreciation of this book on my blog:
Mar 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Aaargh! I read it. All 600 pages.

If you're a pianist, or a lover of Chopin, there is a lot to be learned from this book.

However, it's in the worst tradition of academic biography. A lot of it--most of it--is arcane details that make no difference to anyone or anything. "Maria Gurdalooski was Chopin's wet nurse, who also had the blessed duty of changing Fryderyk's smelly diapers. They were so noxious that she eventually ran off with the palace gardener Gurdy Gurjyevsky, who happened to play a
Randall Wallace
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Prior books on Chopin had bored me so I was stoked to read this new 700 pager on his life. Chopin first used bi-metrical notation in 1830 but then rewrote the piece to make it easier for others to play. But some of his best stuff rhythmically uses it: he wrote sevens against threes, nines against fours, and even elevens or nines against sixes. Meanwhile, most Americans have trouble beating the floor with their foot in common time like a horse. Although, Mr. Ed, Wilbur said, once played Chopin’s ...more
Tavner Delcamp
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
This is the latest biography of the famous musician, Frederic Chopin, published at the end of 2018. The author is Alan Walker who is a very well-known scholar in the field of musical history. He has written about several Romantic composers, namely, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, and now Chopin. Between 1987 and 1997 he published a magisterial 3-volume biography of Liszt. This biography is an in-depth examination of Chopin's life and also includes incisive analyses of his many piano compositions. ...more
Evan Hurley O'Dwyer
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was a great biography of the great composer. It does the job so well that there seems to be no need for another biography for the time being. Walker artfully blends the events of Chopin's life with musicological examples and discussions of his music. He brought attention to some references within Chopin's music to some of his other pieces, ones I had never noticed before. Walker is a great scholar and left no stone unturned in his effort to piece together the composer's life.

One can't
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The definitive biography we Chopin fans have been waiting for! Alan Walker’s work is not only magisterial and impeccably documented, but also highly readable. Put this on your holiday gift list for yourself or your favorite 19th century music buff, or hie yourself to your local public library to check it out!
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding in every way!
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Frederic Chopin has been my favorite composer ever since I was around 5 years old, watching Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda play an arrangement of the Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor (op 66). So of course when I saw this biography in the New Arrivals section of my town library, I had to pick it up.

It is a fascinating book that covers all of the bases that should be covered when writing about a composer: Chopin's family background, major life events, sociopolitical factors, and detailed
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There were reviews in the same issue of the NYT Book Review of three composer biographies and now I've read two of them. This was a nice diversion from real contemporary life, and I know a little more about Chopin's music than Debussy's, having played some of it (very badly) when I was a high school student.
This book is extremely detailed, very up to date with current knowledge and scholarship, and sympathetic to Chopin, who appears to have been a person of class and tact as well as genius. (He
Brent Woo
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, music
As a pianist, I have spent at least twenty, probably closer to twenty-five, years with Chopin's music. Playing the fun waltzes, hammering out the polonaises, wrestling with the titanic ballades and etudes. I successfully 'auditioned' to my second and final piano teacher with Fantaisie-Impromptu, and won Los Angeles regional honors playing his Etude in A-flat major 25/1. For the last two weeks, I have lived Chopin's life from Poland to Paris and Nohant, thanks to this scintillating biography that ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This extensive biography on the life of Chopin brings to life the characteristics of the man and the times that influenced him. It is debatable whether he should be considered the greatest composer of the piano in history but there is no question the marks he made set him apart.

The biography takes us through the formative time in Poland to his imposed exile to France, his forays into England and back to his final period in France. His heart that began in his beloved Poland returns physically to
Marian Hancock
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book. Chopin is probably my favorite composer and it was illuminating to learn about the times in which he lived in Poland and in France. He composed and performed music in a way that was different from what others had done till then. The beauty of his music continues to capture us today. Such a brilliant and creative person, yet he suffered from tuberculosis throughout his life and died at 39 years of age. What a life!
Mar 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Worth reading but too much detail on tangents. Appreciated the musical analysis. And the difficult relationships including George Sand. Such a hard life, performing and giving lessons to support your composing addiction. All while suffering from TB in an era where doctors bled you and did other awful things that made you worse. Amazing that he turned out so much timeless music, and started at such a young age.
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an engaging, thorough biography by the Liszt scholar Walker. It encompasses details of Chopin’s life in many aspects, includes musicological notes on his music, and relates how both were affected by historical events and by the people Chopin knew, often with interesting notes on those people’s history as well. Extremely well done and a rewarding read.
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
This biography is extremely thorough and well-researched. It was perhaps a little too long for my taste (often going on extensively about topics such as Chopin's fingering techniques and the like), but it still did a nice job of describing the details of his life, depicting the times and places in which he lived, and exploring what makes him such an enduring figure.
Matthew Somoroff
This book left me cold, and I love Chopin's music. I listened to the audiobook version, and the upper-crust British elocution of the narrator didn't help. But the author's diction was similarly stuffy and old-fashioned. And after 23 hours of words about Chopin, I had become more informed about the events of Chopin's life but barely more in touch with Chopin as a human being.
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, comprehensive, a delight to read.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have read many Chopin biographies, and this was by far the most extensive, detailed and enjoyable one.
Jack Laschenski
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Over 700 pages with every detail of Chopin's life covered in detail, together with an analysis of some of his music.

Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Best read by a keyboard, unless you're the type who can really read and hear musical notation, as the author includes many excerpts from various pieces and explains them.
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent biography of my favorite composer.
Easy to read. Well-researched. I enjoyed the references to the music as I listened to some of the compositions while reading I was reading,
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Liked the musical analysis.
Alan Murchie
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is both a superb biography and, rare among biographies, a true page-turner. I had started two or three other books on Chopin and found myself dipping in and out rather than reading cover-to-cover. With Alan Walker's book, I was struck by how engrossing I found a story I'd found only intermittently absorbing elsewhere. Walker is a great writer first; scholar (or compiler of scholarship) a close second.
Jen Herr
rated it really liked it
Aug 21, 2019
David Ruth
rated it it was amazing
Jun 01, 2019
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Alan Walker’s definitive three-volume biography of Liszt, Franz Liszt, received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in Biography and the Royal Philharmonic Society Book Award, among others. His writing has appeared in journals such as The Musical Quarterly, The Times Literary Supplement, and Times Educational Supplement. A professor emeritus at McMaster University, Walker was made a Fellow of the ...more