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The innovative pianist-composer Chopin (1810^-49) moved in the highest circles of French society but, frail and tubercular throughout his adult life, lived in emotional solitude. His story, which Eisler starts to retell from its end in a massive funeral in Paris, is entwined with that of his famous lover, novelist and political activist George Sand, with whom, from 1838 to 1846, he shared Nohant, her home in the French countryside, in the summer and apartments in Paris in the winter. Trained in Warsaw, Chopin performed mostly his own music, concertizing in Vienna and Warsaw before moving in 1831 to Paris, where, with Sand as his manager, he made a career of playing in private salons as well as publicly. Temperamentally conservative and Catholic, he escaped to England during the1848 revolution, returning to Paris after seven months. There he died, a broken man, deeply in debt, surrounded by his closest friends. Eisler portrays him as tender but also as a dandy, whose life constitutes a cameo in a French society torn by revolution. --Alan Hirsch
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Biographer Eisler, whose last book was on Byron, has moved to much more heavily trodden ground with this one, and it is to her credit that she manages to make the brief arc of the exiled Polish composer's life so affecting. She begins with a journalistic close-up of Chopin's funeral, which ironically was a lavish affair, though in his last months of sickness he was neglected by most of his society friends. Eisler then proceeds to the familiar story of his triumphant arrival on the Paris scene and the swift liaison with the notorious George Sand. Wisely skipping over the couple's disastrous and endlessly dramatized winter together on Majorca, Eisler focuses her well-researched attention on the closing years of the composer's life. She has an excellent chapter on Chopin's unhappy time in England and Scotland; and she writes with real vigor and sympathy of the byzantine family politics that embroiled the Sand household, both at the country retreat Nohant and in Paris, where the novelist turned away from her daughter Solange and rested her hopes on her far less worthy son, Maurice. In the end it was Solange who comforted the dying composer after Sand had ruthlessly thrust him from her life. Chopin's failings-his rigid conservatism and snobbishness, his political timidity and frequent financial selfishness-are made clear; but Eisler, deeply sympathetic to the quality of the music, also shows that he never ceased to struggle, despite perpetual illness, to expand his extraordinary gift into areas where no musician had previously ventured. The book adds little to the sum of Chopin scholarship, but is a skillfully written and mercifully brief overview that hits the right notes. (Mar. 9) Forecast: A striking cover and a handy size are good selling points for those in search of an accessible account. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Eisler, a New York-based biographer (Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame), uses Chopin's funeral, a grand "invitation only" event attended by thousands of Parisians, as a metaphor for the composer's life, which, to the author, represents a tragic fall from grace. A theme that runs continually throughout the narrative is Chopin as a man curiously at odds with his time and locale; socially and politically conservative at a time of great revolutionary upheaval; a dandy in an age of the rising middle class; and an artist in exile. Beginning with the funeral, then proceeding in a more traditional chronological manner, Eisler weaves a fascinating account of Chopin's life, with great attention paid to his complex relationship with Europe's best-known woman novelist, George Sand. The music itself is touched upon lightly-there are no notated examples or passages of theoretical analytic-but the author does draw upon current musicological research when describing Chopin's works. Eisler is a compelling storyteller, sweeping the reader into the exhilarating milieu of Paris in the 1820s and 1830s. Highly recommended for all general collections.-Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.