Frederic Chopin was in many ways a contradictory figure: a passionately patriotic Pole, he left his country for good at the age of 21; frail and almost sexless, he was famous for a seven-year love affair with the novelist George Sand; shy, lonely, and retiring, he was inevitably surrounded by friends and admirers. In Chopin in Paris, biographer Tad Szulc has produced a dishy account of Chopin's most creative and tempestuous period, his 18-year sojourn in France. It's also a portrait of a unique time, when musical and artistic luminaries such as Chopin, Balzac, Hugo, Liszt, Berlioz, Delacroix, and Schumann ran in the same heady Parisian circles.
What it's not is a detailed study of Chopin's music. The author of critically praised books about Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II, Szulc sets out in search of Chopin the man, "the human dimension" he finds missing in other, more musically oriented biographies. What he finds is not always attractive; tortured through much of his life by physical and psychological illness, Chopin emerges as an often fussy, distant, manipulative man, as well as something of a snob. It's a tribute to his genius as a composer, Szulc writes, that he was befriended by some of the greatest minds of his age, including the larger-than-life figure of George Sand: "Fryderyk Chopin gave the world a treasure in music. The world gave Chopin a treasure in human beings." Commendably, Szulc refrains from editorializing about the composer's life and habits, in particular Chopin's break with Sand. Instead, he allows his wealth of primary sources--including diaries, memoirs, letters, and Chopin's own brief journal--to speak for themselves.
--This text refers to the Digital edition.