A dazzling exploration of romantic music unlike any other, from one of the most exciting writers about classical music.
In November 1838 Frédéric Chopin, George Sand and her two children sailed to Majorca to escape the Parisian winter. They settled in an abandoned monastery at Valldemossa in the mountains above Palma where Chopin finished what would eventually be recognised as one of the great and revolutionary works of musical Romanticism - his 24 Preludes. There was scarcely a decent piano on the island (these were still early days in the evolution of the modern instrument), so Chopin worked on a small pianino made by a local craftsman, which remained in their monastic cell for seventy years after he and Sand had left.
This brilliant and unclassifiable book traces the history of Chopin's 24 Preludes through the instruments on which they were played, the pianists who interpreted them and the traditions they came to represent. Yet it begins and ends with the Majorcan pianino, which during the Second World War assumed an astonishing cultural potency as it became, for the Nazis, a symbol of the man and music they were determined to appropriate as their own.
The unexpected hero of the second part of the book is the great keyboard player and musical thinker Wanda Landowska, who rescued the pianino from Valldemossa in 1913, and who would later become one of the most influential artistic figures of the twentieth century. Kildea shows how her story - a compelling account based for the first time on her private papers - resonates with Chopin's, all the while simultaneously distilling part of the cultural and political history of Europe and the United States in the central decades of the century. Kildea's beautifully interwoven narratives, part cultural history and part detective story, take us on an unexpected journey through musical Romanticism and allow us to reflect freshly on the changing meaning of music over time.
About the Author
Paul Kildea is a writer and conductor who has performed many of the Britten works he writes about, in opera houses and concert halls from Sydney to Hamburg. He has written extensively on the relationship between music and culture in the twentieth century: his previous books include Selling Britten (2002) and (as editor) Britten on Music (2003). He was Head of Music at the Aldeburgh Festival between 1999 and 2002 and subsequently Artistic Director of the Wigmore Hall in London. He lives in Berlin.
A wonderful book about music, musicians, cultural similarities and differences, the blood and gore of revolutionary times and the compensations of high art. Kildea writes with elegance and wit, and displays the kind of scholarship that does not come from simply mugging up on a few books. ... A book that will, amongst other things, send the reader back with fresh ears to the delightful, tormented Pole, and hear the music he composed on a borrowed piano in a monastery cell in Mallorca one terrible winter -- Michael Henderson * The Times *
Chopin's Piano takes the motif of this piano - "Out of date before it was completed"; its maker Juan Bauza unknown and possibly an amateur - and uses it to tie together various narrative strands in an original, constantly interesting format. As it does it tells the story of Chopin's work, the development of piano making, and how music became inextricably linked to atrocities in the 20th century. -- Jonathan McAloon * Financial Times *
An episodic, picaresque tale, woven confidently - at times even pacily - by Kildea. He writes knowledgeably and approachably about music and sympathetically about his cast of characters. It is the story of an obsession, but it manages not to feel obsessional. ... I enjoyed it very much. -- Alan Rusbridger * Spectator *
An exceptionally fine book: erudite, digressive, urbane and deeply moving. -- Michael O'Donnell * Wall Street Journal *
The tale of a humble instrument, its story fleshed out in rich and fascinating detail. ... Kildea weaves together its many possible strands - documented and speculative - with cross-cutting virtuosity. The result is an invigorating read, brilliant for the ease with which Kildea switches between subjects, places, and even eras -- John Allison * Australian Book Review *
Expertly and effortlessly illustrates how Landowska's trials and tribulations relate to Chopin's, a saga which redefined portions of the cultural and political history of mid-20th century. Captivating and intriguing -- Michael Thomas Barry * New York Journal of Books *
In tracing the history of the Bauza piano and the lives of those who played it, Kildea achieves a combination of performance and reception history that makes one listen more closely to the music -- Anna Picard * Times Literary Supplement *