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In Search of Chopin - Film Review

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by Helen Belli (subscribe)
I am now living in Kariong on the Central Coast
Published September 4th 2014
Sharmill Films

Chopin was born in Poland in 1810 and died in his beloved Paris in poverty in 1849. In a time when 141 piano makers and a plethora of pianists, including Liszt and Schumann who both admired him, lived and worked in Paris, he was one of the leading musicians.

He never had a piano lesson, instead received his grounding from a violin master. A child prodigy and natural pianist, he developed a technique that 'made the piano sing'. He was influenced by earlier composers including Mozart whom he greatly admired, he gave his first public performance at the age of 8 and published at the age of 15. However, he hated giving large concerts and made what little money he did by teaching, composing and private recitals.

Through the eyes of some of today's eminent pianists and played on wonderful old instruments that have a more mellow sound and fluid movement from key to key than modern instruments, snippets of his amazing output are played. These folk clearly consider Chopin as a superstar – as his was in his lifetime. Directed by Phil Grabsky and narrated by Juliet Stevenson, it is one of a series of popular films 'in search of' the lives of famous composers. His life is traced through the cities he visits and lives in, and there are many.

His letters show a sensitive man, suffering from his illness, but he displays a sense of fun. He contacted T.B. at the age of 16 which led to his death at the age of 39.

His music reflects his moods and emotions. Schubert once said he expressed 98% of his emotions in his music while most only give 2%. Chopin may have added the other 2% in his. It is recommended you listen to his 2nd piano concerto when you are in love. When he lost his sister, his music contained 'savage screams'. He never had any serious money, was rarely happy and was unfulfilled emotionally.

In 1837 he met Aurore and lived with her for 11 mostly happy years. Chopin always wished he had been born into nobility. The next best thing was a woman who was a cousin of the king of France, albeit on the wrong side of the blanket. She wrote under the pseudonym of George Sand.

By today's standards she would be considered a liberated woman. In her own time her life was a scandalous affair. Her love affairs were the talk of the town, an interesting contrast to the conservative, if not stuffy, Chopin. She made a fortune from her novels, plays and political writings, enough to keep Chopin in the manner he aspired to.

Chopin was only one of her many lovers and she said she opened the way ahead for other women. These were his most productive years and not long after they parted his death followed.

The series of 'in search of' is a wonderful insight into the lives of remarkable composers. Because the series is so popular let's hope it is extended to more extraordinary fields.
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