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In Search of Chopin (2014)

In a new film from the director of award-winning and critically acclaimed trilogy In Search of Mozart, In Search of Beethoven & In Search of Haydn Phil Grabsky brings us the music and life ... See full summary »

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In a new film from the director of award-winning and critically acclaimed trilogy In Search of Mozart, In Search of Beethoven & In Search of Haydn Phil Grabsky brings us the music and life story of one of the world's favourite composers, Fryderyk Chopin. In a quest to discover new insights into Chopin, the man and his musical genius, Grabsky travelled the globe over four years recording performances by world-class musicians and interviewing respected historians and musicologists. Featuring Daniel Barenboim; Ronald Brautigam;; Jeremy Siepmann, Nelson Goerner; Kevin Kenner; Janusz Olejniczak; Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century conducted by Frans Brüggen; Leif Ove Andsnes; Lars Vogt. Juliet Stevenson narrates and RSC actor David Dawson voices Chopin's letters.

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15 May 2014 (New Zealand)  »

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An illuminating study
16 October 2014 | by (Vancouver, B.C.) – See all my reviews

Philip Grabsky, who previously documented the life and work of Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn, returns with an illuminating study of the great 19th century Polish composer and pianist, Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin. The documentary, In Search of Chopin, follows the same format as the other films, sampling sequential compositions of the artist interspersed with the comments of music historians and soloists who specialize in Chopin's music. Narrated by stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson with the voice of David Dawson quoting from Chopin's letters, the film was four years in the making and features partial performances of Chopin's works including his Piano Concertos 1 & 2, the Sonata in B-flat minor, as well as selections from his short pieces, the Mazurkas, Ballades, Polonaises, and Waltzes.

These pieces are performed on historic pianos such as the Pleyel et Cie by pianists Leif Ove Andsnes, Lars Vogt, Kevin Kenner, and Ronald Brautigam who explain and comment on Chopin's works. There is also commentary by Chopin expert, author Jeremy Siepmann, who wrote The Life and Works of Chopin. The film takes us from Chopin's boyhood and teenage years in Warsaw to his life in Vienna and Paris where he lived for ten years, with time spent in Mallorca and summers in the village of Nohant in France. Grabsky does not hesitate to point out that Warsaw at that time was not a provincial backwater but a city of considerable artistic accomplishment.

Chopin's father, then a teacher, boarded children of the most affluent families in the region and the assumption is that Chopin learned his elegant manners from the aristocratic boys. Though he did not return to Poland because of the political unrest and became a French citizen, Chopin was passionate about his homeland and his Mazurkas and Polonaises reflect the influence of Polish dances and folk music. After his death at the early age of 39, his sister Ludwika carried his heart to Warsaw where it is buried in the Church of the Holy Cross. The film touches on Chopin's personal life including his failed courtships with Delphina Potocka, Constantia Gladkowska, and Maria Wodzinska, but spends more time discussing his long, complicated relationship with the feminist writer Amantine-Lucille-Aurore Dupin and her two children, Maurice and Saronga.

Known as George Sand, Madame Dupin dressed as a man, wore a top hat, smoked cigars, and was reputed to be eclectic in her choice of companions. While outwardly, these were happy times, there is an unexplained melancholy and sadness in Chopin's music. The assumption is that his tuberculosis and the general poor health which plagued him for most of his adult life contributed to his sorrow, but much of who Chopin was remains elusive. Surprisingly, his letters reveal a good deal of wit and humor and, according to Grabsky, he was considered an excellent mimic and could draw caricatures that were often hilarious. These lighter qualities, however, generally do not find their way into his music.

Chopin's works are very personal and he was not a public figure. He shied away from public performances, feeling that his music was not suitable for large halls and preferred to play in salons or in his home. Like Proust, when in Paris, he also courted the aristocracy, dressing in expensive clothes and giving piano lessons to the children of the wealthy but Grabsky points out that much of this was pretense, a compromise to achieve entry into the highly competitive world of the artistic world of Paris.

The core of In Search of Chopin, however, is the exquisite poetry of Chopin's music and hearing it performed by accomplished soloists on the big screen is a joyous experience. The period in which he lived was the apex of the Romantic Movement in music and no one expressed this spirit more than Chopin. Though some have accused him of being a remote and haughty opportunist, to listen to the beauty of the larghetto of his Second Piano Concerto tells us all we need to know about his soulfulness and humanity.


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