In Search of Chopin
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2014
Those who have seen Phil Grabsky’s first three films in this series (where he was searching for Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven) will already have made up their minds to see his exploration of Chopin.
The hugely successful documentaries are simple in their construction, combining scholarly talking-heads interviews with musicologists and musicians from around the world with footage of performances of the composer’s key works. However, the film is not just a fascinating lecture on the life of (in this case) Frederic Chopin, the French-fathered, Polish-born pianist, but also an incredible education into the construction of his compositions as experts break down the influences and musicianship of Chopin’s works.
The film’s key strength is that you don’t need to be musical yourself to understand the detail – an appreciation is all you need. As is to be expected in such a study, the foibles of Chopin’s personal life are also unearthed, from the prodigious upbringing that saw him (like Mozart) playing in palaces and fashionable homes at the age of eight, to his long affair with the scandalous female writer, George Sand, later in life. We hear his “voice” through narrated letters, and gasp in awe to discover the naturally talented young man who became renowned as “the most pianistic of all composers” never had a piano lesson in his life.
With a healthy dose of soundtrack (naturally) and interesting details shared by some curiously quirky individuals, as well as an impressive turn from an aging Daniel Barenboim, Grabsky’s four-year journey into Chopin’s past brings a well-loved composer back to life.