Chopin's Funeral by Benita Eisler

Monday, July 23, 2012

Title: Chopin's Funeral
Author: Benita Eisler
Genre: Biography, nonfiction
Publisher: Vintage, 2004
Source: Library
Read for: Paris in July

A few of you may know that in a former life, I was a music major. I spent about four hours a day practicing the piano in high school. While I don't play nearly that much now, music is a huge part of my life. Frederic Chopin happens to be one of my favorite composers. I first read this book in high school, and the other day I found myself thinking of it and decided to read it again.

The book begins with Chopin's funeral -- the people who were there, the music that was played, the way his coffin looked, his final resting place in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It then takes us back to his early life, his beginning fame as a performer and composer, and his troubled relationship with the infamous novelist George Sand. While Chopin had poor health throughout his brief adulthood, it was the ending of his romance with Sand that finally spiraled him down into decline and death.

Chopin and I at Pere Lachaise
This 240-page volume is sparse, even for Chopin's brief life. Eisler does not spend time on the minute details of Chopin's life, instead bringing to her narrative details that I found more interesting -- his relationships with women, family members, and friends; the types of pianos he had; the circumstances he was in when he wrote certain pieces of music. The book read like a novel instead of a listing of details (a trap I find many biographies fall into) and it was smooth and easy to read. Each event on which Benita Eisler focuses is relevant to the next, so that we see many of the events of Chopin's life in a cause and effect relationship. The details themselves of Chopin's life were also interesting -- he lead the life of a romantic artist in a romantic city, dying in the end of a romantic, Bohemian disease. Aside from his tumultuous relationship with Sand, he also had a woman back in Poland that he remembered with a bundle of faded letters bound up with a rose and labeled "My Sorrow."

Eisler's writing is fluid and evocative, adding to the romantic air of Chopin's life with her excellent descriptions of Paris and Chopin's music. There is nothing stiff in her portrayal of Chopin's life, and she writes with a sensitivity and care that indicates to me that she is also a lover of his music.

The one thing that I wish could have been added to this novel is a CD or interactive file of Chopin's music. Compositions are frequently referenced and I was not familiar with all of them. While at times I would search for them on the internet and listen, others I was not near a computer or headphones and wasn't able to connect with the music. I know interactive ebooks are a new "thing" and this book was written almost ten years ago, but this book would be a perfect candidate for a reimagining as an interactive ebook.

While some readers might not appreciate Eisler's minimalist, descriptive rendering of Chopin's life, for me as a reader and a musician it was deeply satisfying. Learning about the man behind the music made the musical legacy he leaves behind even more meaningful. Any lover of classical music and Chopin's music in particular will find Chopin's Funeral an evocative treat.

4 stars

Warnings: A few sordid affairs are alluded to.


  1. How did I not know about this book before? I love Chopin, he's my favorite composer to play. So much emotion in his music. Thank you, thank you, I can't wait to go find this book.

    1. I think you will really like it. Like I said it is great to read it with a computer nearby so you can listen to all the pieces they mention, although I wasn't able to do that the whole time I was reading the book.

  2. You read some amazingly deep books. I should expand my reading more I suppose. ;)

    1. Most of them aren't too deep but I do enjoy some hard books with my fun ones. :)


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