The great difficulty for any biographer of Fryderyk Chopin is conveying his mercurial personality. An idea of its elusiveness can perhaps be glimpsed from one pupil’s struggle to understand how Chopin wanted a piece played:

[H]e rose from the couch to play the piece and . . . finished the lesson . . . . I did not want to forget this experience to which I had so religiously listened.

At the following lesson, almost satisfied with the imitative fashion in which I had worked on the piece, I played it again. Unfortunately . . . Chopin once again . . . rose and with a brusque reprimand, seated himself at the piano saying, “Listen, this is how it should go,” and proceeded to play it again in an entirely different way.

Chopin’s evanescence was not restricted to performance...


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