John Allison reviews 'Chopin’s Piano: A journey through Romanticism' by Paul Kildea

John Allison reviews 'Chopin’s Piano: A journey through Romanticism' by Paul Kildea

Chopin’s Piano: A journey through Romanticism

by Paul Kildea

Allen Lane, $55 hb, 368 pp, 9780241187944

Some things are easier to lose than others, but how does a piano come to be mislaid? When that piano has been lugged up and down an island mountain, made one – perhaps two – sea crossings, and been looted by the Nazis, there could be any number of causes for its disappearance, but something more recent and mysterious has led to this now 180-year-old instrument remaining hidden, maybe in plain view. Even more tantalisingly, this is not just any piano: during the difficult winter of 1838–39, when Frédéric Chopin and George Sand stayed in the monastery at Valldemossa, Spain, it was ‘Chopin’s Piano’. Paul Kildea’s new book is the tale of a humble instrument, its story fleshed out in rich and fascinating detail.

Photographs of the piano exist, showing it in Wanda Landowska’s Berlin apartment shortly before World War I, and they confirm the maker’s name. One of the first pictures woven into the well-illustrated text is of the manufacturer’s label: Fabricado por Juan Bauza, calle de la Mision, Palma. In perhaps the most memorable portrait ever made of that remarkable pioneering harpsichordist, Landowska poses for the photographer Alexander Binder next to this piano. Never more than a local piano maker, Bauza would be entirely forgotten today were it not for the fact that – with no idea about the destiny of this instrument – he built the piano on which Chopin composed some of his 24 Preludes.

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John Allison

John Allison

John Allison has been Editor of Opera magazine since 2000.