In Search of Chopin

August 23, 2014
Phil Grabsky’s 'In Search of Chopin' (2014)
Phil Grabsky’s 'In Search of Chopin' (2014)

One wonders how Frédéric Chopin (1810-49) would have fared in terms of compartmentalisation if Phil Grabsky had been able to sit him down on the psychoanalyst’s couch. Born and raised a Pole, Chopin found his fame in Paris. He fell in love with Polish girls, but the great romance of his life came with the French novelist, Georges Sand (AKA. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), who adopted a male nom-de-plume, and occasionally, male clothing.

Chopin was one of the supreme composers for the piano, writing music for the keyboard that took on many attributes of the human voice, and even the orchestra. We think of Chopin as a defining figure of the Romantic era, but he was physically slight and often ill. He would die at the pathetically early age of 39, from tuberculosis, the scourge of the Romantics.

In Search of Chopin is the latest instalment in Phil Grabsky’s ongoing series about the lives of the composers. We have already gone in search of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn, and Chopin continues in the same vein: a conventional documentary in which we examine the composer’s biography, interspersed with comments from leading musicians and musicologists, and brief performances of key works.

Such a film presupposes a knowledgeable and interested audience. One would like to imagine that some young person who has never heard of Chopin would be converted to his music by the experience of this documentary, but that’s extremely unlikely. Chopin’s admirers may be fascinated by the expert comments and insights, but it will be dull fare to the uninitiated.

How depressing it is to imagine a world in which Chopin is not a household name! That world is probably upon us, and we need to appreciate Grabsky’s composer series as a series of fragments shored against the ruin of western culture.

In Search of Chopin
Written & directed by Phil Grabsky
Narrated by Juliet Stevenson
UK, rated G, 110 mins.

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 23rd August, 2014.