I am writing this with Chopin’s Preludes playing in the background. The reason, apart from the music being utterly beautiful … ? Well, I recently read Chopin’s Piano: In Search of the Instrument that Transformed Music by Paul Kildea, which I found a most interesting book. It made me realise that although I have often written about art books for you, I have never yet written about a book concerned with music.
In 1838 Chopin and the novelist George Sand (whose name at birth was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin) went to the island of Majorca to live with her children (she had separated from her husband). She wanted to write and he wanted to compose music. It was there he wrote most of his Preludes, using a small piano made by an unknown piano maker called Juan Bauza. The couple left the island rather hurriedly, leaving the piano behind. Paul Kildea traces the piano’s subsequent history – how it was bought by an acclaimed pianist for her collection of musical instruments, how it was seized by the Nazis, then located again, and then lost. The book tells the story of Chopin’s time in Majorca, his subsequent years in Paris and at Nohant (Sand’s beautiful home in central France – well worth visiting!), and his early death, but it also tells the story of pianos, how Steinway came along and revolutionised the instrument, and how music changed as a result. I did not understand all the musical descriptions in the book, but I was still intrigued.
I visited Nohant with a tour group some years ago and that evening we enjoyed a concert in a nearby barn, given by Maître Cyril Huvé, a professional pianist and piano collector. He had five grand pianos, one dating from the time of Chopin and it was so fascinating to hear the same piece played on instruments from different eras. One of his pianos was a very rare double grand – keyboards at each end.
You can read Sand’s account of the visit to Majorca in her A Winter in Majorca or Story of My Life. She was a remarkable woman.
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Selected links for relevant websites, books, movies, videos, and more. Some of these links are for protected content on this website, learn more about that here.
Susannah Fullerton: George Sand is born
Susannah Fullerton: Chopin’s Piano and George Sand
Susannah Fullerton: Literary France – Susannah’s Top Ten Places to Visit
Chopin – The Preludes
Chopin`s Piano – In Search of the Instrument that Transformed Music by Paul Kildea
A Winter in Majorca by George Sand
Chopin: Preludes played by Sviatoslav Richter
Susannah Fullerton: Escape to Nohant, France
Susannah Fullerton: In Search of Literary France free to watch on YouTube