"What They Said"


‘Excellent one-man show’ The Observer

‘… Life enhancing’ Financial Times

‘Nicholas enlivens and extends the Jerome/Wodehouse  tradition’ Harpers and Queen


‘A capital way to spend an evening’ Daily Mail

‘ Jeremy Nicholas’s wonderfully sharp songs’ The Independent

‘Jeremy Nicholas’s truly wonderful songs’ Classical Music

‘An extraordinary talent’ Birmingham Post


‘The noted writer, commentator and Leopold Godowsky biographer Jeremy Nicholas [has] penned Musical Chairs, a classical music “A-list” invitation litany replete with wicked asides, plus three other charmers included here. (Classics Today)

‘Jeremy Nicholas’s “Usherette’s Blues” [is] a clever lament from a theatre usher who never gets to see the final reel, and “Musical Chairs” (Nicholas again), a catty cataloguing of the “glitterati” on classical music’s celebrity list that is guaranteed to have any ARG enthusiast giggling from start to finish.’ (American Record Guide)


‘Jeremy Nicholas’s amusing and wittily delivered verses make a refreshing change from the better-known Ogden Nash poems…’ BBC Music Magazine

‘My children were as charmed as I by Jeremy Nicholas’s cunningly clever new verses for Carnival of the Animals…’  Gramophone


‘I didn’t know this book existed! It’s a treasure chest for those interested in the Golden Age of piano playing! Don’t miss it!’ (Amazon reader review, 2016)

‘An informative and vividly written biography resulting from 10 years meticulous research…’ (Jed Distler, Gramophone, 2014)

‘…a narrative aptly overstuffed with captivating quotes and Pickwickian asides..’ (Benjamin Ivry, International Piano, 2014)

‘…this book transcends the normal parameters of a biographical format: it opened up the door to a whole new truly inspiring musical world which remains with me to this day.’ (Amazon review, 2001)


REVIEW on musicweb.com

Books about Chopin are not exactly rare on the ground – as the selected bibliography in the end of the book tells us – but it also seems that latterly not many have been published. Given the short turn-over time for books few may be available in the stores.

This well-written overview certainly fills a need and – as far as I know – it is unique in that it is not just a book; it is part of a multimedia concept. It includes two well-filled CDs and access to a website. The content of the CDs is culled from Naxos’s complete Chopin cycle, played by Idil Biret. Even though there may be individual recordings by other great Chopin interpreters that are even better Biret’s remain consistent and illuminating readings. I collected several of the discs when they were new and have found much to admire, the snag being a somewhat clangy sound, robbing the music of some of its poetry. As so often happens, though, one gets used to it and adjusts.

The choice of music is excellent. It is presented chronologically with references in the text and also annotations for each of the musical numbers at the end of the book. By acquiring this book the Chopin newcomer will gain a fine cross-section of his best compositions. These are to be savoured a few at a time or will provide continuous listening for years to come.

The book is divided into fourteen chapters. We follow Chopin’s life and career from the cradle to the grave. In an Epilogue Jeremy Nicholas brings together all the loose ends: what happened to those who were close to him and survived him? It turns out that some of their lives occupy the rest of the century, his early love Maria Wodzińska died in 1896 and George Sand’s daughter Solange in 1899.

Under Jeremy Nicholas’s skilled guidance we get to know everything that was important in Chopin’s life and about the steady stream of people that walked in and out of his salons. So many of the greats of the first half of the 19th century were there, not only musicians but also painters, authors, all kinds of cultural personalities. It was a good idea to have a section entitled Personalities with thumbnail biographies.

I can sometimes become fed up with too much information of “whom he met”, “where he travelled then” etc when reading biographies, but I must say that this presentation really held me. The reason is at least two-fold: firstly Nicholas’s style of writing has the right light touch, addressing the reader personally, He also finds some humorous twists. Secondly he lets us look straight into the heart and soul of the main characters, especially Chopin himself, by frequently quoting from letters and diaries. Not that this format is novel but is done skilfully and the effect is heightened through italicizing the quotations.

The target-group for this book is more the general music-lover than the specialist, but I believe even the latter category will find several grains of gold.

The actual life story of Chopin occupies only the first 194 pages. The rest is a very useful appendix, comprising a Music Chronology with all his published compositions and with comments on all but a few minor works. This is very valuable as a reference. There are also lists, with comments, of “Chopin on Film”, “Chopin in the Theatre” and “Chopin Plagiarised” to mention some. Sooner or later, they’re going to steal those melodies”, Chopin’s teacher Elsner is quoted as saying in the film A Song to Remember, and the list of stolen tunes includes among other things Minute Waltz “every note of [it] sung by Barbara Streisand”. Since a couple of Gigli recordings are also mentioned I would like to add, since I reviewed it recently, his version of the Etude, Op. 10 No 3, while to the list of arrangements of Chopin’s music Julius Jacobsen’s hilarious version of the Minute Waltz for trombone (!) and piano, played on a BIS disc by Christian Lindberg and Roland Pöntinen, should also be added.

A glossary with simple explanations of central terminology adds to the value of the book, especially for the newly converted. Finally there is a very detailed index.

At an asking price of £16.99 this book+CDs would be a valuable addition to any music lover’s music library.