In honour of the 200 years since his birth in 1810, the Royal Ontario Museum dedicated an exhibit to the life of Fryderyk Chopin, the Polish virtuoso pianist and composer. The exhibit features a purple room with white writing organized into the parts of Chopin’s life, while Chopin’s music plays quietly to complete the ambience. The first section is an introduction about Chopin’s family, written in English, Polish, and French. The rest of the information is offered in only English and French, laid out side-by-side for easy reading. The entire setup is very easy to follow and understand, but the information seems to just gloss over his life. It’s good for someone who knows little about Chopin’s life, but those who are very familiar with his work and fame may be disappointed by the lack of detail.
The exhibit essentially goes through his story, complete with photographs and, sitting nearby, two pianos—but they’re only the same models, not the ones he actually played. The first is a Pleyel grand piano, Chopin’s favourite, which he owned in 1839; Pleyel supplied him with pianos for most of his career. The second is a Broadway upright piano, like the one Chopin played during his time in London, England. Details of his life included the places Chopin lived in, from his birthplace in Poland to his stays in Vienna, Paris, and London in order to promote his career. Although he died in Paris and is buried there, his request that his heart be buried in his homeland of Poland was honoured. These little details were included in informative paragraphs with the photographs and artifacts, although there was no mention of which illness caused the debilitating episodes from which he suffered or why he died at the of age 39.
The exhibit also features a display box with four handwritten compositions showing what his original scores actually looked like; one of them is sloppy—and it’s supposedly an edited draft. Chopin also “double-spaced” his music, leaving an empty line between the grand staffs (the two staffs used for piano scores). There is also the option to listen to each of these pieces, which provide the background music for the entire exhibit.
In addition to Chopin, the exhibit features many letters and photographs of other composers of his era (Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Rossini), along with letters from well-known Romantic era musicians and artists he knew in his life. There is also information about the Romantic Age, with artifacts such as goblets and plates, as well as pictures showing the men’s clothing fashions at the time.
Fryderyk Chopin and the Romantic Piano is an exhibit that anyone can appreciate, even those who haven’t heard of Chopin. Although the exhibit is interesting, alone it’s not worth the $24 admission price. Of course, university students can also go to the ROM for free on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and for a small surcharge it’s worthwhile to see the Chopin display along with other exhibits (dinosaurs, anyone?). The exhibit is open until March 27, so visit the ROM and appreciate the life of a great pianist.