The provocatively postmodern title of Jeffrey Kallberg’s book – which appears to promise free reflection on gender, ambiguously suggesting that we will be moving in sexual and ‘borderline’ spheres – basically does not reveal even a part of the mysteries or riches of the subjects that comprise this erudite study. Kallberg’s book, a collection of his essays from 1980–1994, poses an entire series of fascinating questions, providing not infrequently surprising answers to them. What did the expression ‘Arielle of the piano’ as a description of Chopin mean to his contemporaries? Why was the nocturne perceived as a typically feminine genre? Were the Preludes op. 28 really conceived by the composer as a cycle that should be performed – as is most commonly accepted today – in its entirety? What does ‘final style’ mean in the case of Chopin’s œuvre, and is it possible that the Mazurka in F minor op. 68 no. 4, considered to be Chopin’s final work, reinterpreted now several times from sketches discovered after the composer’s death, was actually never written?
Having divided his book into three parts – focusing in turn on problems in the relationship between genre on the one hand, and societal ideologies and stereotypes on the other; on the relationships between societal constructs and the possible course of the compositional process; and, finally, on issues associated with the understanding of a musical work, inseparably associated with its presence and reception in society – over the course of seven chapters, Kallberg confronts past and contemporary views not only of Chopin’s œuvre, but also of the composer himself as a basically controversial figure, ambiguous and certainly not entirely understood, on the basis of an abundance of documentation and without losing sight even for a moment of the scores of Chopin’s works.