Music Books ~ Winter 2000
"First Nights: Five Musical Premieres"
by Thomas Forrest Kelly
Imagine being present at the premieres not only of "Messiah," but of Beethoven's Ninth, Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique," Monteverdi's "Orfeo," and Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." The prospect would be enough to make any music lover a willing guinea pig for time-travel research. Thanks to the vivid re-creations of Harvard professor Thomas Forrest Kelly (and based on his popular lecture course), "First Nights" gets you stunningly close to the action. It's brimming with information for both the general and the seasoned music lover, including memorable anecdotes, portraits of contemporary reactions and snafus, considerations of the venues, and reflections on the significance of each of these big moments in the history of music. However well you know these masterpieces, Kelly's essays abound in new insights--and they'll make you heartily wish you could have scored these hot tickets.
"Berlioz (Volume Two): Servitude and Greatness" by David Cairns
The conclusion to David Cairns's epic biography of Hector Berlioz has been eagerly awaited ever since the first volume appeared in 1989. With an achievement as massive as that highly praised volume, part of the tension of waiting for the follow-up involves wondering whether Cairns can capture again the sweep, the vividness, and the power of his first book. But he has managed to do exactly that. Cairns picks up the story with Berlioz's marriage to Harriet Smithson in 1833. He convincingly demonstrates just how far ahead of his time Berlioz was, and his biography follows the tragedies and the triumphs of this larger-than-life individual with a narrative force as gripping as a good novel.
"The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany"
by Martin Goldsmith
Martin Goldsmith--the mellifluously knowledgeable former host of NPR's "Performance Today" program of classical music news--has written a Holocaust era memoir like no other. "The Inextinguishable Symphony" tells the story of his musician parents, who met in Berlin's Jewish Culture Association during the period of racial apartheid in the early days of the Nazi regime. Goldsmith treats of such issues as the politics of art, survivor guilt, and the meaning music can infuse into our lives. A brilliant and moving memoir.
"A Brahms Reader"
by Michael Musgrave
The profundities and paradoxes of Brahms's legacy have taken center stage in lieu of the pseudo-politics that used to divide music lovers into "camps." In his astute "Brahms Reader," Michael Musgrave traces the many images and personas surrounding the composer. Musgrave draws on the composer's own words (and on contemporary writings) to attempt a more integrated portrait, examining the network of traits uniting Brahms as friend, as scholar, and as creator.
"Beethoven and His World"
edited by Scott G. Burnham and Michael Steinberg
There can never be a final word on Beethoven. For the most contemporary perspectives on the significance of his music--in its own cultural context as well as in today's--check out this interdisciplinary study drawing on the work of various scholars, including Reinhold Brinkmann, Leon Botstein, Glenn Stanley, Elaine Sisman, and Nicholas Marston. Essay topics cover the theme of Beethovenian "heroism" and its political reverberations, memory and temporality, Vienna's piano culture, and the varieties of Beethoven reception (including a fascinating analysis of the composer's funeral).
"The Cleveland Orchestra Story: Second to None" by Donald Rosenberg
Just how did a small industrial city in the Midwest give birth to an orchestra that would gain elite status, not only in its own country but among the top rank of world orchestras? In this intricately researched history, music historian Donald Rosenberg addresses this and many other issues, such as U.S. cultural politics in an earlier era, the role of technical perfection as a grail, and, of course, the impact of personal genius in the guise of "master builder" George Szell.
"Critical Entertainments: Music Old and New" by Charles Rosen
From a quarter-century's worth of book reviews, eminent musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen has culled some of his most fascinating musings and thought pieces on such topics as exaggerated reports of the "death of classical music," historically informed performances of Bach's keyboard music, and musicological reference books. Rosen's insights are as sharp, astute, and witty as ever, and easier to access here for the lay reader than in his acclaimed studies of the Classical and Romantic styles.
"Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano" by James Parakilas
The piano's "invention" 300 years ago, in Florence, by one Bartolomeo Cristofori, was an integral part of the revolution that spread music making beyond the elite quarters of aristocrats into the homes of the growing middle class. Its emergence against a panoply of other types of keyboard instrument (much like that of the modern violin from competing strings) is a fascinating story of musical evolution. But it's just one of the tangents covered in "Piano Roles." Profusely illustrated, this collaborative and admirably readable study discusses the marketing of the piano and the succeeding phases of its changing personality in the public eye; the dual role of concert and domestic music making; the social significance of piano pedagogy; and the larger iconography of the instrument in other media, among many other topics. A splendid and, yes, striking read.
"Herbert von Karajan: A Life in Music"
by Richard Osborne
In October 2000, the music world marked the 10th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's death. Along with Lenny, an entire era of the conductor-genius (sardonically termed "the maestro myth" by muckraking music journalist Norman LeBrecht) seemed to have breathed its last. Another of its most formidable representatives was the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, who had died just one year earlier. Though tainted by obfuscations over the extent of his youthful involvement in the Nazi party, Karajan exercised a profound influence in the opera house and concert hall, presiding over the prestigious Salzburg Festival. This ardent technophile created a gargantuan catalog of recordings that did much to shape the popular conception of the conductor. British journalist Richard Osborne, a regular contributor to Gramophone, here attempts the epic task of assessing Karajan's legacy in its totality.
"The American Opera Singer:
"Gershwin's World" ~ Compact Disc: by Herbie Hancock
"Tour de Flux" ~ Compact Disc: Jazz Mandolin Project
"Casino Gardens (1946) ~ Compact Disc: Dorsey Brothers
"Tango Argentino-El Motivo" ~ Compact Disc: Trio Pantango
BOOK ~ "Blues Boss": by Bart Schnider
BOOK ~ "Miles: The Autobiography": by Miles Davis
BOOK ~ "A Miles Davis Reader": edited by Bill Kirchner
BOOK ~ "Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis": by Jack Chambers