Brian's Bookshelf - Music


Musica mundana - the mathematical connection: Jamie James - Robert Osserman - Thomas Levenson
Musica instrumentalis - the ordinary stuff: du Pré biog. - Ralph Hill - Horowitz biog.
Musical reference books: Buettner & Pauly - Nicholas Slonimsky


Musica mundana - the mathematical connection

USATop Ten James, Jamie: "The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science and the Natural Order of the Universe" 260pp; Pub. UK by Little, Brown and Co, 1994 ISBN: 0-349-10542-1 (First pub. US, by Grove Press, 1993)

My review in "Music by Numbers" - excellent!

This is in my "Top Ten" list of books everyone should read to understand the world we live in. (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Japanese: Popup help)

USAOsserman, Robert: "Poetry of the Universe: a mathematical exploration of the cosmos." 200pp; paperback pub. by Doubleday, New York, 1996 ISBN: 0-385-47429-6 (First pub. 1995)

My review in "Music by Numbers" - excellent! (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Japanese: Popup help)

USALevenson, Thomas: "Measure for Measure: a musical history of science" 350pp; paperback pub. Touchstone, New York, 1996, ISBN: 0-684-80434-4

My review in "Music by Numbers" - doesn't quite match up to James or Osserman (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Japanese: Popup help)


Musica instrumentalis - the ordinary stuff

(Alphabetical by author, except biography by subject)

UK"Jacqueline du Pré, a biography", Carol Easton, pub. Hodder & Stoughton 1989

I haven't seen the 1998 film "Hilary and Jackie" - notionally the same biography - that provoked a letter of protest to the London Times by many of Jacqueline du Pré's friends, but I get the impression that this book is a much more straightforward telling of her story (there's no mention of sex with Hilary's hubbie for a start). In a nutshell: girl genius discovers cello, discovers boys, keeps going with cello, gets multiple sclerosis, and dies at 42, in October 1987, at the time we call Black Monday. Nobody comes out of this book a saint - neither Jackie, nor husband Daniel Baremboim. Yet if Baremboim had been the sort of person who could dedicate the prime of his life to looking after an ailing wife, he wouldn't have been the pianist and conductor we know. Carol Easton paints him as flawed, but honourable. Recommended.

Find used copy through ABE

UKHill, Ralph: "The Symphony" pub. Penguin 1949, price 2/6
Hill, Ralph (editor): "The Concerto" pub. Penguin 1952, price 3/6

A couple of old books I (literally) found in the attic. But they've turned out to be useful and interesting, as basic references to standard concert repertoire that I don't know (there's plenty of that). Not much goes out of date in the analysis of the themes in Beethoven's fifth symphony, for example, though of course it's hard to imagine a description of Elgar's cello concerto written now that didn't mention Jacqueline du Pré. After writing The Symphony, Ralph Hill planned the Concerto volume as a collection of essays by a number of writers (none of whose names I recognise), but sadly died before it was published. Definitely recommended.
Of course they're out of print, but the web has made ordinary, non-collectable, out of print books available, often at close to their original cover price.

Find used copies through ABE: The Symphony - The Concerto - Both as a set

"Horowitz, His life and music" by Harold Schonberg, pub. Simon & Schuster 1992

An excellent read - the story of Vladimir Horowitz, the piano's "last romantic". Here are his own words on his American debut with Sir Thomas Beecham:

"I was less controlled in those days and there was sometimes a show-off quality to my playing. Beecham tried to keep up but couldn't, and he and I did not end together, but the important thing was that I played my way, not his."

Horowitz certainly had connections - he married Toscanini's daughter, and won acclaim from audiences. But he sometimes had problems with the critics, and suffered several mysterious prolonged "disappearances" from the concert scene. The story takes a poignant turn when near the end of his life he finally went back to his native Russia for the first time in sixty years. An engrossing book, now out of print (but easy to find).

Find used copy through ABE (The search includes a "~chess" keyword to eliminate a book on the Fischer/Spassky match which Schonberg co-wrote with one Al Horowitz.)


Musical reference books

Book cover
Front cover portrait of Schoenberg by Kokoschka
Stewart Buettner and Reinhard G. Pauly: "Great Composers - Great Artists: Portraits" pub. Amadeus Press, Portland Oregon, 1992 ISBN 0-931340-50-0, 170pp

This isn't a reference book: it's a coffee table book, but I didn't want to start another category. What a coffee table book, though! These are all portraits of musicians, from Notker Balbulus more than a thousand years ago to Prokofiev, Gershwin, and Poulenc in (what I'm just learning to call) the last century.

Neither the first nor the last image in the book is realistic: Pope Gregory (of the chants) in about AD 600 was only represented in a highly formalised way, and the last composer, John Cage, gets an abstract joke, a sculpture of a cage by Walter de Maria. But in between we get a look at so many great names, often two in a single painting underlining the artistic unity of the period: Thomas Gainsborough paints JC Bach, Ingres paints Cherubini, Delacroix paints Chopin, Renoir paints Wagner, Manet paints Chabrier, Millais paints Sir Arthur Sullivan (Wow - how Victorian!), Rodin sculpts Mahler, Picasso draws Satie and de Falla, and well deserving his place on the front cover, Schoenberg paints both himself and Alban Berg. Among the lesser-known artists, it's perhaps particularly worth mentioning the strikingly clean lines of the sculpture of Gershwin by the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi (1908-88), and also the painting of Grieg by John Singer Sargent, cousin of Charles Sprague Sargent, whose involvement with the Arnold Arboretum you can read about in A Reunion of Trees.

All in all, this is a cultural feast not to be missed.

Find used copy through ABE

Slonimsky, Nicholas: "The Concise Baker's, A biographical dictionary of composers and musicians" pub. Simon Schuster ISBN 0-671-69896-6 (UK version, £25; US price probably lower)

Very highly recommended! A huge book (1400 pp), which is immensely useful. Each entry starts with what I've dubbed the "Slonimsky rating", normally an adjective in front of the person's name - "eminent", "remarkable", "Scottish", or whatever. (Memorising some of these labels is an excellent way to lend a veneer of erudition to an otherwise uninspired web posting - referring to Bach, for example, as the "supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music".) Many entries are very funny, and the first thing to read when you get it is the entry for Slonimsky himself - a rating of "failed wunderkind".
It seems that I have the 7th edition. The 8th, published in 1993 costs slightly more. (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Japanese: Popup help)

Paperback edition (only available in America):



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Updated January 2002 - Almost WDG validated