Books on classical music

Your 'hot spot' for all classical music subjects. Non-classical music subjects are to be posted in the Corner Pub.

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BC
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Books on classical music

Post by BC » Thu May 24, 2007 12:24 pm

I've been listening to a lot of classical music after a long period in which I listened to it fairly rarely. I'm interested in reading more on the subject, but I'm finding it difficult to know which books to buy. Since I last took a close interest, mainstream bookshops seem to have drastically reduced the size of their classical music sections, so there's not much scope for browsing. I've recently bought the Penguin and Gramophone guides; I still have older editions of these, as well as the Oxford companion, an older edition of the Rough Guide, biographies of Britten and Wagner, Paul Griffiths history of the string quartet, and some other bits and pieces, but it doesn't add up to much. I've been taking the BBC and Gramophone magazines for the past few months, but there hasn't been much in the book review sections to tempt me.

Right now I find I am listening to quite a lot of relatively mainstream 20th-century music: the composers I'm most interested in include Shostakovich, Bartok, Janacek, Stravinsky, Mahler, Vaughan Williams -- I could add to the list but you will get the general picture. I'd be interested in good books about 20th-century music generally, or critical biographies of these and similar composers, preferably avoiding anything overly technical. A good critical biography of Shostakovich would be particularly welcome -- I've managed to browse through some of what's available but Elizabeth Wilson's book seems to focus mainly on the life rather than the music, while others are bogged down in partisan viewsof the "Testimony" controversy, a subject that seems guaranteed to generate more heat than light.

I'd very much welcome recommendations from other forum members.

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Re: Books on classical music

Post by Chalkperson » Thu May 24, 2007 12:59 pm

BC wrote:II'd very much welcome recommendations from other forum members.
Buy yourself a subscription to Fanfare, it's a bi-monthly mag/book wth really intelligent reviewers, and it has an awesome library of reviews on it's Website, which you can only access with a subscription, the archive alone is worth the price of a subscription... 8)

http://www.fanfarearchive.com/
Last edited by Chalkperson on Thu May 24, 2007 1:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu May 24, 2007 1:00 pm

How about a music history text? My favorite is Crocker's History of Musical Style, dirt cheap used from Amazon. It is outstanding for everything before c.1950.

For later, you might pick up Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America by Robert P. Morgan or Paul Griffiths' Modern Music and After. All can be had from Amazon so you don't have to depend on your local stores.
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Post by karlhenning » Thu May 24, 2007 1:47 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:How about a music history text? My favorite is Crocker's History of Musical Style, dirt cheap used from Amazon. It is outstanding for everything before c.1950.
BC wrote:. . . the composers I'm most interested in include Shostakovich, Bartok, Janacek, Stravinsky, Mahler, Vaughan Williams
Apart from the style of Mahler, I don't know that the Crocker would answer the request.

BC, some of my relatively recent reading is right up your alley:

Stephen Walsh, Stravinsky -- A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882-1934

Stephen Walsh, Stravinsky -- The Second Exile: France and America, 1934-1971

Elizabeth Wilson, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, second edition

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Post by Ralph » Thu May 24, 2007 2:10 pm

BBC Music Magazine is the most accessible in terms of well-written articles and reviews covering a very broad spectrum of music. And there's a full-length CD every month too.
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Thu May 24, 2007 4:49 pm

I find the Cambridge Companions to Music series quite excellent, but am no expert.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu May 24, 2007 5:10 pm

karlhenning wrote:
BC wrote:. . . the composers I'm most interested in include Shostakovich, Bartok, Janacek, Stravinsky, Mahler, Vaughan Williams
Apart from the style of Mahler, I don't know that the Crocker would answer the request.
BC wrote:I'm interested in reading more on the subject, but I'm finding it difficult to know which books to buy. Since I last took a close interest, mainstream bookshops seem to have drastically reduced the size of their classical music sections, so there's not much scope for browsing. I've recently bought the Penguin and Gramophone guides; I still have older editions of these, as well as the Oxford companion, an older edition of the Rough Guide,
Geez, Karl. I was responding to his introduction. He sounded like he was interested in the whole field, not just the momentary preoccupation with 20th century. At $7 he couldn't find a better book on the entire subject minus anything that happened after the publication date of 1966, which deficiency can be remedied by other titles.
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Post by John F » Thu May 24, 2007 7:04 pm

BC wrote:good books about 20th-century music generally
I agree that Morgan's "Twentieth Century Music" is a good overview of the period, the best I know in English.
BC wrote:the composers I'm most interested in include Shostakovich, Bartok, Janacek, Stravinsky, Mahler, Vaughan Williams
Shostakovich: There's a war of words going on about his life and what his music conveys. Most of it I don't find very edifying. Elizabeth Wilson, "Shostakovich: A Life Remembered" provides a biographical framework for many recollections by the composer's friends and contemporaries.

Bartok: "The Life and Music of Bela Bartok" by Halsey Stevens is over 50 years old, and a lot more is known about the life and the music now. But I don't know a better full biography in English. Maybe someone else here does.

Janacek: Mirka Zemanova, "Janacek: A Composer's Life" is the most recent biography and it's been well received.

Stravinsky: I agree that Stephen Walsh's 2-volume biography is a good one.

Mahler: A mammoth biography in multiple volumes has been ongoing for decades from Henry-Louis de La Grange, but the final volume covering Mahler's American years hasn't yet appeared, the first volume is out of print and needs revision anyway, and it's way too detailed for any but dedicated Mahler fans. Trouble is, I don't own a one-volume biography. Peter Franklin's "The Life of Mahler" in the "Musical Lives" series is well spoken of.

Vaughan Williams: Ursula Vaughan Williams's biography of her husband, "R.V.W.", is the one on my shelf.
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Post by BC » Fri May 25, 2007 6:45 am

Thanks to all who replied.

Corlyss, I am interested in the Crocker, but suspect that picking up a reasonably priced edition may be more difficult on the side of the Atlantic. Amazon UK does list some used paperback copies, but they are around the list price for a new one. I will look around and see what is available, though.

As far as biographies are concerned, my ideal would be one that covers the life adequately, but concentrates on the music. John or Karl, does the Wilson biography of Shostakovich have much to say about the music itself? Flicking through it I got the impression that it was concerned largely with the details of the life? I understand that Wilson was a talented cellist who studied with Shostakovich, and that she would be well qualified to write about the music, but my possibly mistaken impression was that she hadn't.

Does Fanfare cover similar ground to Gramophone and the BBC magazine? If so, I'd probably stick with these rather than subscribe
fora publication that needs to be shipped from the USA. If, on the other hand, Fanfare is offering something quite different, I may be interested in subscribing.

Thanks also for other recommendations -- I will be checking these out, and will no doubt be buying some of them -- I will no doubt post some comments once I have read them.

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Post by karlhenning » Fri May 25, 2007 7:01 am

Corlyss_D wrote:Geez, Karl. I was responding to his introduction. He sounded like he was interested in the whole field, not just the momentary preoccupation with 20th century.
Preoccupation with the 20th century is nothing temporary, believe you me! :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Fri May 25, 2007 7:08 am

BC wrote:John or Karl, does the Wilson biography of Shostakovich have much to say about the music itself? Flicking through it I got the impression that it was concerned largely with the details of the life?
That's by and large fair; it is a compendium of oral history, essentially.

I don't believe there is any good overall survey of Shostakovich's music yet available. The Fay biography is excellent, but it is by design "simply" A Life. The best we come to it is the Works section of the New Grove reprint (Russian Masters II). I leafed through Hurwitz's "owner's manual" guide to the 15 symphonies and the 6 concertos, and a couple of quibbles aside, it's fairly good, and worth a read.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by John F » Fri May 25, 2007 7:18 am

BC wrote:does the Wilson biography of Shostakovich have much to say about the music itself?
A lot about the circumstances of its composition, i.e. how it relates to the life, but no systematic commentary or analysis of the music itself. There is no "Life and Works" biography of Shostakovich that I know of, and no study of all his works that I'd recommend. David Hurwitz, "Shostakovich Symphonies and Concertos: An Owner's Manual" (Amadeus Press, 2006) provides fairly expansive program notes on that repertoire.

"Fanfare" covers American record releases/imports, while the other magazines you mention are British. And "Fanfare" reviews far more recordings, indeed just about everything. But it doesn't cover classical music news, and there are no illustrations.
John Francis

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Post by karlhenning » Fri May 25, 2007 7:25 am

Nice to see we seem on the same page, John!

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by BC » Mon Jun 18, 2007 1:33 pm

Just to say I picked up Elizabeth Wilson's Shostakovich bio from Amazon and very fine it is too, thank for the recommendation to those who mentioned it. I think I will pick up Morgan's book on Twentieth Century music next.

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Post by GK » Mon Jun 18, 2007 2:49 pm

Lots of material on the internet. Simply google "Classical Music" and take it from there.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Jun 18, 2007 3:03 pm

GK wrote:Lots of material on the internet. Simply google "Classical Music" and take it from there.
Yes, but it's so unsystematic and dubious. You have to know what you're doing when you rely on internet sources.
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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jun 18, 2007 3:12 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
GK wrote:Lots of material on the internet. Simply google "Classical Music" and take it from there.
Yes, but it's so unsystematic and dubious. You have to know what you're doing when you rely on internet sources.
The plain truth, Corlyss!

Cheers,
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Post by GK » Mon Jun 18, 2007 4:50 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
GK wrote:Lots of material on the internet. Simply google "Classical Music" and take it from there.
Yes, but it's so unsystematic and dubious. You have to know what you're doing when you rely on internet sources.
That is certainly true. In fact if he's not careful BC may actually run into a post from CMG , :wink: but I think that he'll be able to discriminate.

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Post by RebLem » Mon Jun 18, 2007 7:25 pm

I have found Boris Schwarz"s Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917-1981 published by the Indiana University Press to be an invaluable guide to the intersection of politics and art in Soviet society in the subject period. It will give you good background, and an overview, a context, in which to see other writings by and about particular composers there.
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Post by piston » Mon Jun 18, 2007 7:47 pm

RebLem wrote:I have found Boris Schwarz"s Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917-1981 published by the Indiana University Press to be an invaluable guide to the intersection of politics and art in Soviet society in the subject period. It will give you good background, and an overview, a context, in which to see other writings by and about particular composers there.
I read Schwarz's book last summer and, indeed, found his narrative very "inter-disciplinary," carefully and constantly weaving information about a fast-changing Soviet cultural agenda, particularly during the 1920's and 1930's, with that of a great variety of composers, schools of music, associations, etc. The composers are understood in their respective societal and cultural contexts, and their particular rivalries, at different points during their creative lives. Stalin's dreadful and deadly influence on Soviet classical composition, if I recall correctly, was mainly felt [Edit!] during a period of some eighteen years before his death in 1953.
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Post by slofstra » Tue Jun 19, 2007 7:11 pm

I've been impressed by Schonberg's Lives of the Great Composers, which has been on my shelf for many years. But I've yet to read it. :roll:
The Ursula Vaughan Williams biography of RVW is a favourite book, let alone composer biography.

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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 19, 2007 10:42 pm

slofstra wrote:I've been impressed by Schonberg's Lives of the Great Composers, which has been on my shelf for many years. But I've yet to read it. :roll:
Do not waste your time with the Schonberg, any more than you would with Milton Cross's similarly titled volume.

I've been avoiding this thread, but for me, probably the most important book on music written in the last half century that was issued by a mainstream publisher and is accessible (barely) to a sophisticated amateur is still Charles Rosen's The Classical Style. But don't expect it to give you a comfy Sunday afternoon when t's raining outside.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jun 20, 2007 3:13 am

Seems to me all the books discussed here could be broken down into the kind of information it supplies.

Generalist history of music
Specific composer biography
Specific form or period of history text

What type would serve depends entirely on what type is being sought. I got the clear impression our seeker was looking for a general history text, to be filled in with specific composers' bios he was interested in. Am I wrong? If he were looking for a general history of music, a title devoted to Romantic or Classical period music wouldn't serve, any more than a collection of "important composers" bios like Henry suggests would serve if he were looking for something on Shostakovich. But if one just wants to get a feel for the sweep of personalities among composers, or the evolution of style thru the centuries, a general book would do quite nicely.
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Post by John F » Wed Jun 20, 2007 4:10 am

Schonberg's "Lives of the Great Composers" was pretty much written off the top of his head. I was at Norton when the manuscript came in, and after reading through it, Norton's music editor refused to accept and edit it, because he felt it would compromise the publisher's high reputation in the field. (Norton also published Rosen's "The Classical Style.")

The head of the company was nevertheless unwilling to reject a book whose subject and author promised good sales. So he passed the editing to one of Norton's general trade editors, who liked classical music but had no very deep knowledge of the subject. The result was a polished piece of work which was unreliable in its details. Schonberg wrote several other books that are well worth reading, but I wouldn't say that of this one. At least not as it was originally published in 1970.

Now the book is in its third edition, and I don't know whether Schonberg or his Norton editors revisited what he previously wrote and put it right. But that seems unlikely and I wouldn't count on it.
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jun 20, 2007 7:55 am

jbuck919 wrote:I've been avoiding this thread, but for me, probably the most important book on music written in the last half century that was issued by a mainstream publisher and is accessible (barely) to a sophisticated amateur is still Charles Rosen's The Classical Style.
An excellent book.

But (and perhaps this is why you had been avoiding the thread?) — the OP was an inquiry after books about the 20th-century mainstream classics.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jun 20, 2007 2:01 pm

karlhenning wrote:the OP was an inquiry after books about the 20th-century mainstream classics.
Only the second paragraph. The first paragraph was not specific and seemed to indicate a general history text was being sought. We're all trying to be helpful in a show-offy kind of way. 8)
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Post by Cyril Ignatius » Thu Jun 21, 2007 5:18 pm

So many possibilities:

For a general overview of classical music, let me recommend Karl Haas' Inside Music.
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Post by IcedNote » Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:36 pm

For something a bit different, I really enjoyed:

Nineteenth-Century Piano Music, edited by R. Larry Todd

It's a collection of essays and has a great deal to do with the actual music.

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Post by karlhenning » Fri Jun 22, 2007 7:55 am

Cyril Ignatius wrote:So many possibilities:

For a general overview of classical music, let me recommend Karl Haas' Inside Music.
(* shudder *)

Norman Lebrecht meets Barney.
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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 22, 2007 8:25 am

karlhenning wrote:
Cyril Ignatius wrote:So many possibilities:

For a general overview of classical music, let me recommend Karl Haas' Inside Music.
(* shudder *)

Norman Lebrecht meets Barney.
And Karl (Henning, that is) rushes in where John fears to tread. :)

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Post by some guy » Sat Jun 23, 2007 9:09 am

Perhaps Mr. Haas's books are well edited, but I listened to his shows from time to time back in the day, and, well, I'd mention bulls and china shops were it not that that would give a false impression of the delicacy and grace of the average bull.

The best book I know on twentieth century music, most evenhanded and informative, is David Cope's New Directions in Music. There've been seven editions of this, the first three the most evenhanded. But the updated materials in the later editions means you really can't be without number seven.

It covers all the ground pretty thoroughly, spending the bulk of its time on musics that barely get a nod in the "mainstream" books, if they get even that. So you won't get too much on Shostakovich and Janacek and Bartok, but you will get a healthy dose of Mumma and Young and Childs and the like.

I don't think this is what you're wanting right now, but the time may come. Just remember, you heard about it here first!
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Post by slofstra » Sat Jun 23, 2007 10:56 am

jbuck wrote:slofstra wrote:
I've been impressed by Schonberg's Lives of the Great Composers, which has been on my shelf for many years. But I've yet to read it. Rolling Eyes


Do not waste your time with the Schonberg, any more than you would with Milton Cross's similarly titled volume.

Please note that I haven't actually read the book. Though up to now, I had been looking forward to it. I have been reading this lately:

Image

Wonderfully well written survey book. The only caveat is the split page style where two articles simultaneously cover 10 or more pages. More annoying than reading BBC Music magazine. Just give me the text linearly please, that's how I read.

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 23, 2007 12:19 pm

There are aspects of this thread that exemplify the difference between beginner and experienced interest, and I don't mean that biography is not important (it is in fact very important). But books on the level of "Chopin had an affair with George Sand" are of no use to anyone over the age of six who claims an interest in serious music.

Other music books of continuing worth include the writings of Tovey, which I believe are still in print. But they do not include "The Vintage Guide to Classical Music."

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Bringing back old memories

Post by Art Leonard » Sat Jun 23, 2007 1:50 pm

Back in days gone by when I was first reading books about classical music, I especially enjoyed the argumentative books by B.H. Haggin, whose occasional columns I would see in The New Republic. I also enjoyed anthologies of newspaper columns by Deems Taylor, who was a prominent critic, less prominent composer (although he had an opera performed at the Met in NY!, and there is a Naxos CD with some of his orchestral music), and made a cameo appearance in "Fantasia." But that recounts my reading back in the 1960s, which also included collections of music criticism by George Bernard Shaw (but beware his allergy to Brahms).

More recently, I've been fascinated by Joseph Horowitz's books, especially Understanding Toscanini, even though I disagree with many of his conclusions.

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Post by slofstra » Sat Jun 23, 2007 2:41 pm

I didn't know that Bramwell Tovey had published anything though he was well known in this area as a populizer and educator of classical music when he conducted the Hamilton Philharmonic.

Here's the one I heard you were doing when you were six. Is that you on the right?

Image

Finally, a plug once again for http://www.abebooks.com. They list 44 copies of Crocker's A History of Musical Style (ISBN: 0486250296) , $5 and up.

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 23, 2007 3:00 pm

slofstra wrote:I didn't know that Bramwell Tovey had published anything though he was well known in this area as a populizer and educator of classical music when he conducted the Hamilton Philharmonic.

Here's the one I heard you were doing when you were six. Is that you on the right?

Image

Finally, a plug once again for http://www.abebooks.com. They list 44 copies of Crocker's A History of Musical Style (ISBN: 0486250296) , $5 and up.
I never had that much hair, and it takes a lot to get my interest on such a topic (which means I only eventually comment in disgust because everyone else is recommending trash), and for those who might not know I meant Donald Francis Tovey, who is perfectly comprehensible to anyone who knows the difference between Beethoven and Roll Over Beethoven.

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Post by slofstra » Sat Jun 23, 2007 3:19 pm

In all seriousness I did look up Tovey on www.abebooks.com.
Are you familiar or can vouch for any of these:

1) The Classics of Music: Talks, Essays, and Other Writings Previously Uncollected (ISBN: 0198162146) US $260 and up, uggg

2) Beethoven Sonatas for Pianoforte in 3 Volumes US $185

3) Essays in Musical Analysis. (6 Volumes.) US $70 to $100 This looks promising. Is it worthwhile? Copies available in Canada, US and Australia.

At lower prices:
4) Beethoven, a slim volume.

5) The Forms of Music, $1.99 and up.

Numerous other things, I guess I've been reading Tovey for a while myself since he wrote a large number of the music articles in the Britannica, which I refer to often.

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 23, 2007 3:32 pm

slofstra wrote:In all seriousness I did look up Tovey on www.abebooks.com.
Are you familiar or can vouch for any of these:

1) The Classics of Music: Talks, Essays, and Other Writings Previously Uncollected (ISBN: 0198162146) US $260 and up, uggg

2) Beethoven Sonatas for Pianoforte in 3 Volumes US $185

3) Essays in Musical Analysis. (6 Volumes.) US $70 to $100 This looks promising. Is it worthwhile? Copies available in Canada, US and Australia.

At lower prices:
4) Beethoven, a slim volume.

5) The Forms of Music, $1.99 and up.

Numerous other things, I guess I've been reading Tovey for a while myself since he wrote a large number of the music articles in the Britannica, which I refer to often.
I've read everything he ever published that was still in print or available in a great university library from the time I was 18, including his collected articles from the famous 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, where he was the sole musical contributor. I read the Britannica articles in the original print.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by slofstra » Sat Jun 23, 2007 3:48 pm

Any specific comments on the 'Essays in Musical Analysis'. How technical are they?

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Tovey's Essays

Post by Art Leonard » Sat Jun 23, 2007 4:00 pm

I also read Tovey's Essays in Musical Analysis back in college days. They are fairly technical, but are clearly written in a way that somebody without significant musical theory background can enjoy them, with some occasional skipping of the more technical bits.

Actually, Michael Steinberg's more recent books, based on his program notes for San Francisco Symphony Orchestra concerts, might serve better for somebody without theoretical musical training. He has a book about symphonies, another about concerti, and another about choral music.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jun 23, 2007 4:11 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Cyril Ignatius wrote:So many possibilities:

For a general overview of classical music, let me recommend Karl Haas' Inside Music.
(* shudder *)

Norman Lebrecht meets Barney.
Glad I didn't say that . . . . Image
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Re: Tovey's Essays

Post by slofstra » Sat Jun 23, 2007 5:24 pm

Art Leonard wrote:I also read Tovey's Essays in Musical Analysis back in college days. They are fairly technical, but are clearly written in a way that somebody without significant musical theory background can enjoy them, with some occasional skipping of the more technical bits.

Actually, Michael Steinberg's more recent books, based on his program notes for San Francisco Symphony Orchestra concerts, might serve better for somebody without theoretical musical training. He has a book about symphonies, another about concerti, and another about choral music.
Good news! I have in hand, at this very minute, Tovey's Essays in Musical Analysis. It turned out that one of the bookstores list on abebooks.com as having a copy is only 5 minutes up the road from Waterloo. I went up just now and purchased the complete set for $80 Canadian. I do intend to finish the Vintage Guide first - well, maybe I'll have a look at a few of my favourite pieces in Tovey first. I've only had a quick browse but the Essays don't seem too involved at all. Should be quite instructive. I may follow up with more info later.

Unfortunately, (well, somewhat fortunately, I guess), I also found several (like 8) more volumes in the 'Great Stories of Canada' series I collect. And, a biography of La Verendrye - so my purse is a lot lighter again, sigh. Could not pass these up. As Lance says, it's only money. Good thing the store closed at 6 though.

Oh, and they have thousands of classical LP records. Here is the web link in case any of you ever stop in the tourist town of St. Jacobs, Ontario. http://www.stjacobsantiques.com

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Re: Tovey's Essays

Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jun 23, 2007 6:44 pm

slofstra wrote:Good news! I have in hand, at this very minute, Tovey's Essays in Musical Analysis. It turned out that one of the bookstores list on abebooks.com as having a copy is only 5 minutes up the road from Waterloo. I went up just now and purchased the complete set for $80 Canadian. I do intend to finish the Vintage Guide first - well, maybe I'll have a look at a few of my favourite pieces in Tovey first. I've only had a quick browse but the Essays don't seem too involved at all. Should be quite instructive. I may follow up with more info later.
Let us know when you come up for air . . .
Unfortunately, (well, somewhat fortunately, I guess), I also found several (like 8) more volumes in the 'Great Stories of Canada' series I collect. And, a biography of La Verendrye - so my purse is a lot lighter again, sigh. Could not pass these up. As Lance says, it's only money. Good thing the store closed at 6 though.
Welcome to the World of the Classical Music Guide, where money flows like water and people need a second house for their acquisitions.
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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 23, 2007 7:59 pm

slofstra wrote:Any specific comments on the 'Essays in Musical Analysis'. How technical are they?
The whole point with Tovey is his accessibility. In this regard he contrasts greatly with the German music theorist Heinrich Schenker, whom I have emphatically avoided recommending on this thread, though a case can be made that Tovey is Schenker's equal in many important respects. The volumes you are speaking of (see, I know that they are multiple volumes, although there might be a newer comprehensive edition of which I am unaware) contain many important and informative essays, all of them accessible to the average educated listener. They also contain, unless they have been more recently edited, short essays that amount to musical criticism of unknown and insignificant composers who I assume Tovey was paid to review a la Harold C. Schonberg.

Brahms's Handel Variations are one of the three of four greatest sets of variations ever composed. Do I know that from independent listening? Of course. But where did I get the (para)phrase? From Tovey, in precisely the series of essays you mention.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by slofstra » Sat Jun 23, 2007 9:42 pm

I've been looking at volume 3 on the Concerto. (The volumes are: I and II, the symphony; III, the concerto; IV, Illustrative music; V, vocal music; VI supplementary essays, glossary and index). This volume was first published in 1936, but I have the 7th impression of 1948, Oxford University Press. It's a slim, compact volume of 225 pages, like all the volumes, there is a great deal of content in spite of the small format.

In this volume on the concerto, there's no Tchaikovsky and no Rachmaninoff. Lots of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and the other Germaniums. But also ahem, Franck, and Bruch, Glazounov (Piano Concerto), Dohnanyi, Respighi and Walton.

Then there are a few others - either paid appearances as you suggest, or just works I'm not familiar with: Somervell, Joachim, and Schmidt.

Here's a brief extract from his introductory essay on the development of the Concerto:
Tovey on Beethoven's concertos wrote:Beethoven ceased making the ritornello come to a full stop before the solo entered. In his three greatest concertos the end of the ritornello is dramatic and expectant, so that the solo enters on a dominant chord and ruminates in broad passages of immense dignity and beauty before taking up the themes. These passages correspond to the new theme with which Mozart so often begins the solos of his larger concertos; but with their entry on the dominant and their non-thematic character, they produce a far more thrilling effect.


Clear incisive writing, but at my level it does help to have my music dictionary at my side.

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Steinberg more readable and up to date

Post by Art Leonard » Sun Jun 24, 2007 6:17 am

That's why you might find Michael Steinberg's collections of program notes more readable. Since he is writing for a concert audience, he tries to communicate information similar to Tovey in language understandable to an intelligent lay audience. And his selections reflect today's standard repertory, rather than the more limited repertory that would occur to a pre-World War II British scholar.

In any event, it is useful to read both Tovey and Steinberg.

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Post by slofstra » Sun Jun 24, 2007 2:16 pm

Well, if you parse the writing above, the essential point is that the orchestra and piano overlap, or segue from one to the other in Beethoven's music.

Terms like ritornello and tutti are 2 dollar words that aren't that hard to understand after looking them up, and are useful to know. The idea of a dominant (versus tonic) chord had to be explained to me (by my daughter), and since I've never played I probably wouldn't recognize the effect unless it reached out and slapped me in the face. That's where a recording with narration would be more effective or even a score along with the music. Now that I'm aware of the technique I will listen for it though.

If I read something like this, and it's only a little beyond my grasp, I feel that it raises my level. There's no question that we should study and read things outside our comfort zone.

Your comment on the repertory increasing in size is interesting. Or is it just changing?

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Jun 25, 2007 2:03 am

slofstra wrote: Your comment on the repertory increasing in size is interesting. Or is it just changing?
Just for shits and grins, look on ABE for Robert Bagar's & Louis Biancolli's The Concert Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Symphonic Music 868pp including index from 1947 (available for $1). It is a compendium of concert program notes such as one might find in a typical program then. Note the compositions. Then compare it to Downe's similar but larger format The New York Philharmonic Guide to the Symphony 1058pp including index from 1976 (available on Amazon for $2). Look at the changes in compositions and composers from the former to the latter. Deems Taylor wrote pithily in the introduction to the former:
There are other books of program notes; but most of them present difficulties for the average reader. Some run to many volumes and are so erudite that they are likely to be heavy going for the nonprofessional; others cover only a limited field; still others stick to cold facts with no trimmings; and too many are written in such a high rhapsodic vein that the music they describe comes rather as an anticlimax. This book manages to avoid all these pitfalls.

Its origin might interst you. Early in 1941 Pitts Sanborn died. He had been, among other things, the program annotator for the concerts of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, and his sudden passing made it imperative to find a successor who would write the notes for the remaining concerts of the 1940-1941 season. The Philharmonic-Symphony's board of directors found, not one, but two. They were the young and comparatively unknown music critics of the New York World-Telegram. They took over Sanborn's job so effectively that they are now not quite so young and are definitely far from unknown. This book is a compendium of what they wrote over a period of a little less than seven years.

I know of no similar book that covers such a wide and catholic field. The oldest composer discussed is Tomas Luis De Victoria, who would be celebrating his four hundred and seventh birthday if her were alive. The youngest, Lukas Foss, is three hundred and eighty-two years his junior.
The Downes' book fills the same role as the Biancolli, but includes many more works and writes for a more sophisticated audience, but the prose is not necessarily better than the Biancolli. I keep both around because of the paucity of liner notes on cds.
Last edited by Corlyss_D on Tue Jun 26, 2007 2:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by slofstra » Mon Jun 25, 2007 9:06 am

Certainly can't go wrong at those prices. The introduction you quoted truly is from the earlier volume? Both of these books relate to the NY Phil then, I take it.

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Post by BC » Mon Jun 25, 2007 9:23 am

Thanks to all who have made recommendations - I have already researched some of these and will poke around a bit more, and report back on which ones I buy. Unfortunately many are either unavailable in the UK or only available for a significant multiple of the US price.

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