Classical Music Biographies - Books

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Dimma
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Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Dimma » Thu Oct 03, 2013 11:10 am

I couldn't quite find a thread on this topic, but I thought it would be nice to have a resource that points us to different books that focuses on the life of composers/conductors/artists. I am still very much exploring this realm even though I am familiar with some of the works. It would be nice to rely on the cumulative experience of the members to point us in the right direction.

Perhaps this first post can introduce a basic introductory book on the life of the composers. Harold Schonberg's book "The Lives of the Great Composers" is quite enticing, well written, informative and an overall delight in terms of introducing the major composers. I am sure most of us are familiar with the book. It follows a sequential time line with individual chapters on the major composers beginning with Monteverdi while other (minor composers?) are bunched together in later chapters (particularly as we reach the 20th century). Regardless, it is a great read and highly recommended as a starting point. Quite enjoyable!!! :D
http://www.amazon.com/Lives-Great-Compo ... +composers

Individual Composers: Which books would you recommend for the major composers? Books that are classics in terms of insight into the composer and also provide a rich framework of the culture/times he/she lived in. Needless to say I am a book addict (more so than classical music) so my house is a bit crowded. Still, I would love to tap into the collective wisdom of CMG and dig deeper into the lives of the composers. Any recommendations?

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Oct 03, 2013 11:45 am

Being on a Mac I can't post photos.

http://www.amazon.com/Enrico-Caruso-Fat ... +my+father
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John F
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Thu Oct 03, 2013 11:49 am

I'd warn against relying too much on Schonberg's book. He submitted it to W.W. Norton when I was working there, and the company almost rejected it because of many careless inaccuracies - it appeared that Schonberg had written much of it off the top of his head. Finally Norton signed the book, their music editor refused to have anything to do with it, and finally it was seen into print by an editor in the trade department who was a classical music enthusiast but no expert.

An example: Schonberg originally wrote that Wagner conducted the last performance of "Parsifal" at Bayreuth in 1882. In fact Wagner conducted only the final scene of Act 3, supposedly because the conductor Hermann Levi was taken ill during the performance, though possibly because he just wanted to. I assume this boner was corrected, but who knows how many others made it into print?

The cover you show is of the 3rd edition, and maybe it's been improved, but I wouldn't know - I don't own the book.

As for biographies and studies of individual composers, musicians, etc., that's an impossibly broad topic. Why don't you ask about those you're particularly interested in? I'm sure you will get helpful answers.
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Dimma
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Dimma » Thu Oct 03, 2013 11:58 am

John F wrote:I'd warn against relying too much on Schonberg's book. He submitted it to W.W. Norton when I was working there, and the company almost rejected it because of many careless inaccuracies - it appeared that Schonberg had written much of it off the top of his head. Finally Norton signed the book, their music editor refused to have anything to do with it, and finally it was seen into print by an editor in the trade department who was a classical music enthusiast but no expert.

As for biographies and studies of individual composers, musicians, etc., that's an impossibly broad topic. Why don't you ask about those you're particularly interested in? I'm sure you will get helpful answers.
I had no idea that Schonberg's book was so full of errors! Still, does it not serve as a good introduction even if he was off on some of the facts. Is Schonberg's book about the Great Pianists regarded the same way?

Personally, I am looking for "classics" on Liszt, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner and Verdi to mention just a few, but I am all ears for any inspired readings about composers/musicians and their times. I figured that the thread would pick up some interesting selections as long as I did not ask for specifics. E.g. Chalkie's suggestion about Caruso's life comes across as an inspiring read!

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Dimma » Thu Oct 03, 2013 12:07 pm

Chalkperson wrote:Being on a Mac I can't post photos.
http://www.amazon.com/Enrico-Caruso-Fat ... +my+father
Thanks Chalkie! [btw - I am on a mac and can post images] I did not even consider Caruso, but that book definitely seems interesting. I guess that is why I created the thread. Which book comes to your mind as you recommend a musical biography? The inspiring volumes?
It seems like there are two version of the Caruso book - one abridged at 400 pgs and one earlier 1990 version at 700 pgs.
Funny, I was just listening to my Caruso Naxos cds last night!!!! :D


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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Thu Oct 03, 2013 1:08 pm

Dimma wrote:Liszt, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner and Verdi
From my bookshelves:

Mary Jane Philips Matz, "Verdi: A Biography." It's a long book but it was a long and busy life.

Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven: The Music and the Life." Maynard Solomon's "Beethoven" was the choice for a long time but is now somewhat outdated.

There's no single-volume biography of Mozart that I can recommend; Gutman's is full of speculations masquerading as facts, while Solomon puts Mozart (or his corpse) on the psychoanalyst's couch. Stanley Sadie's "Mozart: The Early Years, 1756-1781" was meant to cover the whole life but he died before finishing it; what there is, is good. Fortunately, there's an excellent biography of the rest of Mozart's life, Volkmar Braunbehrens's "Mozart in Vienna, 1781-1791."

Christoph Wolff, "Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician." I think this is very good but don't know what else there may be.

I don't have any Liszt biography, and none of Wagner that I would recommend. When I need information about Wagner I use "The Wagner Compendium"; for Liszt, I look him up in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Maybe others here can do better!
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Oct 03, 2013 1:24 pm

John F wrote:
Dimma wrote:Liszt, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner and Verdi
From my bookshelves:

Mary Jane Philips Matz, "Verdi: A Biography." It's a long book but it was a long and busy life.
I was just about to post that book...

http://www.amazon.com/Verdi-Biography-M ... C+%22Verdi
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Mookalafalas » Sat Oct 05, 2013 5:49 am

What we think of musical biographies will mainly depend on what we want to get from them. I'm an English teacher and am addicted to biographies. I care for the style of the writing as much as the importance of the life. The inaccuracies in Schoenberg's book could be a disaster for someone who wanted it as a research reference volume. However, just as a sensible and intelligent one volume guide to the key composers, I'll bet it's great. I have his volume "The Great Pianists" and found (find) it pleasant, intelligent, and informative. However, as I didn't know anything about most of the pianists when I started, I am an easy audience to please.

I recently read both volumes of Arthur Rubinstein's musical autobiography, and found it terrific reading. He is a master raconteur, and the books are steadily engaging. They are stuffed full of anecdotes about famous musicians and other historical figures--he's almost a musical Forest Gump. Certainly he has a couple of tendencies that most will find tiresome at times, but it is extremely lively and engaging, often reading like a picaresque novel.
Solti's autobiography is rather the opposite. He had an interesting life, but isn't much of a storyteller.
I also just read Sach's book on Toscanini. I got it to accompany the boxed set, more or less. It's well researched and informative. His writing is clean and competent, although nothing more, IMO. I also got his book on Rubinstein, as a corrective to excesses of the autobiographical volumes. However, as he mostly just repeated the same stories while draining them of color and interest, I haven't gotten very far in it.

Anyway, thanks Dimma, for starting this thread! I am very interested in this topic.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Istvan » Sat Oct 05, 2013 6:38 am

. Ernest Newman's 3-volume life of Wagner. One of the best-written and readable of composer biographies but on the expensive side.

For Liszt, unhesitatingly, Alan Walker's 3-volume life, unlikely to be surpassed for many years.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sat Oct 05, 2013 7:55 am

Mookalafalas wrote:The inaccuracies in Schoenberg's book could be a disaster for someone who wanted it as a research reference volume. However, just as a sensible and intelligent one volume guide to the key composers, I'll bet it's great. I have his volume "The Great Pianists" and found (find) it pleasant, intelligent, and informative. However, as I didn't know anything about most of the pianists when I started, I am an easy audience to please.
"The Great Pianists" is probably Schonberg's best book. It's his specialty, and he clearly took pains to get the facts right. But surely, one reads a book like "The Great Composers" for information, not for its literary value, and in that book Schonberg is not to be trusted.
Istvan wrote:Ernest Newman's 3-volume life of Wagner. One of the best-written and readable of composer biographies but on the expensive side.
And badly outdated. A great deal more is known about Wagner's life and career than in 1947 when Newman finally completed the fourth volume of his biography. As with the Schonberg book above, one reads such a work for information, and any value it may have as literature is just a bonus.

The most recent biography listed in the New Grove bibliography is by Barry Millington, a leading Wagner scholar of today; it was revised in 1992. Far less exhaustive than Newman, however; its 356 pages are divided between biography and commentary on the works. I haven't read it and can't comment on it, but if I were looking for a Wagner biography - particularly one of manageable length - this one would be tempting.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Ted Quanrud » Sat Oct 05, 2013 9:53 am

Franz Josef Haydn has been well served biographically, thanks largely to two great scholars - H.C. Robbins Landon and David Wyn Jones. Both have written several volumes on Haydn, and collaborated on one: Haydn: His Life and Music. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-37265-9 (1988). Robbins Landon contributed the biography, while Jones provided analysis and appreciation of the works.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Oct 05, 2013 10:35 am

On this business of analysis and appreciation, I can recommend Jan Swafford's biography of Brahms, enthusiastically even (also for the quality of the writing), but he falls down when taking his own stab at "analyzing" specific works. I suspect that this is a problem of music biography in general. Charles Rosen didn't put much biography into his writings, but his insights into the music are the most penetrating.

Halfway between are musicologists who attempt with varying degrees of success to survey (their own word) everything without getting us grippingly involved in either the composer's life or his music. R.L. Todd's large volume on Mendelssohn is that way. I can still recommend it, but with that qualification.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Klipspringer » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:04 pm

What an interesting topic.

I just finished reading Leon Fleisher's autobiography My Nine Lives and found it enjoyable and informative. I read the book to go along with the box set!

I'm in the process of reading two scholarly books: Schoenberg's New World: The American Years by Sabine Feisst which is totally excellent. It's very very detailed and one would not call it literary. But as a sociological insight into middle century music it can't be beat.

The other is Gyoergy Ligeti: Music of the Imagination by Richard Steinitz. It started off OK, but is beginning to get too technical.

I must admit I like bios that are more story like than fact fact fact. Perhaps I would enjoy Rubinstein's effort.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:16 pm

Biography is story, by nature, but the story has to be soundly based on the facts of the life and times. It's not either or.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Chalkperson » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:17 pm

John F wrote:
Mookalafalas wrote:The inaccuracies in Schoenberg's book could be a disaster for someone who wanted it as a research reference volume. However, just as a sensible and intelligent one volume guide to the key composers, I'll bet it's great. I have his volume "The Great Pianists" and found (find) it pleasant, intelligent, and informative. However, as I didn't know anything about most of the pianists when I started, I am an easy audience to please.
"The Great Pianists" is probably Schonberg's best book. It's his specialty, and he clearly took pains to get the facts right. But surely, one reads a book like "The Great Composers" for information, not for its literary value, and in that book Schonberg is not to be trusted.
I found The Great Composers to be of great use when I started listening to Classical Music. Maybe you feel that didacticism is the only way, but to someone starting out in this most imposing arena it's fine. I was entertained, it was interesting and I picked up a decent amount of knowledge. When I then tried individual biographies of the composers I found them stuffy and boring by comparison.

If we are going to attract new listeners to this music then books like Schoenberg's are important. By comparison, three volume sets about Wagner are almost as boring as the music.

Some of us are just fans, its a hobby for us, maybe for scholars it's not, but to me the literary value outweighs the mistakes.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Chalkperson » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:21 pm

John F wrote:Biography is story, by nature, but the story has to be soundly based on the facts of the life and times. It's not either or.
Music is entertainment, books are entertainment, books about music can also be entertainment, not all of us are as obsessed with didactic perfection as you are, we just want to be entertained.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sat Oct 05, 2013 1:38 pm

I am not concerned with "didactic perfection," and since you clearly meant it as an insult, I object. What I am concerned with is get the truth instead of being fobbed off with what isn't true. You have a problem with that?
Chalkperson wrote:books are entertainment
Some are, some aren't. You want entertainment, read a Tom Clancy novel. Nonfiction books may or may not be entertaining, but what they must be is nonfiction.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Dimma » Sat Oct 05, 2013 1:55 pm

John F wrote:I am not concerned with "didactic perfection," and since you clearly meant it as an insult, I object. What I am concerned with is get the truth instead of being fobbed off with what isn't true. You have a problem with that?
Chalkperson wrote:books are entertainment
Some are, some aren't. You want entertainment, read a Tom Clancy novel. Nonfiction books may or may not be entertaining, but what they must be is nonfiction.
Both the fiction and nonfiction realms range from from horrible to outstanding (as we all know). Authors strive towards a certain goal no matter if it is to convey knowledge or to simply make money. Schonberg's book [composers] certainly achieves a goal in terms of opening up a door to the elusive world of composers and their times allowing listeners to perhaps hear the music in a different way, to explore further and get a sense of the history of music. It is not perfect, but as long as one approaches it that way it certainly serves its purpose with its rich descriptions of past lives and its inherent passion.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Dimma » Sat Oct 05, 2013 1:58 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
John F wrote: I found The Great Composers to be of great use when I started listening to Classical Music. Maybe you feel that didacticism is the only way, but to someone starting out in this most imposing arena it's fine. I was entertained, it was interesting and I picked up a decent amount of knowledge. When I then tried individual biographies of the composers I found them stuffy and boring by comparison.

If we are going to attract new listeners to this music then books like Schoenberg's are important. By comparison, three volume sets about Wagner are almost as boring as the music.

Some of us are just fans, its a hobby for us, maybe for scholars it's not, but to me the literary value outweighs the mistakes.

Hear, hear!!!!
I agree - certainly a wonderful portal for listeners new to the genre or are curious about the composers. Initially the composers just seem like a label on the music one listens to, but the biographical information opens up new worlds. Well stated Chalkie!

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Dimma » Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:03 pm

Mookalafalas wrote:Anyway, thanks Dimma, for starting this thread! I am very interested in this topic.
Thanks! I find this topic fascinating as well so I am glad to see this thread awakening. I enjoy digging deeper into the lives of the composers and so much appreciate the cumulative wisdom and recommendations of this group. I figured that many of have read great works about the composers, and since there are so many it seemed appropriate to cull it down to the true gems.

So little time you know.....

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Dimma » Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:06 pm

John F wrote:Biography is story, by nature, but the story has to be soundly based on the facts of the life and times. It's not either or.
I am well read in history and as you probably know one can argue quite a bit about the nature of history and the perspectives taken by the historians. The same argument applies to biographies based on the source material and the writer. The point is that it brings passion, insight and perspective. I presume that what you are pointing to is that one should have a critical mind as one reads these biographies....

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Chalkperson » Sat Oct 05, 2013 7:15 pm

John F wrote:I am not concerned with "didactic perfection," and since you clearly meant it as an insult, I object. What I am concerned with is get the truth instead of being fobbed off with what isn't true. You have a problem with that?
Chalkperson wrote:books are entertainment
Some are, some aren't. You want entertainment, read a Tom Clancy novel. Nonfiction books may or may not be entertaining, but what they must be is nonfiction.
No, it was not meant as an insult, it was an expression.

I'm getting pretty sick of being threatened by you every time I make a critical comment.

I have told you before that there is no need to say, "You have a problem with that?"

Besides, should it not be "Do you have a problem with that?"

As for didactic perfection, let me qualify it.

You once argued for days about the meaning of the word 'flow'.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by piston » Sat Oct 05, 2013 8:38 pm

I have always much more appreciated a work knowing what's going on in its creator's life. It's not about scandal and controversy, about sexual orientation or substance abuse, etc., but about artistic contexts. On occasion, tremendous artistic synergy is created by the convergence of artists. One can simply appreciate the work, per se, or plunge self in that artistic milieu at a given time.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Mookalafalas » Sat Oct 05, 2013 9:22 pm

John F wrote:Biography is story, by nature, but the story has to be soundly based on the facts of the life and times. It's not either or.

No, it's not either or. However, it can get pretty close. Some present implausible and oversimplified cause/effect chains that make a life sound like an adventure story when it's not, without necessarily lying or inventing facts (in fact, just the opposite, by eliding inconvenient facts that complicate things). Others go to the other extreme and present a long compendium of facts presented in chronological order in prose, but otherwise having little relation to a "story".
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by piston » Sat Oct 05, 2013 9:33 pm

Facts are very important, unavoidable. They're not presented for anything comparable to entertainment, in a society that assesses facts for self-indulgent purposes. Rather, think of our judicial system: a very great bastion of factual evidence. Think of our corporate world where "relativism" about facts will only lead you in one direction -- out! There's been too much descent into discourse by people who would not tolerate their own way of thinking if they were victims of a crime and were hoping that the truth would prevail.....
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sat Oct 05, 2013 11:41 pm

Dimma wrote:
John F wrote:Biography is story, by nature, but the story has to be soundly based on the facts of the life and times. It's not either or.
I am well read in history and as you probably know one can argue quite a bit about the nature of history and the perspectives taken by the historians. The same argument applies to biographies based on the source material and the writer. The point is that it brings passion, insight and perspective. I presume that what you are pointing to is that one should have a critical mind as one reads these biographies....
That too - but one should also have a critical mind as one writes them. :D

For more than a century, biographies of Mozart were full of more or less plausible anecdotes which are today dismissed as fictions, many originally perpetrated by Friedrich Rochlitz 25 years after Mozart's death. One is a letter, now dismissed as fraudulent, in which Mozart supposedly described his method of composition:
When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer; say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come I know not, nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me, I retain in ... memory, and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me, how I may turn this or that morsel to account, so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeably to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments, &c. All this fires my soul, and provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost finished and complete in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once.... When I proceed to write down my ideas, I take out of the bag of my memory, if I may use that phrase, what has previously been collected into it, in the way I have mentioned. For this reason, the committing to paper is done quickly enough, for everything is, as I said before, already finished; and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination.
At least one sentence in this is absurd and impossible. A musical composition, no matter how short, exists in time, and can't possibly be "surveyed at a glance" like a picture or statue, not even by a genius like Mozart. But the idea of Mozart explaining how he did it was so seductive that his biographers' critical faculties went to sleep.

Anton Schindler's biography of Beethoven, which one might suppose to be definitive as Schindler was the composer's close associate (in effect his secretary), is full of untrue stories that Schindler apparently made up himself to enhance his master's reputation. Many were only debunked in the 1970s, though biographers had been treating them with caution for a century before that.

Just because a biography is recent doesn't mean it can be trusted. In Robert Gutman's Mozart biography, published in 2000, "the historical narrative is undermined by authorial attacks of the 'probablies.' Authorial conjecture based on no evidence whatsoever suggests that it was 'most likely' that Wolfgang accompanied his father to watch public executions at the Place du Grève and then becomes the basis for an account of capital punishment in Paris and elsewhere. We also read that Mozart's 'Hague' symphony was 'doubtless' played during a visit to the abbey of Lambach; 'perhaps' the Mozarts visited Alexander Ferdinand, Prince Thurn und Taxis; 'no doubt' the music taken to Italy included a symphony; 'perhaps' Prince Xavier of Saxony had asked to hear him play, and so on. Gutman tells us that speculation is not history, but promptly forgets his own excellent maxim, speculating in this manner throughout the volume." (book review by Michael Burden, http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/02/13/r ... rdent.html)

So if you really want to know what happened in a composer's life - and why else would you read his biography? - you can't allow your own critical faculties to be lulled by an attractive prose style. No matter what Chalkie says. :)
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Tarantella » Sun Oct 06, 2013 1:30 am

John F wrote:
Dimma wrote:Liszt, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner and Verdi
From my bookshelves:

Mary Jane Philips Matz, "Verdi: A Biography." It's a long book but it was a long and busy life.

Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven: The Music and the Life." Maynard Solomon's "Beethoven" was the choice for a long time but is now somewhat outdated.

There's no single-volume biography of Mozart that I can recommend; Gutman's is full of speculations masquerading as facts, while Solomon puts Mozart (or his corpse) on the psychoanalyst's couch. Stanley Sadie's "Mozart: The Early Years, 1756-1781" was meant to cover the whole life but he died before finishing it; what there is, is good. Fortunately, there's an excellent biography of the rest of Mozart's life, Volkmar Braunbehrens's "Mozart in Vienna, 1781-1791."

Christoph Wolff, "Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician." I think this is very good but don't know what else there may be.

I don't have any Liszt biography, and none of Wagner that I would recommend. When I need information about Wagner I use "The Wagner Compendium"; for Liszt, I look him up in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Maybe others here can do better!
The whole genre of biography is fascinating, IMO. It's my favourite genre and often raises more questions than it answers. For me, biography is fact - yes, certainly that - but it is also speculative in the sense that the writer must try to give shape and voice to somebody (mostly) already dead, since he cannot speak for him/herself. I think Solomon has been in some trouble because of his tendency to psychoanalyze but this isn't a problem for me. John, you say that Solomon's "Beethoven" is now outdated - I've never head this comment before - and I'm keen to know your thoughts on this. I read this biography comparatively recently and was absolutely enthralled by Solomon's readings of the ambiguities in the composer's personality. Some have criticized it as amateur psychology, stating that only a qualified psychologist can competently make those kinds of judgments. I totally disagree because there are very many psychologists (and I know some!) who know the 'textbook' but precious little about what really makes fellow human beings tick. It takes experience, intelligence and perceptiveness to make assessments about the character of individuals - one most definitely does not need a degree in the psychological field to understand what motivates, confuses, threatens, inspires and drives people. I must admit that I've tended to psychoanalyze Mozart's character based on his letters and he has been found wanting!!

There is an excellent Liszt biographical trilogy by Alan Walker and this is now regarded as the definitive study of this marvellous composer and philanthropist. My husband read all three tomes during our year in Vienna and he's not a music lover but he deeply admires Franz Liszt. This trilogy is highly recommended. It is divided into the early years, the Wiemar years and the final years. He was a remarkable man, but don't read it if you dislike speculation as to character. For me, this puts flesh on the bones of any decent biography!

May I also suggest that "facts" and "truth" are not necessarily congruent!

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sun Oct 06, 2013 2:13 am

Tarantella wrote:John, you say that Solomon's "Beethoven" is now outdated - I've never head this comment before - and I'm keen to know your thoughts on this. I read this biography comparatively recently and was absolutely enthralled by Solomon's readings of the ambiguities in the composer's personality. Some have criticized it as amateur psychology
One advantage Lewis Lockwood has over Maynard Solomon as a Beethoven biographer is that by 2003, Anton Schindler's biographical inventions had been thoroughly discredited, while in 1977 the process had just begun. For example, Solomon quotes Schindler on Beethoven's alleged suicide attempt in 1803 and takes it seriously, as you might expect considering his focus on Beethoven's psychology. Lockwood clearly takes the story to be a Schindlerism as he doesn't even mention it.

By and large I think Solomon stays within the bounds of the evidence he has (including Schindler) in his psychological interpretations of Beethoven, and I have no problem with a biographer's seeking to reveal his subject's feelings and motives as well as what he was doing and saying. In the more recent biography of Mozart, Solomon oversteps those bounds repeatedly and insistently, and his essay on Schubert's sexuality is pretty scandalous. You win some, you lose some.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Tarantella » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:24 am

Points taken! 'Schindler the swindler', as he is known, caused a lot of damage.

And I'm not at all happy with speculations to the extent that they enter the realm of sexual preference on the flimsiest evidence. It is entirely possible for both sexual preferences to exist perfectly well in tandem, and I wonder why it would even matter.

I was especially intrigued by Solomon's thesis that Beethoven secretly harboured intimate feelings towards his sister-in-law Johanna and that this tension was, in part, the reason they were often at loggerheads. Solomon makes a compelling argument about passion seething below the surface - crypto sexuality - and often initially represented by friction between two people for whom the passion is, as yet, unrecognized and unexpressed. The words "love" and "Beethoven" actually entered Johanna's lexicon and she was 'forced' to acknowledge that no such feelings existed.

The whole subject of biography and autobiography is very interesting to me, not least the notion that the latter is possibly less 'truthful' than the former!!

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sun Oct 06, 2013 7:01 am

By the way, before he became a biographer, Maynard Solomon founded and ran the American record company Vanguard and its associated label Bach Guild, and made a lot of worthwhile classical recordings some of which are even now being reissued. His greatest coup was probably signing Joan Baez and then Odetta to record folk and blues songs at just the right moment. As so often, commercial success in other musical genres underwrote low-profit projects such as recording Bach cantatas.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Istvan » Sun Oct 06, 2013 7:05 am

Oh, no, Ernest Newman's biography of Wagner isn't boring at all - I found it compelling reading. On the way, one can check up on facts in one of the smaller, more matter-of-fact tomes available.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sun Oct 06, 2013 7:16 am

Istvan wrote:Oh, no, Ernest Newman's biography of Wagner isn't boring at all - I found it compelling reading. On the way, one can check up on facts in one of the smaller, more matter-of-fact tomes available.
Did someone else say it's boring? I didn't. But I'm not enough of a Wagnerite to wade through 4 volumes and 107 chapters. :mrgreen: Especially not if I need to keep another Wagner biography at hand to check up on Newman's facts!

P.S. Now I see it was Chalkie who said, "When I then tried individual biographies of the composers I found them stuffy and boring by comparison." But when Dimma quoted him, somehow what he said got attributed to me. Not guilty!
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Chalkperson » Sun Oct 06, 2013 12:14 pm

John F wrote:By the way, before he became a biographer, Maynard Solomon founded and ran the American record company Vanguard and its associated label Bach Guild, and made a lot of worthwhile classical recordings some of which are even now being reissued. His greatest coup was probably signing Joan Baez and then Odetta to record folk and blues songs at just the right moment. As so often, commercial success in other musical genres underwrote low-profit projects such as recording Bach cantatas.
Vanguard was started by the Solomon Brothers, and the first thing of note that they did was to record blacklisted artists in the early fifties, then moving into jazz with John Hammond Snr. The Weavers Live at Carnegie Hall is generally acknowledged at the beginning of the Folk Revival, and this recording and all their other great discs are still available, they benefited greatly when the secured the rights to record the Newport Folk Festival.

Seymour Solomon was Maynard's elder brother and cofounder, he was the one who went to Vienna in 1950 and recorded Bach, he started Vanguard with his brother the following year when their father backed them in a venture that took advantage of the beginning of the LP era. He was a violinist and he was the one that Produced many of the classical recordings. This included Netania Davrath's divinitive recording of Cantaloube's Songs of the Auvergne.

Maynard was of course the more famous one, Seymour does not even warrant his own Wiki entry!!!
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sun Oct 06, 2013 1:29 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
John F wrote:I am not concerned with "didactic perfection," and since you clearly meant it as an insult, I object. What I am concerned with is get the truth instead of being fobbed off with what isn't true. You have a problem with that?
No, it was not meant as an insult, it was an expression.
However you meant it, the expression is clearly a put-down. If you really didn't mean to insult me, then you'll be willing to withdraw it. I'm not holding my breath.
Chalkperson wrote:I'm getting pretty sick of being threatened by you every time I make a critical comment.
You might pay attention to what I actually say. I did not "threaten" you - what could I threaten you with? I objected. If you don't want me to object to what you say, stop giving me reasons to.
Chalkperson wrote:As for didactic perfection, let me qualify it.

You once argued for days about the meaning of the word 'flow'.
Since you've now shifted the subject to the meanings of words, the meaning of "didactic" is "intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive." That has nothing to do with discussing the meaning of the word "flow," or wanting biographies to be not just readable but accurate.

jbuck919 and I enjoy discussing and debating English usage. If you have a problem with that, just ignore it.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Oct 06, 2013 1:56 pm

John F wrote:jbuck919 and I enjoy discussing and debating English usage. If you have a problem with that, just ignore it.
I had no memory of the "flow" thread so searched to find it. I'd like to make it clear that, while I did post on that thread, and while I do debate usage with John, I did not contribute to the semantic discussion about "flow" on that thread. John did not say that I did, but someone (not Chalkie) might make that inference.

http://classicalmusicguide.com/viewtopi ... ow#p424172

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.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sun Oct 06, 2013 2:33 pm

Indeed. And the subject of the discussion was Mozart concertos, not English usage - how best to describe the effect of particular movements. And Teresa B and ratsrcute actually discussed the issue more than I did.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Chalkperson » Sun Oct 06, 2013 2:46 pm

John F wrote:
Chalkperson wrote:
John F wrote:I am not concerned with "didactic perfection," and since you clearly meant it as an insult, I object. What I am concerned with is get the truth instead of being fobbed off with what isn't true. You have a problem with that?
No, it was not meant as an insult, it was an expression.
However you meant it, the expression is clearly a put-down. If you really didn't mean to insult me, then you'll be willing to withdraw it. I'm not holding my breath.
Chalkperson wrote:I'm getting pretty sick of being threatened by you every time I make a critical comment.
You might pay attention to what I actually say. I did not "threaten" you - what could I threaten you with? I objected. If you don't want me to object to what you say, stop giving me reasons to.
Chalkperson wrote:As for didactic perfection, let me qualify it.

You once argued for days about the meaning of the word 'flow'.
Since you've now shifted the subject to the meanings of words, the meaning of "didactic" is "intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive." That has nothing to do with discussing the meaning of the word "flow," or wanting biographies to be not just readable but accurate.

jbuck919 and I enjoy discussing and debating English usage. If you have a problem with that, just ignore it.
John took no part in that discussion on flow, it was about the flow of music, and you were arguing against a pianist and a composer, in my mind you were refusing to accept a common term, and acting like a teacher with a dictionary in his hand. You also once told us that no definitive recording exists, another common term, of course only you can ever be right.

Didactic perfection is my expression and i'm happy to withdraw it if it offends you, as I genuinely did not know it had anything to do with morals and would never have implied that.

In the UK your expression (You have a problem with that?) is definitely a threat, in fact it's the easiest way to start a fight. I forget how combative American speech is, and how brash Americans can sometimes appear to be, so now you know why I objected to it's use.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by slofstra » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:21 pm

jbuck919 wrote:On this business of analysis and appreciation, I can recommend Jan Swafford's biography of Brahms, enthusiastically even (also for the quality of the writing), but he falls down when taking his own stab at "analyzing" specific works. I suspect that this is a problem of music biography in general. Charles Rosen didn't put much biography into his writings, but his insights into the music are the most penetrating.

Halfway between are musicologists who attempt with varying degrees of success to survey (their own word) everything without getting us grippingly involved in either the composer's life or his music. R.L. Todd's large volume on Mendelssohn is that way. I can still recommend it, but with that qualification.
Swafford's Brahms book has been on my Amazon wish list for ever so long. Perhaps I should finally pop for it. I thought I would mention his more general work, which I found the most engaging of the few I have read. I haven't read Schoenberg's although it sits on the shelf.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by slofstra » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:24 pm

Dimma wrote:
John F wrote:Biography is story, by nature, but the story has to be soundly based on the facts of the life and times. It's not either or.
I am well read in history and as you probably know one can argue quite a bit about the nature of history and the perspectives taken by the historians. The same argument applies to biographies based on the source material and the writer. The point is that it brings passion, insight and perspective. I presume that what you are pointing to is that one should have a critical mind as one reads these biographies....
From a purely historical perspective, Shostakovich makes a very fascinating study. I have read one biography, by Elizabeth Wilson, which consists entirely of letters, documents and other short pieces. The multiple voices allow you to make your own inferences and build the narrative in your mind.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by slofstra » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:32 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
John F wrote:By the way, before he became a biographer, Maynard Solomon founded and ran the American record company Vanguard and its associated label Bach Guild, and made a lot of worthwhile classical recordings some of which are even now being reissued. His greatest coup was probably signing Joan Baez and then Odetta to record folk and blues songs at just the right moment. As so often, commercial success in other musical genres underwrote low-profit projects such as recording Bach cantatas.
Vanguard was started by the Solomon Brothers, and the first thing of note that they did was to record blacklisted artists in the early fifties, then moving into jazz with John Hammond Snr. The Weavers Live at Carnegie Hall is generally acknowledged at the beginning of the Folk Revival, and this recording and all their other great discs are still available, they benefited greatly when the secured the rights to record the Newport Folk Festival.

Seymour Solomon was Maynard's elder brother and cofounder, he was the one who went to Vienna in 1950 and recorded Bach, he started Vanguard with his brother the following year when their father backed them in a venture that took advantage of the beginning of the LP era. He was a violinist and he was the one that Produced many of the classical recordings. This included Netania Davrath's divinitive recording of Cantaloube's Songs of the Auvergne.

Maynard was of course the more famous one, Seymour does not even warrant his own Wiki entry!!!
And then they signed Ian and Sylvia, and the label really took off! :lol:

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by slofstra » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:37 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
John F wrote:
Chalkperson wrote:
John F wrote:I am not concerned with "didactic perfection," and since you clearly meant it as an insult, I object. What I am concerned with is get the truth instead of being fobbed off with what isn't true. You have a problem with that?
No, it was not meant as an insult, it was an expression.
However you meant it, the expression is clearly a put-down. If you really didn't mean to insult me, then you'll be willing to withdraw it. I'm not holding my breath.
Chalkperson wrote:I'm getting pretty sick of being threatened by you every time I make a critical comment.
You might pay attention to what I actually say. I did not "threaten" you - what could I threaten you with? I objected. If you don't want me to object to what you say, stop giving me reasons to.
Chalkperson wrote:As for didactic perfection, let me qualify it.

You once argued for days about the meaning of the word 'flow'.
Since you've now shifted the subject to the meanings of words, the meaning of "didactic" is "intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive." That has nothing to do with discussing the meaning of the word "flow," or wanting biographies to be not just readable but accurate.

jbuck919 and I enjoy discussing and debating English usage. If you have a problem with that, just ignore it.
John took no part in that discussion on flow, it was about the flow of music, and you were arguing against a pianist and a composer, in my mind you were refusing to accept a common term, and acting like a teacher with a dictionary in his hand. You also once told us that no definitive recording exists, another common term, of course only you can ever be right.

Didactic perfection is my expression and i'm happy to withdraw it if it offends you, as I genuinely did not know it had anything to do with morals and would never have implied that.

In the UK your expression (You have a problem with that?) is definitely a threat, in fact it's the easiest way to start a fight. I forget how combative American speech is, and how brash Americans can sometimes appear to be, so now you know why I objected to it's use.
Here is my excuse for sometimes getting into trouble. I probably wouldn't last long in England.

http://stuffdutchpeoplelike.com/2011/05 ... irectness/

The following clip is off topic but it's an amusing example of Dutch directness at work. Don't you wish there was more of this? First few seconds are in Dutch, but don't matter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIkgCbljJys
Last edited by slofstra on Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by slofstra » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:41 pm

Image

Has anyone read this? It does look impressive on my bookshelf, but whether I'll ever get to reading it remains a mystery. Over 1500 pages in one volume.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:58 pm

I have it too, but haven't read it either. It has a great reputation but Abert's text was published in 1924 and is obviously outdated. Cliff Eisen, one of today's top Mozart experts, has done what he could to bring the scholarship up to date without changing the basic character of the book; this is sometimes done with silent corrections in the text, sometimes with footnotes that are either brief or "discursive." The result is unwieldy, as is the bulk and weight of the book itself. But some day I'll read it, I'm sure. Meanwhile, Sadie for the early life and Braunbehrens for the last decade are my choice.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Dimma » Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:25 pm

I came across this huge two volume set in my used bookstore last month (I think I may be one of their best customers although the classical music collection is pathetic). These volumes are interesting to browse through, but I am not sure if I dare to venture into a full time read of these two tomes. I understand that Mrs. Wagner stopped keeping the diary when her husband passed away. Has anybody read the diaries? On a different not it would be interesting to include diaries, letters and more autobiographies in the thread as an enticing resource.
Thanks for all the posts and suggestions as I find it all very interesting.

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http://www.amazon.com/Cosima-Wagners-Di ... ma+diaries

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by slofstra » Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:37 pm

Dimma wrote:I came across this huge two volume set in my used bookstore last month (I think I may be one of their best customers although the classical music collection is pathetic). These volumes are interesting to browse through, but I am not sure if I dare to venture into a full time read of these two tomes. I understand that Mrs. Wagner stopped keeping the diary when her husband passed away. Has anybody read the diaries? On a different not it would be interesting to include diaries, letters and more autobiographies in the thread as an enticing resource.
Thanks for all the posts and suggestions as I find it all very interesting.

Image

http://www.amazon.com/Cosima-Wagners-Di ... ma+diaries
I think if you have an interest in a particular historical figure, then the more you study that person, the more interesting the subject becomes. I'm not particularly interested in Wagner, so that wouldn't be for me. But some years ago, I read half a dozen biographies on Tolstoy, plus numerous papers, and of course, much of his literary production. The more I read, the more interesting the subject became. Thomas Mann, famously wrote, "only the exhaustive is truly interesting". So, if you've already read a survey biography of Wagner's life, then I'm sure you'll greatly enjoy an even more detailed excursion into his life. I did read Ursula Vaughan William's biography of her spouse's life, and greatly enjoyed that.
As another example, here in the Great White North, a surprisingly large number of people have read L.M. Montgomery's five volumes of her diaries, as each was released in succession over a period of years. Sure made my Christmas purchase decision for my wife a little easier over that time, and each one went right to the top of her reading pile. (They make even better reading than the Anne of Green Gables books for which she is justly famous, at least for an adult reader).

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:45 pm

slofstra wrote: http://stuffdutchpeoplelike.com/2011/05 ... irectness/

The following clip is off topic but it's an amusing example of Dutch directness at work. Don't you wish there was more of this? First few seconds are in Dutch, but don't matter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIkgCbljJys
I guess one just has to get used to saying "no" when someone in general company or doing their job asks "Are you stupid?" I'll pass, thanks. Sounds too much like message boards, including ours until relatively recently.

I'm told that in Thai culture people are also (brutally) frank. (Maybe they got it from being close to Indonesia, which was colonized by the Dutch. :wink: ) A story goes that an obese American woman working there had to endure hearing "Here comes the fat cow" every day on reporting for work. It was pointed out that she was fluent in Thai and understood them, and was hurt by it, to which the response was "You mean she doesn't know?"

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.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by John F » Sun Oct 06, 2013 5:01 pm

I haven't read Cosima Wagner's diaries but I've read about them. She worshipped her husband, I think it's fair to say, and nothing he said or did was too trivial to be recorded. But it's not all trivia. Here's a review of the second volume from the London Review of Books, or part of the review, which gives an idea:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v03/n02/harold-jam ... -of-dreams
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by slofstra » Sun Oct 06, 2013 5:14 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
slofstra wrote: http://stuffdutchpeoplelike.com/2011/05 ... irectness/

The following clip is off topic but it's an amusing example of Dutch directness at work. Don't you wish there was more of this? First few seconds are in Dutch, but don't matter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIkgCbljJys
I guess one just has to get used to saying "no" when someone in general company or doing their job asks "Are you stupid?" I'll pass, thanks. Sounds too much like message boards, including ours until relatively recently.

I'm told that in Thai culture people are also (brutally) frank. (Maybe they got it from being close to Indonesia, which was colonized by the Dutch. :wink: ) A story goes that an obese American woman working there had to endure hearing "Here comes the fat cow" every day on reporting for work. It was pointed out that she was fluent in Thai and understood them, and was hurt by it, to which the response was "You mean she doesn't know?"
Well, that NBC reporter richly deserved her comeuppance for being so lazy and not doing some simple fact checking ahead of time. I wonder how many countries' medal winners she insulted before Sven Kramer helped her figure out how to do her job without being just another 'Ugly American'. He did NBC a big favour, IMO, and it also will help Americans understand why they are so often reviled around the world.

However, being direct doesn't mean one should be hurtful or insulting. And you can also be hurtful without being direct. The British are known for their passive aggressive behaviour. Better to get it out of your system than go that way, IMO.

In any case, there's no easy answer, but it does help to remember that our modes of conversation are often culturally conditioned.

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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by Chalkperson » Sun Oct 06, 2013 5:56 pm

slofstra wrote:(They make even better reading than the Anne of Green Gables books for which she is justly famous, at least for an adult reader).
Nooooo!!!

Anne of Green Gables !!!

Help!!!

OK, with you having brought this thread to a literary low point, I will admit that Prince Edward Island is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
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Re: Classical Music Biographies - Books

Post by slofstra » Sun Oct 06, 2013 7:16 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
slofstra wrote:(They make even better reading than the Anne of Green Gables books for which she is justly famous, at least for an adult reader).
Nooooo!!!

Anne of Green Gables !!!

Help!!!

OK, with you having brought this thread to a literary low point, I will admit that Prince Edward Island is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Anne of Green Gables is a children's novel, and has to be seen in that light. L.M. Montgomery's journals are at another level all together.

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