Leger lines

The Herald - Arts - - Arts - Michael Tumelty

ver the year, this col­umn has cov­ered most as­pects of the mu­sic scene: its char­ac­ters, its con­certs, its de­vel­op­ments, pol­i­tics, news, and record­ings.

We have scarcely touched on its lit­er­a­ture, how­ever. And, by chance, 2006 has been a good year for books on mu­sic: big books, se­ri­ous books, heavy­weight books, and out­right tomes. All are im­por­tant. No­body ex­pects the av­er­age mu­sic lover to dash out and buy an ex­pen­sive book on spec, when the level of in­quiry or anal­y­sis in that book is li­able to be foren­si­cally de­tailed and geared to­wards the spe­cial­ist.

Aware­ness of their ex­is­tence and sig­nif­i­cance, how­ever, is quite an­other mat­ter, and all proper ref­er­ence li­braries should con­tain the books that of­fer the op­por­tu­nity for their read­ers to be up-to-date and well-in­formed. Here’s a few from the re­cent crop of publi­ca­tions.

One of the most pop­u­lar com­posers of all time is Tchaikovsky. His best pieces are con­cert hall ever­greens. If you wanted to know more about this fas­ci­nat­ing man and his lifestyle, his tor­tured sex­u­al­ity, his dis­as­trous at­tempt at mar­riage, his creative pro­cesses and the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal el­e­ment in his mu­sic, there was re­ally only one place to turn for a de­fin­i­tive ac­count: David Brown’s four-vol­ume epic on Tchaikovsky, as vi­tal now as it al­ways was.

But now Brown has brought his vast knowl­edge and in­sight into nearer reach. His sin­glevol­ume book, Tchaikovsky: the Man and his Mu­sic (Faber and Faber, £25) is a mas­terly syn­the­sis of his vast re­searches. It is more than a re­duc­tion; ev­ery salient el­e­ment on Tchaikovsky’s life is re­tained; and its rel­e­vance to his mu­sic is as acute on the smaller scale as it was writ large. More­over, and this is new to the re­cent pub­li­ca­tion, Brown is a mis­sion­ary. As a for­mer ed­u­ca­tion­ist, he has re­alised that many curious read­ers and lis­ten­ers ap­pre­ci­ate a guide through the ab­strac­tions of classical mu­sic. So he has con­structed a se­ries of graded menus through which one might approach and fol­low the de­vel­op­ment of Tchaikovsky’s mu­sic.

It’s not some­thing that will suit ev­ery­one. Some peo­ple don’t like the feel­ing they’re be­ing spoon fed. But, equally, it will be seized on by oth­ers.

When I was a wee lad with an un­con­sciously grow­ing ad­dic­tion to the world of classical mu­sic and its com­posers, noth­ing gave me greater plea­sure than hav­ing the feel­ing that I was peek­ing over a com­poser’s shoul­der, read­ing his mind, watch­ing him cre­ate, and try­ing to con­jure a pic­ture of the com­poser as a man: what he did, what he thought, how he passed his time, the peo­ple he met, the con­ver­sa­tions he had, and all the other stuff of ev­ery­day life.

To this day, what makes th­ese peo­ple tick and how they op­er­ate is a fas­ci­na­tion. If there are other nosey folk like me out there, then they should be aware of the pub­li­ca­tion of the first vol­ume of di­aries by Prokofiev (Faber and Faber, £25), a mas­sive piece of ef­fec­tive au­to­bi­og­ra­phy cov­er­ing a pe­riod of just seven years in the early life of one of Rus­sia’s most bril­liant mu­si­cians: the en­fant ter­ri­ble, the pi­anis­tic shocker and, as the sub­ti­tle re­lates, the most prodi­gious youth in early 20th­cen­tury Rus­sia. True, for some, it will be a bit more than they feel they need to know to be in­formed that, with a “par­tic­u­larly lovely girl” in the same class, Prokofiev was so im­pressed as to cut his In­di­arub­ber eraser into equal por­tions to share with the lass. But such is the stuff from which the fab­ric of lives is wo­ven.

No rec­om­men­da­tion can come too highly for the ea­gerly-awaited sec­ond vol­ume of StephenWalsh’s great bi­og­ra­phy of Stravin­sky, The Sec­ond Ex­ile, 1934-1971 (Jonathan Cape, £30), which is as in­dis­pens­able to the fol­lower of Stravin­sky as was the first.

Well, in­dis­pens­able to all ex­cept Robert Craft, the mu­si­cian who was a col­lab­o­ra­tor and com­pan­ion of the com­poser. Craft has his own new book, Down A Path ofWon­der (Naxos Books, £19.99) out, and war has been waged be­tween Craft and StephenWalsh. It’s un­seemly and em­bar­rass­ing, but it’s damned ex­cit­ing stuff. More, very soon, in this slot.

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