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.