Back to index of music pages by Donald Sauter.
The most recently added book reports are flagged as *NEW* in the table of contents below. Don't be shocked and dismayed if you don't see any *NEW*s below. My idea once was to put a few thoughts on the web prompted by every book I read. Now it's wishful thinking.
You can figure that a few of these books were borrowed from elementary school libraries.
Table of contents:
She Shall Have Music, by Kitty Barne; 1939.
A Dictionary Of Musical Themes, by Harold Barlow and Sam Morgenstern; 1948.
The Story Of Manon Lescaut, by the Abbe Prevost D'Exiles, translated from the original text of 1731 by Helen Waddell; 1935
Treemonisha, by Angela Shelf Medearis, from the opera by Scott Joplin, illustrated by Michael Bryant; 1995.
G. A. Rossini's William Tell, adapted by Tamao Fujita; translated by Ann Brannen; illustrated by Hiroshi Mizusawa; 1971.
The Little Book Of Music Anecdotes, by Helen L. Kaufmann; 1948.
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, by Leonard Bernstein; 1962.
Indivisible By Four, by Arnold Steinhardt; 1998.
The Magic Flute, by Anne Gatti; 1997.
The Story Of Music In America, by George Schaun; 1965.
Hard to imagine a great book based on the plot, "a little girl learns to play the piano"? Perhaps it isn't great, but it is quite good. I think most any professional or amateur musician would be taken in by it. It paints vividly the difference between the very talented, very serious, very hardworking, music-loving musician, and the one who is simply, naturally gifted. Which one are you? And how many decades has it been since you got hooked on music? Has it occurred to you lately that there was a time when you didn't know the big-name composers like a bunch of close friends? This book will bring back memories of your long-ago transition from total ignorance of classical music and composers to that easy, comfortable familiarity.
The book is British and is also fun for Americans like me who get a kick out of Britishisms. Luckily, I have an older Welsh buddy named Harry to help me with the ones that defy American dictionaries. Some favorites were: "do a bunk" (split the scene; vamoose); "take the hump" (take offense); "split on" (inform on); and "Lumme!" (exclamation, from "Lord, love me!")
And then there was a real treat for Beatle fans when little Karen wins a performance competition and goes to London to record the piece. Can this passage possibly describe any recording studio other than a certain well-known one which opened in 1932 in the London NW8 district, and renamed Abbey Road studios after a certain successful 1969 album?
[p244] They reached Paddington and drove off in a taxi through miles of streets to the studio, an old, countrified house that had once stood among the apple-trees of its walled garden. Now it crouched, grey, square, rather worn, with enormous tall studios, like limpets, growing out of its back. . . .
Karen found herself in a huge, very lofty room, square and biscuit coloured like a giant's bandbox. The ceiling was hung with butter-muslin; the walls were covered with squares of what looked like cardboard. . . .
[p246] Suddenly a red light and a '2' showed. Silence fell, as suddenly as a dropped curtain.
'That means they're using another studio in the building and they mustn't be disturbed,' said Ralph, wise as an owl.
The "huge, lofty room" is certainly Studio 1, where the Beatles worked when their songs required an orchestra, such as on All You Need Is Love and A Day In The Life. Studio 2, where a recording is about to start, is where the Beatles recorded almost everything else they did. I hope Kitty Barne can excuse the following anachronistic grafitto, an in-joke to Beatle fans who might find their way here:
Very faintly, through the walls of studio 1, Karen heard a strange new sound. She could just make out a nervous young voice, wobbly as a top, beseeching someone to "love him, love him, do." There was a reedy-sounding instrument that bent notes in a way Karen knew her piano never could. On some takes she could hear a rhythmic, rattly, jangling sound, and then, on the very next, she was sure it was missing completely. Most inexplicable of all, she detected a subtle difference in the drum work on these alternate takes. . . .
Sorry about that. The sonorous title, She Shall Have Music, is from the Mother Goose rhyme:
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross
To see an old lady upon a white horse.
Rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.
Man, do they write poetry like that anymore?
I had the Dictionary Of Musical Themes in my collection for a few years without actually using it too much. It presents more than 10,000 themes of instrumental music - symphonies, concertos, and chamber works. The themes are arranged in the book by composer, from Adam to Zimbalist, and there's an index which will lead you to the theme in question after you figure out the first few notes and transpose them to the key of C. In the authors' words: "The book should prove useful not only to those who are bothered by a theme and can't remember its source, but also for those who know the source but can't remember the theme."
The identification of an unknown theme can be very tricky, though. I remember my first effort. I have a shellac disc privately recorded in 1962 by George W. Mitchell, called "Songs For Children", on which he sings nursery rhyme-like verses to tunes by Grieg, MacDowell, Offenbach, etc. His tune to "The Friendly Cow" was familiar, but I couldn't name it. So I turned to the Dictionary - without luck. I later found my answer while playing through some guitar transcriptions. The tune was Anton Rubinstein's "Melody in F" - which is in the Dictionary but which I didn't find for the simple reason that Mitchell had fit two eighth notes to Rubinstein's opening quarter note.
Another example was the overture to Smetana's "Bartered Bride" opera. This was misidentified on one of my records as the overture to Rossini's "Barber Of Seville". I had to find out what this cool piece was! I even put buddy Bob, who has a great musical ear, on it, but together we couldn't rig up a theme which was in the index. In this case, our problem was viewing the theme as starting on beat 4 ("digi-dunk!") whereas the Dictionary starts it on the preceding beat 1 ("dum 2 3 digi-dunk!")
In fact, a reviewer in the April, 1949 edition of the British periodical The Gramophone wrote, "I have tried this index out with friends of varying degrees of musicality (including professionals) with, I regret to say, no more than 20 percent success." So I let the Dictionary languish on the bookshelf, figuring it to be mainly a sure-fire exercise in frustration. The themes themselves are teensy - only a few measures long (2.75" inches worth, to be precise) - so how useful could they be?
Well, surprise, surprise, the answer is very useful! I eventually discovered that it is an extraordinarily satisfying experience to follow along in the Dictionary while listening to a musical work. Just having a few measures of each of the main themes brings order to the whole shebang. The second half of a theme is sure to be much like the first, and then the whole thing gets repeated, so right there you got 16 measures of music for the price of 4. Same thing goes for the 2nd theme, and the 3rd... When the composer gets into "development" you can easily see which theme he's noodling around with. And you can't miss the recapitulations. What a book! Makes me feel like I know something about music! Honestly, in many ways, having just those few notes is far better than wrestling with a full score. (Imagine - holding the equivalent of thousands of scores in one scrawny hand!)
There are all kinds of fun and intersting discoveries to be made just browsing the Dictionary. I'd sure like to hear Roger Quilter's "A Children's Overture", incorporating 12 tunes such as "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush". If you get Beethoven's "Fidelio" and various "Leonore" overtures all mixed up, you can see the main themes of each sitting right beside each other here. ("Leonore" Nos. 2 and 3 share the same themes.) Do you know who wrote that famous circus piece that everybody's heard a million times (di' dee didi-didi di' dee deee-dee)? (Did you ever even stop to think if it had a composer?) Do you know what it's called? Look up theme F227 - Julius Fucik's "Entry Of The Gladiators" march.
The Dictionary is also useful in that it gives the precise identification of a work. For instance, the "Melody in F" mentioned earlier is Anton Rubinstein's Op. 3, No. 1. It gives the original instrumentation for the piece, and the composer's dates. What more could you ask? If it's not still in print, visit every used book sale until you find a copy.
End note to guitar enthusiasts: You may be wondering what all this has to do with the guitar. Not much, that's for sure, but maybe a guitar presence near absolute zero is itself interesting. The themes chosen for inclusion in the book were considered by the compilers to be the 10,000 most important themes in all of music up to 1948, so which, if any, guitar works are represented? Here's the complete list, just 3 works by Luis Narvaez, Robert de Visee and Joaquin Turina:
Narvaez, Luis (16th Century) Tema y Variaciones, Guitar (actually composed for vihuela; tune guitar string 3 down 1/2 step.) ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ _______ _______ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |-|-|-| |-|-|-| | | ___________________________________________________________ ___5_1________|_0_3_0______|___1_0_1_3_1_0__|_________0__|_ _______3_1____|_______1____|_3_____________3|_2_0_2_3____|_ ___________3__|_________1__|________________|____________|_ _____________3|____________|________________|____________|_ ______________|___________3|________________|____________|_ ______________|____________|________________|____________|_ Visee, Robert de (17th-18th Century) Petite Suite in D Minor, Guitar Prelude ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |. _________________________________________ _____5_3_5_0_3_1_0|_1_1_0_1_______0|_____ __________________|_________3_3_3__|_2___ __________________|________________|_____ __________________|________________|_____ __________________|________________|_____ __________________|________________|_____ Allemande __ ___ __ __ ___ | | | | | | |. | |. | | | | | | | | |. __________________________________________________ ____5|_5_____6_5|_3___3_3___5|_1___3_3_1|_0_1_____ _____|__________|____________|___3______|_____3___ _____|__________|____________|__________|_________ _____|__________|____________|__________|_________ _____|__________|____________|__________|_________ _____|__________|____________|__________|_________ Sarabande (1st note is grace note.) __ __ __ ____ __ __ __ __ | | |. | | |. | | | |.-| | |. | | |. | | |. | | |. | | ____________________________________________________________________________ ___3__1|_1_1___3|_0_0___5|_____0__1|_______5|_5_5___7|_8_5___5|_6_3___5|_5__ _______|________|________|_3_3_____|_2______|________|________|________|____ _______|________|________|_________|________|________|________|________|____ _______|________|________|_________|________|________|________|________|____ _______|________|________|_________|________|________|________|________|____ _______|________|________|_________|________|________|________|________|____ Gigue __ | |. | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | __________________________________________________________ ___5|_1___0__|_5____|_0____|_1_1_0|_____0|______|______|__ ____|_______3|______|______|______|_3____|_2____|_3____|__ ____|________|______|______|______|______|_____2|______|__ ____|________|______|______|______|______|______|______|__ ____|________|______|______|______|______|______|______|__ ____|________|______|______|______|______|______|______|__ Turina, Joaquin (1882- ) Fandanguillo, Guitar 1st Theme ___ ___ _____ ___ ___ _____ _______ _____ ____ _______ _____ | | | | | |-| | | | | | | | | |-| |-|-|-| |-| | |.-| |-|-|-| |-| | ___________________________________________________________________________ ________________|______|_____3_4_5_7_8|_7_________5_7____8|_7_________5____ _______3_4_6_5_4|_5____|_5_6__________|___8_5_6_8_________|___8_5_6_8___8__ ___4_5__________|______|______________|___________________|________________ ________________|______|______________|___________________|________________ ________________|______|______________|___________________|________________ ________________|______|______________|___________________|________________ 2nd Theme ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | ____________________________________________________ ______________|___0___2__|_______0____|___2___3__|__ _____0_2_3_2_1|_2___2___2|___0_2___2_1|_2___2___2|__ ___2__________|__________|_2__________|__________|__ ______________|__________|____________|__________|__ ______________|__________|____________|__________|__ ______________|__________|____________|__________|__
Why just these, and no others which were important enough, say, to have been recorded by Segovia before 1948, I can't speculate.
Of course, you can find tons of themes in there which we know well in guitar arrangement - me more than you since I have a thing for well-aged guitar transcriptions. It's quite interesting to see such a theme placed naturally within its own family of important musical themes created by the same composer.
The Dictionary also includes two chamber works involving guitar: "Entr'acte" for flute and guitar by Jacques Ibert; and two sonatas for violin and guitar by Niccolo Paganini. It lists 7 works for lute and strings by John Dowland.
Finally, I found two pieces naming the guitar in the title, but not written for guitar. These are: "La Guitarre" for harpsichord by Louis Claude Daquin (d. 1772); and "Guitarre" for piano by Moritz Moszkowski (d. 1925.)
I took this one up because two important, still-performed operas are based on the story - "Manon" by Massenet, and "Manon Lescaut" by Puccini. I didn't enjoy it. A soap opera from 1735 is still a soap opera.
At the same time I was reading it (May 2001) I had reason to reread Guy de Maupassant's short story "A Piece Of String". (You can find it on the web.) Same story. In one, the hero finds a piece of string in the street, in the other, a girl. Total ruination for both of 'em.
The author tells us in a little note on the flip of the title page, "I first saw [Scott Joplin's opera] Treemonisha performed on a videotape of the Houston Grand Opera production. Thrilled by the wonderful music and the history of Joplin's struggle to bring his work to the stage, I set out to translate the spirit of the opera into a picture book."
For me, it's always a little buzz to find somebody who agrees with me on some minor, off-the-beaten-track topic. After all, two completely independent brains can't both be wrong, can they? In this case, it's the wonderfulness of Scott Joplin's Treemonisha. I came to know it through the Houston Grand Opera company's recording (Deutsche Grammophon, 1976.) Joplin's tunes are simply delightful, and I love Gunther Schuller's orchestration.
Treemonisha is an educated young black woman who leads her community of recently-freed slaves "out of ignorance and superstition." Those words are from Frank Corsaro's essay included with the recording. This essay is somewhat apologetic and defensive of Joplin's story, which at first glance may seem naive and implausible. Corsaro wrote, "My initial reaction on playing through the score was stupefaction and disbelief. I felt the sneaking suspicion I was being had."
I'd say that's a bit harsh, even for an initial reaction. After all, opera plots aren't exactly famous for realism and plausibility. Treemonisha would probably place up there in the 90th percentile, judged by those standards.
For those who have residual trouble swallowing Joplin's story, I even more strongly recommend Angela Shelf Medearis' book. She has fleshed it out just enough so that believability is no problem at all. And the watercolor paintings by Michael Bryant are very nice. (They sure beat those cast photos, reeking of '70s-ness, included with the record. Peeee-uuuu!) On the back flap, Bryant painted portraits of the author and himself in the garb of the characters in the story - too neat!
I suppose I was always sort of aware that the popularity of Joplin's ragtime music made a huge jump because of the use of "The Entertainer" in the soundtrack to the movie The Sting in the early 1970s. What I didn't know was the extent of his obscurity before that. I figured that he was at least pretty well known in the music world. But it seems that truly was not the case; that he really was rescued from almost complete obscurity by one woman, Vera Brodsky Lawrence, whose Collected Works of Scott Joplin was published in 1971.
I was more than a little shocked to find Joplin missing in older music reference books. He's not to be found under his own name - or even under the "rag time" entry! - in the 1936 Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (a set which even has a separate "American Supplement" volume!) Ditto for the 2287-page International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians (edited by Oscar Thompson, 1939.) Ditto for the 2203-page, general-knowledge Columbia Encyclopedia (second edition, 1950.) By way of comparison, Stephen Foster has an extensive entry in each of these 3 reference works.
Guess what, I think I just figured out what the story is with that "stupefaction, disbelief... and sneaking suspicion I was being had" quote. It surely made it into the Treemonisha record booklet via an editor's flub. The author was actually talking about Einstein On The Beach...
Not a bad way to refresh your memory of the story of William Tell, the hero and expert archer of 14th century Switzerland who failed to bow to the governor's hat and had to shoot an apple off his son Walter's head. The streaky paintings are maybe a little too artistic for the child this book is aimed at. In a few of them, you have a hard time telling what is going on.
Also, even though the library has this book filed under R for Rossini, the story is not his, of course. The libretto to Rossini's opera Guillaume Tell was the work of 3 writers (for the record: Etienne de Juoy, Hippolyte Bis and Armand Marrast), and based on Schiller's 1804 version of a legend set down at least as early as 1474 in a ballad.
This book report has its own page in this music section. I generated an index for it so you can use it along with scholarly reference books on musicians.
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts is a neat boxed set of five 7" long play records and a book. It came about in response to requests for something tangible from his televised Young People's Concerts beginning in 1958. Of course, the whole idea behind both presentations was to get young people enthused about so-called classical music.
I suppose that this box set may have succeeded to some extent simply because it is a neat thing - a set of records in a glossy box, along-side a glossy book, all sliding neatly in a heavy, glossy box. Cool.
On the other hand, I doubt too many kids got excited over classical music based on what Bernstein writes in the book. Chapter 1, "What does music mean" hammers home the point over and over that music is about nothing - except for notes. He says, "Music is never about things... Notes aren't about burned fingers, or sputniks, or lampshades, or anything. What are they about? They're about music. For instance, take this little Prelude by Chopin: [musical example]. It's beautiful music. But what's it about? Nothing. Or take this passage from a Beethoven sonata: [musical example]. That's not about anything either. Or again, a bit of jazz: [musical example]. What's it about? Nothing. They're all about nothing..." Got it yet? I don't know about other kids, but I think I'll go out and play some kickball.
Likewise, chapter 3, "Humor in music", mostly succeeds in convincing us that music isn't too funny.
Chapter 4, "What makes music American" gives an interesting overview of the emergence of "American music". In the late 1800s, serious American composers, such as George W. Chadwick, sounded just like the famous European composers. Dvorak came here in the 1890s and made American composers feel self-conscious about not sounding "American". Dvorak told them to look to Indian music and Negro melodies for inspiration. Bernstein tells us, "They all got excited, too, and began to write hundreds of so-called American pieces with Indian and Negro melodies in them... And most of these Montezuma operas and Minnehaha symphonies and Cottonpickin' suites are dead and forgotten, and gathering dust in old libraries." But, little by little over the next few decades, an American music did emerge, incorporating elements of jazz, hymns, pop song sentimentality, a feeling of the rugged West and wide-open spaces - and that American vitality.
Bernstein pointed out something interesting - how the folk music of a nation relates to its spoken language. For instance, almost all the words in Hungarian are accented on the first syllable. "And that same accent pops up in the music." On the other hand, French has almost no accents at all, and French folk music is smooth and even.
The last chapter addresses, "What makes music symphonic?" The key is development. Bernstein does a nice job telling us how music is "developed". "Repetition is the simplest way of developing music. And the first step toward real development is the idea of variation." Also, there are "sequences" - repeating a series of notes at a different pitch. A much more important way in which repetition works for development is "imitation - the imitation of one orchestral voice by another... The exciting thing about imitation is that when the second voice comes in, imitating the first, the first voice goes on playing something else, so that there are suddenly two melodies happening at once."
So I picked up a thing or two from Bernstein's book. And far be it from me to actually blame Bernstein's efforts here for the decline in interest in classical music over the last few decades.
Times have changed department: The inside back cover shows some photos of the New York Philharmonic, circa 1960 - and there's not a woman musician in sight.
Classy typos department: Triple letters are my favorite category of typos and page 56 served up another one for my collection - "wittty".
The "Four" in the title is the Guarneri string quartet; Arnold Steinhardt is the first violinist. The Guarneri Quartet is quite remarkable for its longevity - over 30 years together with the original 4 members. (They started in 1964.)
I've seen the quartet in open rehearsal many times. In fact, I'm in the book. Well, Steinhardt didn't actually mention me by name. But there I am on page 248, in the audience when he asked what we thought of a Shostakovich quartet they were bickering over.
Steinhardt is a regular wit at these rehearsals, so the book seemed like a sure bet. It didn't disappoint, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in serious music, but more particularly to anyone who has played chamber music, even if only on an amateur level. You'll smile knowingly at gobs of what Steinhardt has to say.
For instance, he lampoons all the approaches for making suggestions about how a piece should be played. No matter how gently you walk on egg shells, somebody's bound to get hurt, upset or angry. Thus, the Guarneris use the straightforward approach. Moreover, they never, but never, compliment each other on their playing. If they did, then the lack of a compliment could hurt someone's feelings. (I know what it's like to take a shellacking for complimenting someone's playing.)
To be honest, something that diminished my enjoyment of going to see the Guarneri were those rumors: "You know, they can't stand each other. They travel separately and even stay in different hotels!" The book shows this to be utter nonsense (or else Steinhardt is the smoothest liar ever.) I mean, yeah, they travel separately and all, but considering how much of their lives is spent in each other's face, it'd be crazy if they didn't.
Decision making within the quartet is of great interest to me, as you can guess. They do the right thing - pure democracy. On page 88, Steinhardt wonders, "why hadn't Karl Marx come up with this, instead of that Communism thing?" I wonder why nobody has. (See my main page.) In a quartet there is the problem of tie votes, which Steinhardt notes, but this should rarely be a problem. The idea is, it takes a majority vote to change something. For example, it would take 3 out of 4 to speed a piece up; or to get one member to play softer; etc. This still leaves the problem of tie votes on some matter that hasn't already been done one way or the other. Never fear, I have the solution for that, too. Make an alphabetical list of the members of the group. Cycle through the list, giving each person on it in turn the tie-breaking vote for the next issue that requires one.
Steinhardt says that the group has a "misery clause" where one person's complete aversion to something can overturn majority rule. I would like to point out that this is, in fact, still majority rule. The point is, weighing total happiness is a factor in the way we vote, whether we realize it or not. If something doesn't make as much difference to you as it does to someone you care about, then voting in line with him is not only "nice" (a word that drips with derision in our post-'70s world), but still perfectly selfish. After all, his misery creates a situation that diminishes your own happiness.
Steinhardt is so familiar with the playing styles of each of the individual quartet members that he "would recognize their playing anywhere, instantly." That's pretty amazing, but my claim is that this so-called "unmistakable and personal expressions of [classical] musicians" is a subtlety that is lost on 99.9% of the population. When I hear a classical musician grouse about "non-musician" rock groups raking in the bucks (Steinhardt doesn't do this), I explain that at least those groups came up with a significantly different - and appreciated - sound. Any pop music fan can hear that Hootie and the Blowfish is not the Beatles, or the Beach Boys, or the Who, or Pearl Jam, and on and on. (My beef is that there should be a pop music control board. If, by your third song, you haven't done anything different, your license gets revoked.)
Steinhardt is openly appreciative of Elvis for subsidizing RCA's Red Seal classical division. And he likes the Beatles. There are Beatle mentions on pages 135, 183, 206, 211 and 240-241. He has a funny notion that the Beatles were incorporated, and thereby acquired stupendous wealth via tax shelters. Steinhardt reflects on his own name being less famous than the group name, Guarneri Quartet. But he figures this is ok, since even the members of the Beatles suffered the same fate. Technically, yes, there are more people who know the "Beatles" than can list the members; but still, "John, Paul, George and Ringo" has to be one of the most well-known membership lists in the history of the universe.
Steinhardt recounts wondering what to wear during the quartet's first season, 1964-65. Bell bottoms? A beautiful psychedelic shirt? Hold on, Arnold, that's not for another couple of years yet.
It tickled my funny bone that the quartet would often be paid in cash after a performance in Europe. The same thing had puzzled me in a book about world-class guitarist Julian Bream, but I figured that Bream just didn't make a big deal of who he was. Now I see that's the way it's done over there.
Very early in his career, Steinhardt was asked to play the Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Having second thoughts about what he got himself into, he asked someone with contacts if she knew anyone who could help him with it. When she got back in touch, she said, "Here's the number I promised you. The man's name is Igor Stravinsky." Stravinsky lent Steinhardt his copy of a recording of the concerto, with Stravinsky himself conducting. With repeated listenings, Steinhardt eventually made sense of the work.
Besides just being a good anecdote, I relate it for another reason. At one of the quartet's open rehearsals that I attended, in the question and answer session at the end, a person asked, "When you start on a new piece, do you ever listen to somebody else's performance of it?" The answer was an immediate, emphatic, unanimous and resounding "NO!" In fact, the whole audience turned on the poor individual and positively snarled.
This is one of the reasons I never ask questions in public. Thus, I did not pluck up the courage to raise my hand and ask, "So do you recommend not listening to music just to professional musicians, or to all musicians, or to everyone in general?"
I got a kick out of the story of Steinhardt's first recording. It was on a home recording machine - which in 1948 meant scratching a groove in a spinning acetate disk. (At the end, his father can still be heard saying, "Aach, you made a mess of it.") Later on, I sympathize with his frustration at sessions with modern recording equipment. "What we heard was disheartening... Was this what we and I really sounded like?... The microphone seemed to hear differently than we did." I wonder how many other musicians have said the same thing. It's probably easier to count those who haven't...
I'm always one for anecdotes over analysis and ruminations, and there are lots of good stories sprinkled throughout the book. Here's an funny one, dating from Steinhardt's student days at a summer music camp.
One afternoon a loud knock came at my door... It was only the student next door. "I couldn't help hearing you as I was rosining my bow," he said, "and in my estimation you are the third greatest violinist in the world." I was flattered, I was intrigued. And who might numbers one and two be? "Jascha Heifetz is first and everybody else is tied for second," he replied, shutting the door in my face.
Most touching for me was the story of the little old man who came backstage after a performance and presented the quartet with the Esther Award. So who's Esther? "Esther, may she rest in peace, was my wife." And he only gives the award to very deserving people. Steinhardt wonders, "Was it so different from the Nobel Prize or the Legion d'Honneur?" Yeah, Arnold, the Esther Award means something!
According to the Library of Congress catalog record, it "retells the story of the Mozart opera in which the noble Prince Tamino seeks the fair Pamina against a backdrop of the battle between darkness and light."
A very pretty little book - like an upscale Golden Book - it's quite faithful to the libretto. One funny little alteration is that rough guy Monostatos is depicted as white. The reasons for such a change are obvious, but it forces the elimination of a couple of scenes, one comical and one touching.
When bird-catcher Papageno, covered in feathers, first meets blackamoor Monostatos, each one has never before seen anyone so terrifying. They sing simultaneously, "Oo! That is surely the devil! That is surely the devil! Have pity! Spare me! Oo! Oo! Oo!"
Monostatos' heavy-handed attempts to win or grab Pamina's love have all been thwarted. He sings a two-hankie aria, "Every creature feels loves joys", which says that even an ugly man was given a heart.
But everything comes out in the wash: Sarastro, the humanitarian high-priest of the Temple of the Sun, has also undergone a race change operation here and is portrayed black.
(This brings to mind a little story about the National Negro Opera Company, from the early 1950s, I think. In the NNOC production of Faust, all the singers were black, of course - except for Mephistopheles, ha ha.)
The author modestly states in the preface, "Far from pretending to be a history of music in America, this book... claims to be little more than an outline together with some comments."
He sells his work a bit short - it's certainly more than an outline. There's lots of fascinating information on various musical "firsts" in what would eventually become the U.S. Remember that the first book (Schaun calls it the second) printed in the colonies was the "Bay Psalm Book" in 1640. An edition which included 12 tunes was printed in 1690.
There are first imported pipe organs; first public concerts; first playhouses; first domestically built pipe organs; first American composers; first musical organizations; first symphony orchestra; etc.
The 2 important "first American composers" were Francis Hopkinson and William Billings, born in the first half of the 1700s. They were at opposite ends of the spectrum in almost every way imaginable. Hopkinson was refined and educated; Billings had little education and was a real character. Schaun says, "The gaps in his knowledge touch our hearts... Knowing little (or less than nothing) about counterpoint, he soon decided he liked the sound of it. Therefore, he wrote dozens of his "fuguing themes" (as he called them), imitating, somewhat crudely, the style and technique he admired. Violating two thirds of the traditional rules... he nevertheless had his works performed..."
I picked up this book in the hopes that it would provide a context for the tons of 19th C. American guitar music I find at the Library of Congress. It didn't do that. If anything, the book gives an impression of far, far less composing and music publishing going on in this country than what I get from the library's collection. One time I put in a request for M1.A13 Ho- , that is, sheet music published in America between 1820 and 1860 by composers whose names start with Ho-. I expected maybe a quarter- or half-inch stack of music. It turned out to be a whole cart-load of boxes!
A major strength of the book is its plentiful and enthusiastic references to other books on the topic of music in America. Some of those books are quite old now, although all date from this century. I look forward to reading at least one of them with the foundation I got from Schaun.
By the way, Schaun didn't mention it, but did you know that "Music And Some Highly Musical People", by James M. Trotter, 1878, the first book about black personalities in American music, also has the distinction of being the first book about American music, period?
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