Top Five Classical Music Summer Reads

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

While there is no shortage of important books that explore music and composers, some volumes are a bit too heavy--both topically and in terms of actually poundage--for the park or beach. Here are five recommendations for lighter fare this summer.

1. Because of mixed reviews of his leadership and growing financial concerns, Peter Gelb’s honeymoon at the Metropolitan Opera has ended. However, controversy surrounding the Golden Horseshoe is nothing new. In "Molto Agitato, The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera," Johanna Fiedler, a former press rep for the Met, unearths the house’s skeletons and tells of diva-worthy behavior both on and off the stage.

2. New Yorker critic Alex Ross navigates a path through 100 years of music in "The Rest Is Noise, Listening to the 20th Century," beginning with Richard Strauss’s Salome in 1906 and ending with indy rock faves Bjork and Radiohead. A National Book Award finalist, Ross’s clear prose makes a sometimes impenetrable and jarring era of musical of compositions comprehensible.

3. Lorenzo Da Ponte, the man who set words to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutti, lived a life worthy of an opera. In the 2005 biography, "The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte," Rodney Bolt writes of the poet’s extraordinary travels from Venice to Vienna, London and finally New York.

4. The 1996 fire that devastated La Fenice, Venice’s opera house and one of the city's few landmarks where locals outnumber tourists, provides John Berendt with an entrée into the city’s shadowy social landscape in "The City of Falling Angels." The mystery surrounding the fire unearths many secrets, the least of which is the arsonist.

5. In "Scores to Settle: Stories of the Struggle to Create Great Music," NPR contributor Norman Gilliland shows the efforts behind those seemingly effortless performances in the concert hall--366 of them! The anecdotes range from the comedic to the sincere and give insight into 500 years of classical music.


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Comments [3]

Michael Meltzer

For lighter fare, the Nicholas Slonimsky "Lexicon of Musical Invective," which was out-of-print for many years, seems to have been reprinted with a new forward by Peter Schickele.
It is comprised of almost 2 centuries of unfavorable reviews of major composers, some insightful, some wry, some hilarious.
The two I always remember best are Olin Downes panning "Lulu" with, "Berg was a student of Shoenberg, who despite his name was no more beautiful than his pupil," and a Viennese critic characterizing Anton Bruckner as "a beer barrel full of holy water."
It's great fun, and can be put down and picked up again at any point.

Aug. 09 2010 07:09 PM
William Rich from Rockland County, NY

I highly recommend Harvey Sach's new book: "The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824." It gives an incredibly precise overview of the cultural goings-on occurring throughout the year of the Ninth Symphony's premiere, 1824. Not only does Mr. Sachs give a detailed analysis of the Ninth and its impact, but he also talks about major cultural figures such as Pushkin, Lord Byron, Stendhal, and Heine. He discusses the Ninth's impact on these figures and on Europe in general, giving a thorough summary of Romanticism as well as the Ninth symphony.

Jul. 12 2010 11:03 PM
George Grella from Brooklyn

Ever and always, I recommend Joseph Kerman's "Opera As Drama," the single best description and evaluation of the form. It's also so well written that each line is deeply fascinating.

Jun. 23 2010 04:03 PM

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