Top Five Fall Reads

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A composer who wrote memorable music for the mob, a pianist who had paranormal visions and a musician's comeback story that involves Botox -- those stories will be told in books coming out this fall. Below are five fall reads for the classical music fan.

1. Listen To This by Alex Ross (September 28, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
New Yorker music critic Alex Ross follows his much-lauded survey of modern classical music, The Rest is Noise, with an anthology of writings that explore everything from Bach to Bjork, Schubert to Sinatra called Listen to This. The book includes material already published in The New Yorker as well as pieces written or heavily revised for the occasion.

2. Why Mahler? by Norman Lebrecht (October 12, Pantheon)
Mahler was born 150 years ago and died in 1911 at age 50, handily providing two consecutive anniversary years. A timelier hook there couldn’t be for British music critic Norman Lebrecht’s latest book, Why Mahler? Early reviews have been largely enthusiastic, with The Guardian calling it “a peculiar enterprise which mixes biography, travelogue, CD guide and rather too much autobiography” while praising “the sheer exuberance of the writing.”

3. Nina Rota: Music, Film and Feeling by Richard Dyer (October 12, British Film Institute)

You may not know his name but chances are the mournful solo trumpet melody in Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather dynasty rings true. Nina Rota wrote the music for The Godfather Parts I and II, the Zeffirelli Shakespeare adaptations, and nearly all of Fellini’s work. Film historian Richard Dyer offers Nino Rota: Music, Film and Feeling, the first full account of the composer’s life and career in which he makes the case that Rota was a master of restraint, comedy and irony.

4. My Nine Lives by Leon Fleisher and Anne Midgette (November 30, Doubleday)
Everyone loves a comeback and Leon Fleisher's is one of the more remarkable examples in the music world. The pianist was at the top of his profession in the mid-1960s when a debilitating focal dystonia in his right hand forced him to a career change. He turned to teaching and performing the limited literature for left hand alone. His recovery -- and the thirty-year search for a cure -- is detailed in My Nine Lives, a new memoir co-written with Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette.

5. Chopin and Beyond by Byron Janis with Maria Cooper Janis (November 23, Wiley)
Comeback is a motif in the career of pianist Byron Janis as well. A student of Vladimir Horowitz, Janis was a sensation in his 30's, thanks to his dazzling recordings of the Rachmaninoff First and Third Concertos, among others. In 1973 came a diagnosis of arthritis in both his hands and soon, an accompanying depression that crippled his once-flourishing career. In recent years he’s been largely free from pain, thanks to a combination of treatments. Chopin and Beyond, his memoir co-written with his wife Maria Cooper Janis, looks to be colorful, recounting, among other things, “his paranormal experiences that deepened his personal association with Chopin.”

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