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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences




The Billboard Encyclopedia of Classical Music edited by Stanley Sadie (Billboard) Classical music finally has the reference it deserves: Authoritative, expertly written, and all-inclusive, The Billboard Encyclopedia of Classical Music is a comprehensive, affordable companion to a timeless genre.

Unlike most encyclopedias, this one is organized chronologically by period. After an introductory section on the foundations of music worldwide, there are chapters covering medieval, Renaissance, early and late baroque, classical, early and late Romantic, modern, and contemporary eras. Each chapter has these divisions: introduction (history and major events of the time and social and cultural context), personalities (biographies of key musical figures), styles and forms (new and developing), and instruments (invention, construction, role). Short entries marked by icons cover additional facts on six aspects of music: "Arts and Culture," "Inside the Music," "The Voice," "Performance," "Women in Music," and "Influences." Sidebars give more facts throughout. Other features are cross-referencing, a glossary of musical terms, bibliographies, a list of musical organizations, and an index. The few black-and-white illustrations are unremarkable.

The text of this work is a very slightly updated version of the Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Classical Music but with a much lower level of visual appeal. The`illustrated edition also has a listening guide for each chapter focusing on a specific work and a discography. These are missing from the work under review, although entries for personalities do list a recommended recording. Bibliographies are slightly different, but information is essentially the same and will be of great use to students of music, cultural history, and general history by period. Arrangement of the encyclopedia works very well, keeping relevant information together, and it is recommended for public, community college, and high-school libraries. Since both versions are available, it remains to choose one on the basis of price, weighing the value of the illustrations.

The Classical Music Experience: Discover the Music of the World's Greatest Composers by by Julius H. Jacobson (Sourcebooks Mediafusion) This book is intended for those with little or no knowledge of classical music. As a surgeon, and not even an amateur musician, my only qualification is that I have been an avid listener of classical music since my teens. It has been one of the great pleas­ures of my life. I believe this to be the first book of its kind—largely a discussion of a beginning basic repertoire (those compositions most often heard at orchestral or chamber music concerts) with excerpts of each on the accompanying compact discs. The knowledge and personal experience of the listener inevitably colors their reac­tions to music. I have shared mine with you along with some medical stories and trivialities that I think you will enjoy. The lives of the composers are inextricably bound up with their work. When you remember that Beethoven was deaf when he wrote his Ninth Symphony, and that Brahms was in love with Schumann's wife, something extra is brought to the learning experience. You listen differently, and that listening is enriched!

The genesis of this book came from two people. One was a companion at a din­ner party who said, "I want to learn something about classical music." I was unable to find what I considered a proper book for her. The other was an eminent musicol­ogist and a grateful patient of mine, the late Arthur Cohn, who had been guiding me in widening my musical tastes. It was his suggestion that I write this book. His thought was that a book on classical music written by a non-musicologist might serve an unmet purpose for the neophyte listener. This book is dedicated to him. My hope is that you, too, will become a lover of classical music. If I can accomplish this, I shall have improved the quality of your life just as surely as I do with successful major sur­gery. The idea of the accompanying compact discs is mine, but requires an apology at the outset. Reducing the music to excerpts is the only way that they can accompany the book at reasonable cost. I have arbitrarily chosen forty-two composers and a selec­tion of their works. Some I love. Some I like less, but they have all taught me valu­able lessons about music. Opera is omitted, except for Wagner, who had a profound impact on composers who came after him.

To give you only a short sampling of great masterpieces is just plain mean. Tantalus was punished by the gods by being confined to Hades forever. When he went to drink, the water disappeared; when he tried to pick a piece of luscious fruit from a tree, the wind moved the branch just beyond his grasp. These musical excerpts will tantalize you, but later you can rectify this at the local music store. The complete performances are easily found, often at low cost, because the works are so popular.

A chronological order of composer's lives is adhered to because, not unexpectedly, it mirrors the changes in musical styles and content that occurred. While you can skip around, you may come upon a term or concept, that was discussed earlier. When you are well under way, test yourself by randomly listen­ing to the various tracks and discovering which you can identify.

I am convinced that the development of taste in classical music is very much akin to learning to look at paintings. You begin by liking the representational pictures that are easy to understand, and then progress to the more difficult and abstract. Music is the same. At first you are captivated by the romantic lush themes of Tchaikovsky, then by the geometry of Bach, and eventually, maybe, you will develop a lik­ing for Schoenberg, Ives, and Shostakovich, with a whole wonderful world in between. What you listen to is purely for your own pleasure, but—as in any form of appreciation—effort is required on your part. The more you know, the more pleasure you get. My advice is to read the text first, then listen to the appropriate material on the compact disc, then read the text again. As a great internist, Sir William Osier, put it for the physician, "Go from the book to the bedside and back to the book."

Lost in the Stars: The Forgotten Musical Career of Alexander Siloti includes CD recording of Bach-Siloti piano transcriptions played by James Barbagallo by Charles Barber (Scarecrow Press) Siloti's genius lay in re-creation and rediscovery. In purely musical terms, he lived through others. Like great actors animating Chekhov and Shakespeare, Pushkin and Genet, the originality of his voice lay in its own accent and rhythms and weight, its internal pulse and pacing. It lay in recognition of the creative gifts of others: so early did he hear the power of Stravinsky, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff. It lay in a gift for organization and account, making it possible for new voices to be heard well and memorably. And it lay in his genius for sound. The evidence for the beauty of tone he fashioned is overwhelming and irrefutable.

In our times he still lives through others. We come full circle to the acknowledgment that badly deteriorated home-cut discs and eight pi­ano rolls are all that remains of Siloti speaking for himself. The rest survives in public documentation and private memory, and in the 200 works he edited and transcribed. Everything else fades.

Consider those transcriptions. We have the original work, and we have his shaping hand. When it came to the music of contemporaries and colleagues-Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Balakirev, Rachmaninoff, and others-he was a bravura second author. He could take striking liberties and justify them not merely in terms of pianism but also in the words of the composer. "Edited in accordance with Franz Liszt's indica­tions" or "Tchaikovsky said this was better" became passwords. There is written evidence that Siloti s claims were exactly correct. He did have consent, and he used it.

For example, in an earlier chapter I examined the editorial proce­dures in which Siloti was involved and that led to publication of the now "standard" performing edition of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 1. Beyond these changes, however, Siloti would gradually develop his own performing edition of the work, notating further al­terations he made over the years. In the first movement, for example, it became his practice to slur in pairs the opening line in the violins, al­lowing them to bring more weight to bear. He removed the doubling flute from the solo piano accompaniment on the first statement of the '; second theme and made the same cut when the solo clarinet appeared in the recapitulation. Siloti defended the altered voicing by insisting that the pianist should be given more room to breathe, to phrase.

His revoicing in the second movement is even more audible. He re­moves the trombones and replaces them with the tuba, an instrument Tchaikovsky did not choose at all. In the third movement, the trom­bones are now reinforced by the tuba. One cadenza-like sequence for the piano disappears completely. Four unison horns double the viola line at the start of the final great crescendo. Intriguingly, Siloti actually simplifies the solo piano line in the rapid passaggio of the finale, and revoices the piano chords at Maestoso.

On the surface, this is outlandish vandalism. Tchaikovsky was per­fectly capable of removing flutes and adding tubas if he wished. He was also a reasonably good pianist who wrote for the superior skills of others. How could Siloti's tampering be justified?

The Siloti answer must lie in his commitment to melody, the sep­aration of voice, his intimacy with the keyboard. Certain things worked, and others never could. When they could not, regardless of the brilliance of the original conception, Siloti repaired them. He did so immediately, and often. This was rarely an analytic process. It was one of spontaneous discovery and restatement. As he worked things out on the keyboard, or as a conductor on the podium, his phenomenal ear caught the purely effective, and the less-so. The lat­ter he adjusted.

Plainly, his concern was not just to throw fireworks around the cas­tle. Indeed, many of his alterations were directed toward more ele­mental expression. He wanted a triumph of voice-leading. The sim

And not only do we see the supremely practical hand of Siloti the per­former at work, fixing things that don't work, we see him­repeatedly-claiming a special relationship that accounted for and ra­tionalized his tampering. Back to the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto for a moment. Siloti took a highly personal view of the second move­ment overall. He invariably played it much faster than any other per­former. Why? "That vulgar waltz! It is not supposed to be a real waltz. It is a waltz heard by Tchaikovsky, let us say the night before in a cafe, and remembered by him in a dream," he declared to Olin Downes in 1929.

It is entirely possible that Tchaikovsky actually told him this. It is also possible Siloti made it up. It may even be that Siloti told his men­tor that it sounded to him like a dream-waltz, and Tchaikovsky said da, happy for his insight. Literary history is full of precedent. Who can contest what Plato claimed for Socrates, Boswell for Johnson, or Siloti for the composers-Liszt and Tchaikovsky in particular-he served?

In our times, these changes live in the same arena as the retouches performed by Mengelberg and Klemperer and Weingartner on Beethoven, by Mahler upon Schumann, by Rimsky on Mussorgsky and Borodin, and by everyone on the orchestral works of Chopin. Even Toscanini rewrote the coda of Brahms's Symphony no. 1.

And these changes live in the special history of the piano transcrip­tion itself. Recall former times. In the Romantic Century, the wealthiest home on the planet could not afford a radio. It would take years for a Bruckner symphony to be heard in Denver, a Berlioz opera to be staged in Edinburgh. When recordings arrived, they were of dismal quality. But virtu­ally every cultured home owned a piano. And music-loving people played them. It was through the mass medium of the piano itself that new music was most widely heard in the nineteen century, Siloti's aesthetic century. And they played transcriptions of the "classics": every Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven symphony was available in two- or four-hand editions. And for pianists of higher skills, or those merely wanting to show them off, there was the exotic territory of the bravura transcription.

Pianists like Busoni, Friedheim, Godowsky, Hofmann, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Moscheles, Paderewski, Rachmaninoff, Steibelt, Szanto­and a hundred more-wrote thousands of transcriptions, paraphrases, and arrangements of vocal, operatic, symphonic, and other music. Some of these virtuosi keyboard transcriptions could be stunning: it's difficult to imagine a single Busoni transcription that fails in purely pianistic terms. Others could be execrable, of course. Look at any of the work of Vladimir de Pachmann, a Liberace without the boring private life. In­deed, a de Pachmann recital was almost guaranteed to be a festival of bad taste, and therein lay part of the problem for those who would defend the transcription, the reconsideration, as a valid and separate art. (J. S. Bach transcribed Vivaldi.) A lot of rubbish poisoned the well.

But even allowing that there are profoundly well-conceived tran­scriptions, there are many distinguished musicians who take the view that all such alterations are forbidden. From the mid-twentieth cen­tury forward, the greatest modern revival movement was a secular one. We were able to discover and re-create original voices and instruments playing at original pitch with correctly realized ornaments the very music of our beginnings. Authentic, or informed, or original performance practice was the only legitimate form of expression. It' was a tough contest for many years, even though no one any longer believes that oboes are supposed to play out of tune.

A mid-ground has begun to form. It is led by superb conductors like Sir Charles Mackerras who find truth in exacting score study and Ur-text, but who also find shapely balance and power in contemporary performance techniques. However, it has not yet provided consensus about the, very idea of the transcription. (Mackerras wrote Pineapple Poll, after all.) We are left with this: Whether one accepts the premise of the transcription, it is legitimate to ask if it was done well. In Bach, Siloti rose to his highest level.

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