- Exceptionally Good


- Very Good


- Adequate


- Disappointing


- Poor

Brief reviews of the following books -

A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, by Francis Maes

Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man , by Howard Pollack

Carl Nielsen, by Jack Lawson

Mozart: A Life, by Maynard Solomon

Music and Inspiration, by Jonathan Harvey

Shostakovich: A Life, by Laurel E. Fay

Stravinsky: a Creative Spring; Russia and France 1882-1934, by Stephen Walsh


A List of Recommended Books


A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar
by Francis Maes, trans. by Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans

University of California Press, Berkeley, CA USA (Library of Congress catalog ML300.M1313)

The Quest for Essence (a chapter subtitle from the book)
This book makes clear that Russian music stems from a requirement that it represent the passions and history of its people. This fact paradoxically generates the excitement and uniqueness of Russian music and also gives it its most profound weaknesses and regretful events. The Russian composers of the 19th century strenuously find a national voice through their dedication to their craft and to the national spirit. Maes is very astute in all of his assessments and provides us a deep well through his understanding of musical history and Russian history in general. The book can get bogged down at times with the outlines of opera scenarios, but the content of these works needs to be understood by the reader. More writing could have been done on some of the minor composers, especially of the Soviet era. Maes makes some brilliant (yet open-ended) summaries of the still enigmatic life of Shostakovich, for which more scholarship is needed. This is an excellent book for all musically minded people to begin their journey into the realms of Russian music, and to further understand Russian culture. - Steve Matchett, Houston, TX USA - October 24, 2003

Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man,
by Howard Pollack

Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY USA (ML410.C756P6)

Striking a balance on Copland
This book exudes a tone of high admiration for the composer. The brilliant essays on the music reveal to the reader how Copland was able to integrate the modernism he absorbed in France with the varied moods of American musical culture. Pollack's deep appreciation for the music is catching. He balances this by giving candid reports of contemporary reviews of the music; good, bad and mixed. The book profiles aspects of the composer's personal life by discussing them topically. In all the detail Copland is revealed as a private and magnanimous man, and a sincere statesman of American music. Pollack also comments on the many recordings of the music, which can guide the reader in their listening and collecting. - Steve Matchett, Houston, TX USA - January 21, 2000

Carl Nielsen,
by Jack Lawson
Phaidon Press Limited, London ENGLAND (ML410.N669 L425 1997)

Insightful balance
The author, who is the founder of the the Carl Nielsen Society of Great Britain, has brought forth a very insightful book on Denmark's preeminent national composer. Nielsen is revealed here in all his complexities despite the fact that important personal documents cannot be accessed by researchers. The composer's childhood, even though spent in rural privation, did not leave Nielsen stained with pessimism. His youth is revealed as a happy time as he watched his father work as a traveling performer. The fact that Nielsen was unappreciated in Denmark during most of his life is brought forth here. There are very lucid comments on the composer's major works and on his life-affirming aesthetic. The difficulties of a marriage between two highly active artists are boldly presented while describing the arduous relationship Nielsen had with his sculptress wife Anne Marie. This book has well placed photographs throughout, which help very much with the people and events, as well as a complete works list and selected discography. - Steve Matchett, Houston, TX USA - May 15, 2000

Mozart: A Life
by Maynard Solomon
HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY USA (ML410.M9S65 1995)

Written for the ages!
Solomon's Mozart is mesmerizing. His daring psychological conclusions about the composer and his family are brilliant and are backed by a powerful force of insight. The analyses of the music helps to show that Mozart's art did have an evolution, and was not merely the product of a superhuman facility or 'divine' blessings. In this biography Solomon has even surpassed his own monumental accomplishment that was reached in his Beethoven. - Steve Matchett, Houston, TX USA - January 15, 2000


Music and Inspiration,
by Jonathan Harvey

Faber and Faber, London, ENGLAND, New York, NY USA

A welcome volume
This is a book by a composer for composers; and for any musician or artist interested in the genesis of musical art making. This book gives the composer what he doesn't get in music school - a description of the emotions and modes of thought surrounding the creation of music. Harvey has gleaned the writings of composers and drawn out their most subjective ideas and experiences relating to their work. He categorized these ideas into four areas: "The Composer and the Unconscious," "The Composer and Experience," The Composer and the Audience," and "The Composer and the Ideal." He then provides his own comments to tie these large themes together, even providing a few personal anecdotes. This book is practical but far from mundane, perceptive but not overly intellectual. The nice thing too about this book is that it can spur the composer on to make his/her own studies and discussions of these issues. - Steve Matchett, Houston, TX USA - June 1, 2000

Shostakovich: A Life,
by Laurel E. Fay
Oxford University Press, New York, NY USA (ML410.S53F39 1999)

Just the facts

This book reads like a mere fact finding report. The dry facts are interesting but there is little in this book which brings life to Shostakovich or his music. If one is interested in finding out about the ideas and influences that helped form the composer's style, this biography will be a disappointment. Shostakovich comes across as an artist who seeks to happily conform to all the dictates put upon him. This portrayal is unenhanced by any analytic help from the author, which is much needed. A quite different artist is portrayed here than in the controversial Testimony and in Elizabeth Wilson's more revealing biography / collected memoir. - Steve Matchett, Houston, TX USA - March 19, 2000

Stravinsky: a Creative Spring; Russia and France 1882-1934,
by Stephen Walsh
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY USA

The Composer's life detailed
This book is the most important one on the life of Stravinsky to date. It was meticulously researched and Walsh organizes the details beautifully. The St. Petersburg of Stravinsky's youth comes to life brilliantly here. We can also understand the composer's extensive travels like never before. The next 'America' installment will surely prove to be another master stroke. - Steve Matchett, Houston, TX USA - January 15, 2000


Recommended Books

Benjamin Britten: a biography,
by Humphrey Carpenter
A brilliantly written journey through the life of the composer. - Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, NY USA (ML410.B853C37)

Essential Dictionary of Music Notation,
by Tom Gerou & Linda Lusk
An excellent pocket guide for all aspects of notation. - Alfred Publishing Co., Los Angeles, CA USA (MT35.G494 1996)

Five Faces of Modernity,
by Matei Calinescu

Sections are titled "Modernism," "Avant-garde," "Decadence," "Kitsch," "Postmodernism." - Duke University Press, Durham, NC USA (BH301.M54C34 1987)

A History of Western Musical Aesthetics,
by Edward Lippman

Views and writings on music through the ages. - University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE USA & London (ML3845.L565 1992)

Staying Sane in the Arts,
by Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
A guide for creative and performing artists. - Tarcher/Putnam, New York, NY USA (NX165.M35 1992)

Writing About Music: A Style Sheet from the editors of 19th-Century Music,
by D. Kern Holoman

- University of California Press, Berkeley, CA USA & Los Angeles & London (ML63.W68 1988)

page updated 3/14/2007

Copyright © 2003-2007 Steve D. Matchett