It has been a shamefully long interval since our last post. I can only claim, in my case, various forms of distraction — including the new Holde Kunst layout. (Ahem… how do you like it?)
Of course, our lack of posting fervor can in no way be attributed to any form of summer laziness. But for those in the audience who find themselves in a “beach reading” mood, here are some of my favorite light books on classical music. None of which, I promise, will get you any better at musical analysis.
One of the best reads ever — and just becoming seasonal — is Bayreuth: A History of the Festival by Frederick Spotts. It may be hard to buy the words “Bayreuth” and “light reading” in the same paragraph, but so it it. This is a gossipy romp through a century or so of performances, productions, backstage machinations, and family squabbles. If you’ve ever wondered how exactly the Festspielhaus’s hidden orchestra and unique sonic properties came about, or what it’s actually like to perform there, you’ll get a pretty detailed rundown of that, too.
The next book is almost as old as I am, but I recommend Gentlemen, More Dolce Please! (original and “second movement” volumes) by Harry Ellis Dickson. In this orchestral player’s memoir you’ll be treated to a hilariously apt rundown of the various personality types found in each section of the orchestra. (Oboists have a turbulent love-hate relationship with their reeds, but Bassoonists seem to take their reed issues in stride.) This is where the phrase “so young and already viola” was immortalized, along with “so beautiful it was like a lousy cello” (said of Koussevitsky’s double bass virtuosity).
Want to know who deemed Wagner’s music “better than it sounds”? The answer (George Bernard Shaw) can be found in, well, Better Than It Sounds: A Dictionary of Humorous Music Quotations by David W. Barber. We’re off to an excellent start with the definition of Accordion as an instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin.” (Ambrose Bierce) Shaw’s wit is also found in the Lexicon of Musical Invective by Nicholas Slonimsky and Peter Schickele.