6 years ago

Volume 11 Issue 3 - November 2005

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BooKShelf by Pamela

BooKShelf by Pamela Marg/es James R. Gaines uses a historic meeting to tell his story. Tony Faber tracks down a careful selection of historical instruments, and Gene Lees relates the life of a musician. Ideally we are left wanting to learn more. Gaines goes on to provide detailed endnotes at the back of his book. He even gives his email address for those wanting more information on sources. Lees very deftly weaves the sources of his quotations into the text itself. Yet Faber leaves us hanging, with no notes, very few references to his sources in the text, and an inadequate bibliography. He may find endnotes a 'burden', but I certainly don't. Their absence weakens his book. Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment by James R Gaines Fourth Estate: Harper Collins 345 pages illustrated .95 Frederick the Great was a militaristic, bullying music-lover, and Johann Sebastian Bach a singleminded, stubborn genius when they met in 1747, three years before Bach's death. Bach's Musical Offering was the result, based on the now-famous theme provided by Frederick. The genesis of this masterpiece sets Gaines off exploring the historical and political context, including the philosophical and religious issues. Gaines claims Frederick made the theme as difficult as possible to work out resentment against his father, Frederick William, a violent psychopath whose parenting skills were so abysmal that he repeatedly punished his son for playing the flute. He even forced Freder- ick to watch when he had Frederick's lover executed. But Gaines' most controversial point is that Frederick was assisted in writing the treacherous theme by his chief harpsichordist, Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel, whose own father was a loving and caring parent. In fact, Gaines humanizes Bach as a 'hard-headed, hot-tempered man', a deeply spiritual believer, and a doting father, as well as unmatched genius. Gaines shows a skilled journalist's ability to encapsulate issues and clarify ideas. This is a witty, delightful book, infused with Gaines' unabashedly passionate appreciation of the ' incomprehensibly comprehensive intellectual and sensual beauty' of Bach's music. Portrait of Johnny: The Life of John Herndon Mercer by Gene Lees Pantheon 375 pages, photos; .95 This portrait of Johnny Mercer by Canadian jazz chronicler and lyricist Gene Lees is as much a memoir as a biography. Lees' extensive research includes interviews with Mercer's friends and colleagues, Lees' conversations with Mercer himself, and Mercer's own unpublished, fragmentary autobiography, which Lees edited. Lees records numerous instances of Mercer's generosity and integrity. He attacks Mercer's wife of forty-five years, Ginger, as vapid, manipulative, unappreciative and unloving. He even blames her for Mercer's death. Yet, according to Lees, Mercer could be cruelly abusive to her, especially when drunk, which was frequently. Lees looks at a number of the over one thousand songs for which Mercer wrote the lyrics, and sometimes even the music. These include masterpieces like Moon River, One For My Baby, Laura, Dream, Autumn Leaves and Midnight Sun, which audaciously rhymes 'aurora borealis', with 'chalice' and 'alabaster palace' . 'I just followed where the melody went', Mercer said. And in the end this beautifully written account turns out to be as much a paean to lyric writing itself as to the greatest lyricist of his time. 'More than a poet, he was a lyricist', comments Lees. The cover features a powerful painting of Mercer by his sister, Cornelia Rivers. Stradivarius: Five Violins, One Cello and a Genius by Tony Faber Pan Macmillan 314 pages illustrated .99 paper For Tony Faber, it was a newspaper article about the authenticity of the famous Messiah Stradivarius violin that 'told enough of the story to reawaken my schoolboy interest in Stradivarius.' Faber traces six instruments, chosen as much for their lineage as for their quality. Along the way he offers a compelling and enjoyable history of the development of violin-making, as well as violin-playing. Stradivarius lived until he was ninety-three. He made around 2000 instruments. Over 600 still exist, largely thanks to the colourful characters who populate Faber's tale - performers like Tartini and Viotti, as well as collectors and dealers. After three centuries, Strads still dominate the string world. The cello of the title, the Davidov, was Jacqueline du Pre's instrument, and currently Yo-Yo Ma plays it. Faber is more interested in instruments and people than in ideas, for instance mentioning only in passing Stradivarius' fascinating use of the Golden Mean to calculate proportions. Faber ends with a call for 'a new Stradivari' . But does he underestimate the quality, and indeed popularity, of modern instruments? Furthermore, he overlooks the likelihood that string instruments will evolve to respond to both ongoing challenges from composers, and opportunities provided by technology. Toronto audiences can hear one of the Strads featured in Faber's book, the Paganini violin, when the Tokyo Quanet, which performs on a set of Stradivarius instruments, plays on January 19 and March 16 for Music Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre. Back to Ad Index

OLD WINE, NEW BOTTLES: Fine Old Recordings Re-Released On April 23, 1951 Chicago's young Mercury Records made recording history with their first Living Presence taping. Rafael Kubelik conducted the Chicago Symphony in Pictures at an Exhibition and Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Outside this market Pie- &-~i:.'.3li'"'-- ·­ lures was issued on a 10 11 LP by HMV on their highpriced red label, opening the ears of the world to the excellence of the Chicago Symphony. Over the next two years, Mercury issued other outstanding Kube! ik performances in finely detailed recordings, approaching a real-I ife dynamic range, restricted only by the limits of the medium. Every performance in this Chicago Symphony package from Mercury [4756862, 4 mono CDs] is exemplary and decidedly not dated. Also included are the Dvorak Ninth, Smetana's Ma Vlast, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis and works by Bartok and Schoenberg. However, I recall a recording of the Concerto Grosso by Bloch which is neither mentioned nor included here. Dorati, who filled in after Kubelik's departure until the arrival of Fritz Reiner, is heard in Bartok's The Miraculous Mandarin and Kodaly's Peacock Variations. This is unquestionably a collection of Desert Island calibre recordings. si n with Andrew Davis and the TSO. Serl

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