THE LIVES OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS
I would like to share with you a finding, which exerted a great deal of influence on me for last several years now – like a stone triggering an avalanche. Looking for books to read since few years I mainly look towards biographies. On the other hand my musical interests started to tend towards classical music. I wanted to systemize somehow my listening experience, I got interested by history of classical music and I was searching for the book from which to strat. And I have found it. “The Lives of the great composers” by Harold C. Schonberg, American music critic and journalist who was writing mainly for New York Times. He was the first music critic to win Pulitzer Prize. The first edition of the book was published in 1970. Now the third edition from 1998 is available.
When only the book arrived (Amazon – as usual) I started to read and frankly speaking I couldn’t stop. It is written in very readable way. From the preface: …”I wrote this book for intelligent, music loving lay audience, and tried to organize it so that continuity of music history from Claudio Monteverdi to today can be traced.”
…”I have tried to humanize the great composers, to give an idea of what they felt and thought.”
…“For a man’s music is a function of himself, and is a reflection of his mind and his reaction to the world in which he lives. How can we understand the music of Robert Schuman without knowing something about his fixation with writers like Jean Paul, his group of invented fellow spirits known as the Davidsbund, his own mental terrors about insanity? Just as we see the world of Rembrandt, Cézanne, or Picasso when we look at their paintings, so we experience the world of a Beethoven, Brahms or Stravinsky when we hear their music.”…
Schonberg weaves a lot of anecdotes into the text and points, in his opinion, what works of The Greatest are of particular interest. This makes a hint from what to start an adventure of diving in the ocean of classical music.
Using momentum I read also “Lives and times of the great composers” by Michael Steen, but here unfortunately for me the emphasis is put on “times” in which they lived, so for somebody looking for more musical context the Schonberg’s book is much better.
But be warned! I you catch the bug, it may be that the whole book will become a mere table of contents and an introduction for search of the monographs of selected composers in order to know more about them and their music. So who knows where you get if you take this path…?