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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 14, No. 10 July 2009

LSM Summer Reading 2009

July 8, 2009

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Summer is always a great time to kick back with a cool drink and a good book. Whether at a city patio, at a country house or lounging on the beach, books are portable, don’t require electricity and are essential to vacation rejuvenation. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!

What better way to spend those lazy, hazy days of summer than with a good singer biography or two? They tend to vary wildly in quality and readability, from puff pieces to important scholarly works.

Franco Corelli: Prince of Tenors

By Rene Seghers

New York: Amadeus Press, 2008 (528 p.)

ISBN: 978-1-57647-163-6

For tenor buffs, I can recommend Franco Corelli: Prince of Tenors by Rene Seghers, from Amadeus Press, the premier publisher of classical musician bios. Though written in a rather peculiar style, the whopping 528 pages contain almost everything you’ll ever want to know about the great tenor, presented chronologically if in a rather dense fashion. Of particular interest is the section on Corelli’s last years and his final illness, the circumstances of which were previously shrouded in mystery. It is an absorbing read. JKS

In My Own Voice

By Christa Ludwig

New York: Limelight Editions, 1999

ISBN: 0-87910-281-0

If you like autobiographical accounts, my favourite is In My Own Voice by Christa Ludwig. There is no mention of a ghost writer, so presumably it is really in Frau Ludwig’s own voice - an honest and forthright recounting of her life and career, without artifice and ultimately very moving. JKS

Light and Shade: Sketches from an Uncommon Life

By Solomon Matthew Bard

Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009

ISBN: 978-962-209-949-4

I knew Solly Bard when I lived in Hong Kong (1966-69) and always admired his work as a medical doctor, violinist, conductor and archeologist. He lived through the worst of times – three years in a Japanese POW camp – but emerged to make a major contribution to the development of modern Hong Kong. He was a prime mover in the creation of the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, a professional ensemble performing on traditional Chinese instruments. Anyone interested in China or in the healing power of music will want to read this valuable memoir. PER

The Score of My Life

By Zubin Mehta

New York: Amadeus Press, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-57467-174-2

I think we tend to take Zubin Mehta for granted. We have known him forever as a handsome, charismatic, jet-setting conductor. But his story is remarkable. How many other conductors can you think of who were born in Bombay? There was lots of western classical music in his childhood home – his father founded the Bombay Symphony – but his rapid rise through studies in Vienna to conductor of the Montreal Symphony at the age of twenty-four still sounds incredible. Mehta tells his own story, warts and all – two marriages, a child from an affair, musical shortcomings – with refreshing candour. Without a doubt he is an extraordinarily gifted and fortunate man. His autobiography is not very penetrating on musical matters but it is well worth reading as a documentation of a unique conducting career. PER

Herbert von Karajan: The Maestro as Superstar

By Paul E. Robinson

iUniverse, 2007 (271 p.)

ISBN: 978-0-595-46147-9

Paul E. Robinson of Toronto is a musician, conductor, recording artist, broadcaster and educator. He has been a practitioner and enabler of classical music of long and distinguished standing in this country and the US and is a current contributor to LSM. This is a revision of a volume originally published in 1975 which includes the subject’s last years and takes note of the definitive biography (Herbert von Karajan: A Life in Music), London 1998, by Richard Osborne (and supplemented by the scholarship of the late Gisela Tamsen). There is a special personal perspective, as the author attended Karajan’s 1969 conducting course in Salzburg.

Robinson states in his preface that Karajan was, “The finest conductor of his time with respect to both orchestral control and interpretive insight.” The volume provides a concise and balanced biographical sketch of the conductor. Best of all, Robinson knows music. He is a dedicated record collector with an acute ear for recorded sound. The reader may disagree with some harsh verdicts on various pieces of Karajan’s recorded legacy, but what he has to say is always interesting. The extensive discographies are an invaluable resource for collectors.

Robinson has revised and published a companion volume on the life and music of Sir Georg Solti, which is also an informative and entertaining reference work. WSH

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