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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 15, No. 10 July 2010

Lectures d’été 2010 Summer Reading

Par/by René Bricault, Paul E. Robinson, Camille Rondeau, Joseph So / July 1, 2010

Version Flash ici / Flash version here.

Brève histoire de la musique moderne
Par Paul Griffiths
Paris, Fayard, 1992 (183 p.)
ISBN : 978-2213029993
Il existe de nombreux ouvrages excellents sur la musique savante occidentale du 20e siècle. La plupart sont assez exigeants et moins indiqués pour une lecture d’été. Le sujet peut même sembler rebutant en cette saison de légèreté, mais Paul Griffiths n’est pas un auteur ordinaire et sa Brève histoire n’est pas un livre ordinaire non plus. Même après les années qui passent, les lectures spécialisées qui éclairent, les remises en question qui désarçonnent et le goût qui évolue, on revient à cette petite merveille avec plaisir, encore et encore. RB

Clara, le soleil noir de Robert Schumann
Par Christian Wasselin
Paris, Scali, 2007 (316 p.)
ISBN : 9782350121161 
Cette fantaisie musico-littéraire sur le monde vécu et rêvé du jeune Robert Schumann, univers étrange et romanesque dont Clara Wieck est l’astre central, est l’œuvre d’un grand rêveur. Ce poète des sons des autres entend la musique des Romantiques et en parle avec l’enthousiasme passionné qui a marqué leur époque, et qui manque souvent si cruellement à la nôtre… CR

In Spite of Myself: A Memoir
By Christopher Plummer
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008 (656 p.)
ISBN: 978-0307396792
Canada’s most celebrated actor has written one of the most stylish—and funniest—memoirs about the theatre one could hope to encounter. In his early 80s, Plummer is still going strong. He was superb as the elderly Tolstoy matching wits with Helen Mirren in the recent film The Last Station, and I look forward to seeing him later this summer in The Tempest at Stratford. The book chronicles a thoroughly debauched youth featuring Plummer in the company of Jason Robards Jr., Edward Everett Horton, Katherine Cornell, Elia Kazan, Natalie Wood and many others, and his story about doing Shakespeare in Connecticut with Jack Palance is guaranteed to bring on a fit of convulsive laughter. And who knew that Plummer was related to pianist Janina Fialkowska? PER

Lois Marshall – A Biography
By James Neufeld
Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010 (334 p.)
ISBN: 978-1-55488-469-8
The first biography on Canadian soprano Lois Marshall, this volume was many years in the making. It was well known that Marshall, a very private person, did not want a biography. Undeterred, author James Neufeld convinced several important people in Marshall’s life to allow an authorized book. In the end, he had their full cooperation and the result is a meticulously researched book on the life and artistry of one of the most important musical figures in Canada. In nine chapters, it covers her life from the earliest years, her contracting polio, the conservatory years, working with Toscanini and Beecham, her vocal crisis in the early 1960s, her relationship with Weldon Kilburn, her late career and transition to mezzo, and her years as a teacher – all written in a fluid and highly readable prose. Of particular personal interest is the chapter covering the years 1975-1997, when I experienced Lois in live performances. I find the private correspondences, like Lois’ letter to Greta Kraus and the note to Stuart Hamilton very moving, revealing the innermost thoughts of the artist. Also telling is Catherine Robbin’s testimonial, underscoring the high regard younger singers held for Marshall. The book also contains rare candid photos, some never published before, images that give us a glimpse of the private Marshall. There’s even a humorous drawing Lois made of her good friend Doreen Simmons. Throughout, Neufeld treated the subject matter with respect and discretion. If there is a blemish given the meticulous research, it would be the absence of a performance chronology and a discography; and the included bibliography is not exhaustive. These quibbles aside, this is the definitive book on the life and art of Lois Marshall, and will likely remain the only one of its kind into the future. JKS

Maria Callas: A Musical Biography
By Robert Levine
New York: Amadeus Press, 2010 (224 p.)
ISBN: 978-1-57467-183-4
Originally published in hardcover by Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers in 2003, this book has found a new home in the Amadeus catalogue. With a very long list of titles already available on La Divina, does the world need yet another one, especially a re-issue? For Callas fans looking for a reasonably comprehensive volume written in fairly simple, non-technical language suitable for opera “newbies”, the answer is ‘yes.’ The inclusion of two CDs, drawn from the huge Callas catalogue on EMI, makes this book a bargain at the modest price of $24.95 USD. There are also over 100 black and white photos, some quite rare, reproduced on 224 short-format pages. The book is divided into three parts covering her life, her art, and her performances. Levine writes judiciously about the singer, essentially staying away from idle gossip, dealing with controversy fairly and without mud-slinging. To opera beginners, the most valuable part is the third section, devoted to the musical analysis of the thirty tracks found on the two CDs. Text and English translation are provided for each aria, plus a few words on the historical background and a short musical analysis of the aria, complete with timing. There’s also a short glossary, a chronology, a discography, and performance histories of operas and concerts. It must be said that, as a reference, this volume falls short. The information on opera and concert performances is sketchy, with some dates missing entirely. The discography does not include unreleased recordings and other live material that are so important to Callas devotees. JKS

The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing: What you need to know about protecting, and profiting from, music copyrights
By Randall D. Wixen
Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2009 (185p.)
ISBN: 978-1-4234-6854-7
The title of the book says it all: less than 200 pages on how actually complicated it is to be a competent music publisher. Wixen doesn’t have the necessary space to elaborate in detailed explanations, which would have opened a Pandora’s Box of astronomical proportions. Fortunately, after presenting the most important aspects of the business, big and small (royalties, licenses, synchronizations, copublishing, subpublishing, etc.), he finishes with a “DIY” chapter that tells the average musician what are the basic, simple, accessible and cheap ways he/she can obtain minimal protection of his/her work prior to initial distribution. The Glossary is also quite helpful. Of course, one has to remember that the book is addressed to our American neighbours, but most of what is said may apply here in Canada, if one replaces institutions properly (SOCAN for ASCAP, for example). Recommended for those interested in releasing or performing their compositions. RB

Winter Fire: A Novel of Music and War
By William R. Trotter
New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1993 (Paperback Edition 2003)
This is really three books ingeniously rolled into one. It is a gripping account of the war in Finland fought between Germany and the Soviet Union, an imaginative hypothesis concerning Sibelius and the mysterious Eighth Symphony, and a poetic introduction to Finnish culture and folklore. Trotter demonstrates surprising mastery of all three subjects and weaves the material together in compelling ways. PER

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