Friday, 20 June 2008

Hugh Macdonald’s Obsessive Moments

We welcome Hugh Macdonald to the Eastman Studies in Music series with his entertaining and revealing book of essays, Beethoven’s Century. In it he looks at aspects of Schubert’s musical personality, the brief friendship between Berlioz and Schumann, Liszt’s abilities as a conductor…but let Professor Macdonald tell you about it:

I find that writing about music can only be driven by curiosity and the desire to get to the bottom of some teasing problem that arises from music one plays or hears or reads. This might be the ambition to cover the entire life and works of an individual, or to chart great cultural movements, but it can equally take the form of solving a small mystery, or putting an unusual aspect of a composer's work under the microscope. I once wrote a short article (never published) on a single note in Puccini's Crisantemi.

My collection Beethoven's Century contains essays that mostly arose from such obsessive moments when an idea once settled in the mind needs to be explored, expanded and expounded. Repeats, for example, was my way of checking what we are supposed to do with the repeat signs that are found in all classical instrumental music. Having played a great deal of chamber and orchestral music, I was struck by the way musicians responded to repeats, sometimes with reverence, sometimes without. Which repeats did composers write? Which did they want? Why did they drop out of favour, and when?

My essay on Comic Opera was driven by noticing that comic opera and dialogue opera were less well served in our opera houses than the heavier genres. Is it not time to correct the imbalance, I ask. The closing essay, Modernisms that Failed, attempts to question the received history of early 20th-century music, while giving a moment's attention to some of the crazier advances that seemed promising at the time, but actually led nowhere. Smell-music, colour-music, noise-music and machine-music are some of the fads that might well appeal to listeners as strongly as those of our own time.

The opening essay Beethoven's Game of Cat and Mouse pursues a path suggested by Czerny's story that he used to turn on his obsequious audiences when they became visibly moved by his playing. This is cruel behaviour, since we think we ought to be moved by his music. Beethoven teases us in all sorts of subtle ways, always leaving us in no doubt of who's in command. In this elaborate game, I argue, Beethoven is the cat and we are no more than mice. No one was more aware of his colossal stature than he was himself, as if he had already annexed the whole of the nineteenth century as his own.

Beethoven’s Century is available now from your favourite bookseller, online or otherwise.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Toccata Press

Boydell & Brewer is pleased to welcome Martin Anderson’s Toccata Press to the select band of small music book publishers whose lists we are proud to represent worldwide, alongside Plumbago and Chosen Press. Toccata has been publishing books on Anderson’s favourite neglected composers for well over a quarter of a century: here he explains what made him start the press, and what keeps him publishing.

I started Toccata Press way back in 1981, basically because I got fed up waiting for other publishers to bring out the books I wanted to read: there was nothing published in English on Enescu, nothing on Franz Schmidt or Pfitzner or a host of other important composers. At the time I was working at the Institute of Economic Affairs, watching the Editorial Director there, Arthur Seldon, turn the tide of opinion by commissioning studies offering then-unfashionable market solutions to economic problems. It dawned on me that, if the IEA could do it in economics, I could try the same thing in music, and I began to plan a series of short publications on a range of neglected composers. Matters were taken out of my hands when the composer Robert Simpson, who the previous year had resigned from the BBC in protest against its cultural agenda, got in touch to say that he had written an attack on the way the Corporation planned and ran the Proms; he had fallen out with its intended publisher, and could I find him someone else? I went to see a publisher friend, who answered my question with one of his own: Why don’t you do it? I didn’t have an answer, and so The Proms and Natural Justice was published within six weeks of my receipt of the manuscript.

I haven’t maintained that kind of rapidity, of course: my output settled down at about a book a year, not least because the short publications I had envisaged all turned out much longer. But the basic intention hasn’t changed: to fill some of the gaps in the musical literature, some of them surprising. For example, there was no full-length study of the Schubert symphonies in any language (not even German) before Toccata Press brought out Brian Newbould’s Schubert and the Symphony.

The new association with Boydell & Brewer will allow me, I hope, to increase the frequency of Toccata Press publications. There’s plenty in the pipeline. I have Volume Two of Havergal Brian on Music featuring his writings on his European and American contemporaries nearly ready for the printers, and Comrades in Art which has a subtitle of Victorian thoroughness: The Correspondence of Ronald Stevenson and Percy Grainger, 1957-61, with Interviews, Essays and other Writings on Grainger by Ronald Stevenson will shortly be going off to the typesetter. Tully Potter's huge biography of Adolf Busch is likewise virtually ready for production, and studies of Humperdinck, Irgens-Jensen (Norway’s finest composer, Grieg notwithstanding!), the Martinů Symphonies and more are in preparation. Watch this space!