Friday, 19 December 2008

Our books of the year

2008 has been an unforgettable year for new music books from the Boydell Press and the University of Rochester Press. To close this year’s posts on From Beyond the Stave we’d like to remind you of some of them and also some of the authors’ posts. You can win a free copy of one of these magnificent titles by answering a blog-related question (see below).

As the champagne corks pop around the world for his 100th birthday, we are pleased to publish Elliott Carter: A Centennial Portrait in Letters and Documents by Felix Meyer and Anne C Shreffler, in association with the Paul Sacher Foundation. "Lavishly illustrated, handsomely documented and superbly annotated," as the Financial Times pointed out, it is "for committed Carterites, the only acceptable Christmas present." The composer's own Collected Essays are also available again in paperback. One of the great interpreters of Carter's works for piano is Charles Rosen, whose work as a pianist and man of letters is the focus of a new collection of essays, Variations on the Canon, edited by Robert Curry, David Gable and Robert L Marshall.

Anyone with a serious interest in British music will want the fourth volume of Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten covering the years 1952-7, now published by the Boydell Press in association with the Britten-Pears Foundation. The three editors, led this time by Philip Reed, have produced another highly acclaimed volume: "Magnificent," said the Spectator, "the annotation continues to be quite superb - meticulous, imaginative, and illuminating". Similarly praised was Christopher Grogan's Imogen Holst: A Life in Music ("Magnificent" the Gramophone, "Excellent" TLS), published in 2007 but an excellent companion volume to the Britten Letters.

"I think Stravinsky was right to point to Berners as being one of the best English composers of the century. He didn't produce a lot of work but what he did produce was remarkable," is composer Gavin Bryars' view of the eccentric earl. Peter Dickinson's entertaining and illuminating collection of interviews with people who knew Lord Berners sheds new light on his life as a composer, painter and writer. Just published is Adrian Wright's biography of William Alwyn, The Innumerable Dance, the first full biography of a composer best known for his film music. Another neglected British composer is the subject of an acclaimed study by Leo Black, Edmund Rubbra: Symphonist. "Stylishly written and invitingly presented," said the Musical Times. Equally stylish is Pamela Blevins' double life of Ivor Gurney and Marion Scott: Song of Pain and Beauty. With the publication of this compelling book these two important figures in twentieth century British cultural life are finally receiving the attention they deserve.

Opera lovers will want to read Wagner and Venice, an engagingly written study by John W Barker, which looks at what Venice meant to the composer and how it, in turn, viewed him. Wagnerian travellers will also be interested in Richard Wagner's Zurich by Chris Walton which was published to great acclaim in 2007. However if Mozart is more to your taste, Ian Woodfield's study of Mozart's Così fan tutte will offer unique insights into the compositional history of this great work. Opera in Britain in the early part of the twentieth century owes a great deal to Thomas Beecham, who is the subject of a recent and highly-praised biography by John Lucas. "Brilliant," said the Gramophone; "engaging and erudite," offered Opera magazine; "thorough, exhaustive and often highly amusing," added Classical Music.

Early music enthusiasts and scholars will want to read Lorenzo Candelaria's Rosary Cantoral, a study of the rare and beautifully decorated Latin plainchant manuscript produced in Spain around 1500. It is strange to think that in the 1800s "Spem in alium" was not greatly admired, a fact we learn in Suzanne Cole's Thomas Tallis and his Music in Victorian England which comes highly recommended by Peter Phillips in the latest issue of the Musical Times. Susan Boynton and Eric Rice are the editors of a fascinating collection on Young Choristers 650-1700, the first full-length consideration of the role played by young singers over this extended period.

If the music of the 19th and 20th centuries is more to your taste, you'll enjoy Hugh Macdonald's collection of essays, Beethoven's Century, which range widely, mirroring the author's breadth and depth of interests. One area covered is French music, which is also the subject of a book edited by Barbara Kelly, French Music, Culture, and National Identity 1870-1939 which received four stars in a recent issue of BBC Music magazine. Hugh Macdonald is also one of the contributors to Peter Bloom's Berlioz : Scenes from the Life and Work. "Readers," Philip Borg-Wheeler wrote in Classical Music, "will derive great pleasure from this admirably produced collection." Beyond The Art of Finger Dexterity is the title of David Gramit's collection of essays on the multi-faceted Carl Czerny, which was praised by the Musical Times for its "usefulness, originality, [and] interest" as well as being "a good read."

These last titles were published in the Eastman Studies in Music series from the University of Rochester Press, who this year also published books on analyzing atonal music, music and mathematics (the Eastman Series' 50th title), musical phrasing in the eighteenth century and music of the Moravian church. Perhaps our most unusual book was a much-needed translation of Japanese composer Minoru Miki's classic Composing for Japanese Instruments which included two CDs.

To win one of the above simply consider the following question, the answer to which may be found in a previous posting on this blog: which Wagner “treasure” did Chris Walton discover after lunch with the daughter of a Swiss composer? If you know the answer, send it by e-mail to Michael Richards on mrichards[at]boydell[dot]co[dot]uk before January 15th 2009. I’ll contact the winner about which book you’d like and where to send it.

From Beyond the Stave will be back in early January. Until then may we wish you a very happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year from all at Boydell & Brewer and the University of Rochester Press.

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