> Why Beethoven threw the stew [HK]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Why Beethoven threw the stew

And lots more stories about the lives of Great Composers.

By Steven Isserlis; Faber; PB; £4.99



  AmazonUK  £3.99 AmazonUS


Analyses of great music are frequently given by some great expert for the edification of other great experts, but these are so esoteric as to leave the average person, let alone the beginner, as befogged as before and then discourages them from listening altogether. This is a book meant for the young, and/or the beginner being introduced to great classical music for the first time and it makes refreshing reading for its lack of pomposity. At once one is aware of the unbounded enthusiasm that the author has for music and his chosen composers. The object is twofold, to make the reader meet the composers as though they were alive now, real human beings, and then secondly guide them to start listening to some great music.

Each chapter is opened with a description of the composer as a person followed by a suggestion of the music one might listen to start with and then a more formal presentation of the composer’s life. His happy-go-lucky description of their lives is a great attempt to breathe life into them and I think he achieves the object of making you feel as if you had met them as real human beings. The music and composers chosen are intriguing, five Germans and one Russian (sort of). Bach, the Goldberg Variations filled with popular tunes, St. Mathew Passion deeply emotional, or the Brandenburg concertos. Not to forget the English Suites full of tunes you can dance to and the gorgeous air. Mozart in the operas where he shows his consummate skill in marrying voice and orchestra. Using the same operatic technique in blending solo instruments and Orchestra. Beethoven, the 5th and 6th symphonies, the piano sonatas like the Moonlight and the Pathetique. But then anything Beethoven wrote is quite amazing.

Brahms was his own fiercest critic and so he recommends anything from the grand almost daunting First Symphony to the ‘fun’ Hungarian Dances. And finally, squarely in the twentieth century with Stravinsky. Starting with the three great ‘Diaghilev’ ballets. But he introduces the reader to the great range of subsequent compositions. Finally, like Plutarch’s "Lives", one wishes that he could have written like this about so many other composers.


Hein Kropholler

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