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A Musician’s Alphabet

by Susan Tomes

2006, Faber & Faber, 149 pp, hardcover

ISBN 0-571-22883-6


Oh, to be multi-talented! Susan Tomes is the pianist of the much-admired Florestan Trio, and before that, the quintet Domus. In that role, she is "top of the pops" for me as chamber musician – her groups’ recordings of the Fauré quartets and quintets and Mendelssohn trios, to name but three, are simply marvellous. It is one of my lasting regrets, which I hope to put right in the future, that I have not seen either Domus or the Florestans in concert, the former not having toured Australia and the latter’s tour not taking them to the city where I live.

However, she doesn’t simply provide the world with her musical thoughts from the keyboard, but also from the pen. She has written what must be the most informative and intelligent account of being a chamber musician in Beyond The Notes (Boydell Press, 2004), which includes a number of short essays on music. She also contributes regularly to The Guardian and Financial Times as well as broadcasting on the BBC.

The present book is a collection of twenty-six articles, each linked to a letter of the alphabet: A is for Audience, B is for Background Music, C is Chamber Music and so on. Yes, this is somewhat of an artificial way of constructing a collection of essays, but it doesn’t really detract from the overall quality of the writing.

By way of example of the style and nature of the articles, I have chosen the first: "A is for Audience", If you’ll pardon the paraphrase, it isn’t wise to judge an essay by its title: it would be easy to imagine that this is a diatribe against coughers, applauders and lack of attendees. Nothing could be further from the truth: as with each of the articles, it is a comfortable mix of the author’s experiences and philosophies - yes, her frustrations do emerge from time to time, but in a very gentle way. She talks about choosing clothes appropriate for the occasion (both as performer and audience member), the relationship between performer and audience, the social context of a concert and the importance of live music in these days of recordings.

Susan Tomes’ writing is conversational in the best sense of the word, considered and personal. With each of the essays lasting no more than eight pages and having no direct connection with each other, it is an ideal book to read one "letter" at a time, as a brief escape from a busy life. Mind you, I had to stop myself from reading the whole lot at one go, like eating a bag of lollies.

I can thoroughly recommend this, particularly when it is being sold at a such a reasonable price. I bought it from AmazonUK for less than £9.

David J Barker

 

 



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