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Books for the heat

July 31, 2006
With temperatures in DC hovering around 100 degrees this week, why risk actual physical movement? The Post's Tim Page takes a frank and entertaining look at the latest crop of books on classical music in Sunday's Post, if you're looking for an excuse to curl up by the air conditioner and just read for a few days.

stravinsky_book.jpgPage gives high marks to the just-released second volume of Stephen Walsh's epic biography of Stravinsky ("Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America 1934-1971"), which covers a difficult period in the composer's life (revolving, to large degree, around the complex relationship with Robert Craft).  Written with "precision, elegance and grace," says Page, the work is "one of the best books ever written about a musician." 

He also has praise for Phillip Ramey's "altogether admirable" new book, "Irving Fine: An American Composer in His Time", but tears Edward Said's "On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain" into tiny, whimpering shreds.  The well-known Orientalist, says Page, comes across "as an unusually pompous tourist in the world of classical music, doing his best to hide his general befuddlement with a torturously expressed string of dubious 'insights'." 

said_book.jpgOn the other hand, Joseph Volpe's revealing memoir -- "The Toughest Show on Earth: My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera" --  comes off as virtually irrestisible: "one of those much-ballyhood 'insider books' that actually delivers the goods."

Walsh's bio of Stravinsky sounds like essential reading; also check out the engaging, in-depth review by Michael Kimmelman in the August 10 New York Review of Books.

On my own bedside table this week is  Solomon Volkov's fascinating "Shostakovich and Stalin", an often dramatic account of artistry under dictatorship. Volkov, of course, was behind the alleged Shostakovich memoirs published in 1979 as "Testimony" -- now widely thought to be a fraud.  So you approach Volkov warily; but his lively and thought-provoking account is worth reading in this Shostakovich anniversary year. Also on my table: "Shostakovich: A Life" by Laurel E. Fay -- the scholar who effectively exposed the truth about "Testimony."  (For a good account of the case, see Alex Ross' 2004 piece in The New Yorker.) Should be an interesting week.

Posted on Monday, July 31, 2006 at 11:45AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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