"Non-fiction" musical reading: memoirs, essays and music research

In the last book selection, we talked about fiction, where music became the theme, technique or basis for the plot.

Today we turn to other literary areas - collections of essays and reasoning, memoirs, research texts and historical reviews: stories about life and intellectual search, inextricably linked with music.


Photo Quinn Dombrowski CC

"Pianist. Warsaw diaries 1939-1945 "Vladislav Shpilman - not" another book about the Holocaust "


Vladislav Shpilman is a Polish Jew and a talented pianist. In 1945, he wrote a book of memoirs - about music, about working on Polish radio, about his family, about how the Nazis come to Warsaw, and how life turns upside down and becomes so terrible that it becomes more difficult to describe it. But Shpilman succeeds - it may seem surprising to someone, but his memories are almost devoid of emotions. This is not a book about the Holocaust, not an artistic comprehension, but memories, a biography that sounds like any biography sounds - a bit mundane.

Shpilman painfully experiences a break with his art, but it is music that supports him, not letting go and not allowing him to die prematurely. Vladislav Shpilman really survived and died at the age of 88, shortly before the release in 2002 of Roman Polanski's film “The Pianist,” based on his memoirs.

Как написано: Он уже давно измерял время музыкальными произведениями, как другие измеряют его часами и днями. Если профессор хотел что-нибудь вспомнить, он всегда начинал так: «Тогда я играл...» — и когда ему удавалось таким образом сориентироваться во времени, он мог позволить своей памяти парить дальше, чтобы вспомнить что-нибудь еще, уже менее существенное или более далекое.

The "Incomplete and Final History of Classical Music" by Stephen Fry - a professionally unprofessional view of a British intellectual on the world of music


The writer, actor, screenwriter and orchestra man Steven Fry describes the history of music from the perspective of ... an absolute amateur. At the beginning of the book, the author admits that he is in love with music, but has absolutely no talent for playing music - this, however, does not prevent him from understanding it well.

His book is not a boring textbook, but also not an artistic interpretation of musical history. Fry talks about the composers vividly, with humor and accuracy - removing them from the pedestal, he describes them as real people who are affected by the historical context and many events in their personal and public lives.

There are no detailed biographies and meaningless panegyrics, but there are stories representing the great composers as ordinary people - about Tchaikovsky’s fears or why Berlioz went to Paris in a woman’s dress. Fry also writes about their works not from the standpoint of knowledge, but from the standpoint of awareness and comprehension, offering to listen to them with an “open mind”.

Как написано: «Ну-с, а теперь позвольте познакомить вас с Антонио Вивальди, человеком, написавшем 400 концертов. Или, как сказал Стравинский, один концерт, который он затем повторил 399 раз. (Налейте этому русскому рюмочку — его мнение разделяет немалое число людей; и то сказать, многие концерты Вивальди звучат несколько, ну… одинаково. По крайней мере последние 200)».


Photo Jonathan Grado CC

“100 magneto-albums of Soviet rock. 1977-1991: 15 years of underground recording ”by Alexander Kushnir - the subjective history of rock


Music producer, journalist, writer Alexander Kushnir wrote a kind of “anthology” of Soviet rock. The book contains both historical reviews and unconfirmed stories - this is not an encyclopedia, and it does not pretend to be objective.

Kushnir wrote about his favorite music, musicians and the musical era - as he himself saw and remembered it. Therefore, something may not be enough for experts on the topic, and the selection of some albums will seem strange.

At the same time, the book is interesting not only from the point of view of the musical horizons, but also as a look at Soviet history through the prism of music - for example, it is interesting to notice how the genres, texts and moods of songs were transformed with a change in the political and social situation in the country.

Как написано: Куда лучше обстояли дела с живыми выступлениями. Рок-концерты, как правило, были боевыми: сгорали усилители, разбивались об пол самопальные гитары. Динамики вылетали из колонок, зрители — из окон, администрация — с работы.

“Next is the noise. Listening to the 20th Century, Alex Ross is a Complicated but Exciting History of Academic Music


It is believed that in the XX century the world of music captured jazz, bebop and grunge, but Alex Ross is ready to argue with this - he tells the story of music, which is considered to be classical, and composers who worked in this direction.

About “Further - noise” it cannot be said that she talks in simple terms about complex things. The author constantly uses terminology that will be fully understood unless professional musicians, composers or music teachers. For those who simply love music or are interested in music, the book will seem like a large and complex report on the huge research work done by the author.

This is a book for slow reading “in the long” - there is a dramatic plot defined by history itself (after all, the 20th century), and important cultural and social ideas (for example, about why modernism is getting rid of harmony - the musical foundation that seemed unbreakable) )

The stories of the great composers of the last century and essays about their work are written in the political context - for example, how did conditions affect the music of totalitarianism or the music of the Iron Curtain? Ross writes about all this deeply and sometimes abstruse, so the book requires intellectual work from the reader - but it is likely to pay off.

Как написано: Я стал своего рода дьявольским Парсифалем, который ищет не Святой Грааль, а бомбу, что взорвет музыкальный мир и впустит все звуки — звуки, которые до сих пор, даже сегодня, называют шумом.



Our historical section is an additional reading: