Saturday, March 23, 2013

Five notable books on the musician in society

Stuart Isacoff is a pianist, composer, and critic; he was the founding editor of Piano Today magazine. A winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music, he is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and other publications. His latest book is A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians--from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between.

One of Isacof's five best books on the musician in society, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Men, Women and Pianos
by Arthur Loesser (1954)

Loesser's book—tracing European and early American social history via the piano—remains a classic. From the glamour of Louis XIV's French court to the towering virtuosos of the 19th century, it touches on hidden connections between culture and music, linking fashionable wigs to Baroque cantatas, Italian taste to the birth of the piano and much more. The book describes, not least, the ascent of the bourgeois class and the changes this wrought on concert life: "In Milan, Liszt had placed one of his études on the program, whereupon a man in the audience exclaimed resentfully: 'I came to the theater to be entertained, not to hear somebody practice!' " The public that now showed up at recitals, notes Loesser, "was as arrogant—but much more rude, crude, and cheaply snobbish—as the old aristocrats it replaced." And so it goes.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue