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Books and Articles To Consult

I was working on a review and started going through the things I consult when doing so. I began to wonder what kinds of materials others read or consult when listening to music or writing about it. Here are my two bits:

First of all I check into Michael Steinberg's books The Symphony or The Concerto. Steinberg wrote (writes?) the program notes for the San Francisco Symphony and basically took those and turned them into a book. His writings are directed to an audience that may not be able to understand a lot of the argot or references to specific passages in a score and so are accessible but not simplistic. I hope he is working on one about orchestral music like La Mer, etc.

Next, I consult the notes with the disc. Sometimes they are helpful but sometimes they are too technical to really help develop an understanding of the music. I have never particularly liked Toscanini's approach to rehearsing, preferring Stokowski's more natural language with an orchestra. With my background in literature it helps me to understand and appreciate the music if I can get that kind of language.

Comparison and contrast are essential in reviewing recordings, especially new releases. I sometimes consult books like The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs but recently added a better source, Alexander Morin's Third Ear: The Essential Listening Companion. Either one is frustrating at points, for example Morin's book mentions neither Giulini's recording of Bruckner's 2nd Symphony (Testament) nor Klemperer's recording of Bruckner's 6th (EMI). Sometimes I use these in helping make a decision to add a recording, especially if I don't have one, so that I can put things in the necessary context. Other times I will use them to let the reader know that some people disagree with my point of view (for example a review of Gottschalk music I am working on at the moment).

I also have a collection of hundreds of articles I have acquired over the years since I began listening to classical music in 1976. They include Stereo Review, Hi Fidelity, Stereophile, Gramophone, and recently from the Net I have added Tony Duggan's essays on Mahler. These are catalogued by composer and usually can add to what I am writing. I particularly look for interesting stories.

I recently dug out Martin Bookspan's 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers from 1972. He offers brief biographies and reviews of recordings he had reviewed at the time for "Consumer's Report". Again, I look for some discussion of the music that I can add to what I picked up from Steinberg's books.

Less often I consult Edward Downes' Guide To Symphonic Music. This book can offer information I can't find in the other sources but I find the writing somewhat boring and not particularly helpful when I am thinking about my audience.

Sometimes I will be writing about an older recording and there may be little about it in any of the above. Some years ago I added the 1943 edition of The Record Book by David Hall. I met him at a conference in 1982 and he had fascinating stories about damn near every famous musician.

Occasionally I check a 1975 copy of H. L. Mencken on Music edited by Louis Cheslock. He doesn't talk about recordings but does have some absolutely hilarious stories and insights to conductors and music that was "in" then.

Then there is Stokowski. I have four books about him, the best being Oliver Daniel's Stokowski: A Counterpoint of View. Abram Chasins' book is fairly complete and offers a few details not in Oliver's book. Preben Opperby wrote a more personal book that was full of errors because, as he told me, too often he accepted Stokowski's version of his life. None of these are any longer available but you might find them in used bookstores. Another source I check on occasion is Edward Johnson's "Leopold Stokowski: Off The Record". This is a collection of reviews from "Gramophone" dating from the early days of LP and offers another context to think about.

Okay, I wanted to share this information with you so that you will know what sources I check into when I read about music, especially if I am writing about it. I usually include references in the reviews. This is actually a second installment in an essay I wrote a few years ago called "Principles of Reviewing: Credo". It is vital to know the context a writer is working from in order to better understand what you are reading.

Copyright © 2002, Robert Stumpf II.