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  • Hardcover
  • 656
  • The Lives of the Great Composers
  • Harold C. Schonberg
  • English
  • 16 July 2018
  • 9780393038576

10 thoughts on “The Lives of the Great Composers

  1. says:

    A good introduction to classical composers but this guy gets unnecessarily catty at times and if you're new to classical music and impressionable you may want to be wary of letting Schoenberg sway you against certain composers Another thing to consider pare this book with a premium Spotify subscription and you can build playlists to match what you're reading without having to drop huge wads of money operas can get expensive Also as you approach the late 19th century consider augmenting this with Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise Listening to the 20th Century


  2. says:

    I rarely read biography especially biographies of writers and other artists I assume anything worth knowing about them is in their art that the source of their creativity is a different self from the person the artists' friends and family and public know Also artists are notoriously mistaken about themselves You could even say they know themselves less well than does the average person who would no think of writing a poem or a symphony than she would sign up to take a trip to the moon Notorious bigots if they happen to be good writers create sympathetic characters whom by right they should be portraying in the worst light Think Anthony Trollope's MP in The Way We Live Now And walking saints can produce pap and cant But not always Chekhov was saintly in some ways and no one has matched him as a short story writerAnd then there's the uestion of biography being just another form of fiction or at least being as much about the author of the biography as about the subject Even so I overcame my aversion made an exception as it were for Harold C Schonberg's The Lives of the Great Composers and then for his The Lives of the Great Pianists The reason is my schoolboy like adoration of classical musicians I know what neurotic jerks writers usually are I'm one myselfa writer I mean But I put great composers and their interpreters high up on pedestals or did until I read Mr Schonberg's books This lives of genre of course started with the medieval Lives of the Saints and continued in the Renaissance with Vasari's Lives of the Artists which tells you something about how Western culture has progressed or a least changed its focus over the last thousand years By the 19th century artists pretty much had a clear field to themselves and they played it for all it was worth Not that the Bachs Chopins and Prokofievs or Liszts Hofmanns and Horowitzes come off badly in these books If anything Schonberg is an even bigger groupie than I am though much better ualified to see his subjects' moral and social warts It's not a matter of any one of the greats being brought down a peg or two by what he puts in these volumes but of a cumulative impression one is left with and the standards of value by which a modern musicologist like Schonberg not to be confused by the way with the 20th century composer Arnold Schoenberg evaluates them and their workI don't know why I was so naïf as to think musicians were not like fiction writers subject to the academic bent for seeing art as a progressive historical process classifiable into schools and periods Baroue Classical Romantic Post Romantic Modern Post Classical and God knows what else Scholar’s minds work that way But it never occurred to me that great musicians could fall for that kind of silliness They create because they are moved to do so and what comes out of them is the only thing possible Or so I had thought But they were in fact freuently all too conscious of the imperative to be innovative if not always original Truly great artists break the molds create new forms because the content of their art what they must express demands new forms Beethoven didn't have to think about in what ways he could show up Haydn and out Mozart Mozart He spent a few years under the influence of those two but then found his own voice matching it to the powerful creation inside him He didn't innovate for the sake of innovation The content of his art dictated the form and the expressionBut others were self conscious Brahms was looked down on as old fashioned by the school that saw Wagner as the future of music and then of course Wagner suffered the same fate until by the time we reach the twentieth century composers would rather die than be thought anything less than avant garde In conseuence we got a dogged academic adherence to innovation for its own sake and perhaps tellingly combined with mediocrity that has driven otherwise sympathetic listeners in our own time to rock and jazz which have their own issues with innovation for innovation's sakeThe backbiting that went on in this fight to be at the head of the pack is worthy of a high school locker room It's embarrassing to read some of the things composers said about each other and no doubt still do I suppose they did so partly to keep their stock up in their own estimations Unless they were fools they knew what Bach or Beethoven meant to music no matter how they tried to trash them with glib asides they probably stayed up nights thinking up those nasty one liners What's disconcerting is the way they worried about their place at the cutting edge of their art God forbid they should write something that was behind the times Ever onward The past if not prologue is something to be spurned Who can write as if there had been no Wagner? Or no Stravinsky? Well Brahms could for one And Rachmaninoff for anotherWe've seen the same thing in literature Who could expect to be taken seriously as a serious writer unless she wrote in a post Joycean style? Not Saul Bellow Not John Updike And then who could expect to get the lit crit establishment's seal of approval if they ignored the tenets of Post Modernism? How many first rate talents have succumbed to this orthodoxy and diminished their talents rather than end up as God forbid popular writers?Walter Kaufmann best known as the translator of Frederic Nietzsche pointed out that all the great philosophers were what today would be considered amateurs Maybe something similar could be said about great writers and composers The best educated in their craft are self educated ie they learn by experiencing others' art Freuently they are mentored by another great talent But with the ascendance of the academy and its minions we have just the opposite situation a cadre of mediocrities mass produced and as conformist in their thinking and creations as any mainline clergyman It's in the nature of the academy to foster conformity and uniformity even when it professes to want the opposite The firestorm of petty invective and personal insult that met B R Myers's A Reader's Manifesto a few years back showed just how sensitive and insecure the establishment is to any uestioning of its authority The Inuisition was liberal minded by comparison Schonberg seems surprisingly deaf to the diktats of the establishment of which he is of course a part But I still say surprisingly because the man is nothing if not a passionate lover of music all music it seems though he is lukewarm about some composers I would think he would be enthusiastic about Prokofiev for example who managed to write fabulous music despite the towering presence of Stravinsky And how dare he I mean Schonberg leave out George Gershwin in a book like this while including not to mention not to mention infinitely less talented contemporary composers Even so The Lives of the Composers is a valuable book as is The Lives of the Great Pianists if only as an introduction to the subject or subjects A decent bibliography of related readings is included; musicians then as now are a garrulous and scribbling lot


  3. says:

    The tone of this book is as comforting as a cool blanket on a warm nightFrom the movie Last Action HeroJack Slater John Practice has just betrayed Slater Danny told me not to trust you He said you killed MozartJohn Practice Mo who?Jack Slater zart


  4. says:

    513 read chapter 8 poet of music franz schubert there's this whole bit about how beethoven was in vogue during much of schubert's life and despite a ridiculously huge and enormously beautiful catalog of music was totally underappreciated during his life he died in 1828 it follows that it was robert schumann who unearthed schubert's ninth symphony the 'great' c major schumann had known of its existence and on new year's day of 1839 he visited schubert's brother ferdinand who showed him piles of manuscripts ferdinand allowed schumann to depart with the scor of the c major symphony and on march 29 1839 mendelssohn conducted the world premiere in leipzig there is some evidence that the work was tried out in vienna in 1828 under schubert's supervision and was shelved as being too difficult in a letter to clara wieck schumann raved about the score 'it is not possible to describe it to you all the instruments are human voices it is gifted beyond measure and this instrumentation beethoven notwithstanding and it's length this heavenly length like a novel in four volumes longer than the beethoven ninth symphony' actually not true then schumann reviewed the liepzig premiere with his typical understanding and big heartedness 'the symphony produced such an effect among us as none had produced since beethoven years must pass perhaps before the work will be thoroughly understood in germany but there is no danger that it will ever be overlooked or forgotten it bears within it the core of everlasting youth' schumann as so often was right the c major symphony in its breadth and passion had a claim to stand near the beethoven ninth schubert in his last year expanded tremendously his music is packed with ideas is enormous in scale is starting to head in a new direction on his deathbed he is said to have cried that new ideas were running through his head what would he not have done had he livedi should add here that he died at age 31 to me that story is extraordinarily moving


  5. says:

    Highly recommendedThis is one of my favorite books I used to own the 1st edition when I was a 20 something but it was lost along the way I found this 3rd edition just recently and have loved revisiting these chaptersThe value is the 10 15 page chapters devoted to each composer None of the treatments are thorough but a single volume thread of composers from Monteverdi to Copland is just right for me Especially when I just want an hour or two diversion to whatever else I'm reading


  6. says:

    I learned a lot but this was far too dry to merit than 3 stars Still glad I read it just from the standpoint of my own cultural edification


  7. says:

    “A superior harmonic sense is the mark of nearly all the great composers Where most composers of his day would confine themselves to the rules Bach made the rules” Sounding like a Romantic than a Baroue composer Bach told an aspiring organist to not only play the notes but express the “affect” the emotional significance of the piece None of Corelli’s pieces go higher than third position on violin “A feeling for modulation is the infallible mark of the important composer It is the mediocrity who sits so close to home who does not have the imagination or the daring to go from key to key” “It is safe to say no great music is without the element of the unexpected” “Melodies had to be harmonized and in his harmonic ideas Schubert was supreme” Music totally changes between 1830 and 1840 It moves from classical harmony to romantic which means allowing seventh ninth eleventh and even altered chords Romantic is legato and rich Rubato “Every sensitive musician uses it; the device is euivalent to variation of line in a drawing by a master” Chopin was known for using it a lot although he made his pupils stick to a metronome for Bach and Mozart Chopin loved singers so you must bring out his singing lines Donizetti composed L’Elisir d’A in eight days including one of my favorite arias of all time Una Furtiva Lagrima Wagner and Berlioz sucked at playing any instrument yet look at what they wrote Wagner actually went through a radical period where he fell under the influence of the super cool anarchist Mikhail Bakunin; sadly he uickly went back to being a racist jerk Cesar Frank got uneasy when any student composer did not modulate enough I loved Mahler’s critiue of orchestral musicians “They cannot read the score markings and thus sin against the holy law of dynamics and the inner hidden rhythms of a work When they see a crescendo they immediately play forte and speed up; at a diminuendo they become piano and retard the tempo One looks in vain for gradations” When Saint Saens went back for his recital encore at age ten he offered the audience “to play any of Beethoven’s thirty two sonatas from memory” Debussy’s ear was his only rule; chords did not have to resolve Ravel was only five feet tall On the negative side I did not like the fact that Harold was not a fan of Saint Saens Piano Concerto #2 and that he dissed the amazing first movement of Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony Then Harold dares to say “It is true that no one can make the case for Grieg as one of the immortals” Really? Jan Garbarek would beg to differ Jan sells records than any classical artist today and his favorite composer is Grieg Jan is also Norwegian Grieg loving Jan’s record Officium with the Hillard Ensemble sold 15 million copies Let’s see one of Harold’s classical musical friends pull that off Another snotty PMS comment by Harold is “How could the composer of Valse Triste Sibelius be taken seriously?” A good book for the most part but occasionally you wonder how elitist douchebag Harold who looks like John Gielgud pistol whipped by a midget got this book deal


  8. says:

    This is a very well written informative overview of some of the most important composers of the Western tradition from Bach to Webern Schonberg has the power to make the same bare facts of a particular composer's life that I've read before in CD liner notes or reference book entries take on real drama and significance without distorting the facts He writes well about music succeeding in conveying the experience of the various pieces discussed without growing stale or sounding pretentious However I do not always agree with him He is downright wrong about Mahler whose music he dismisses as the over emphasised over scored product of a neurotic mind He accepts that Sibelius was a composer with an individual style and one whose reputation may well increase with time these words were written at a time when Sibelius' initial popular appeal had faded and the current revival of interest in him had not begun but he also pegs him as a minor composer which is uestionable at best He is similarly cavalier with Bartok He is also rather sketchy on Shostakovich On the other hand he very sympathetic to Liszt and to the French 'impressionists' perhaps in excess in the latter case By and large Schonberg overemphasises the intellectual aspects of music while showing a certain distaste for the emotional aspect which may serve as a corrective to a certain tendency to value maudlin displays of emotional excess but is hardly a balanced approach to any form of art particularly music which hardly needs to aspire to the condition of science Still a superbly written book an excellent guide for lay readers who are reasonably familiar with the composers being discussed and can draw their own conclusions


  9. says:

    “We are in contact with a mind and we must attempt an identification with that mind” This is Schonberg's stance on understanding music Music cannot be divorced from the mind that created it It is not simply structural or harmonic analysis So Schonberg attempts to relate to each composer and the world and culture that produced him as well as the make and personality that lent itself to the creation of classical music Therefore it is largely biographical in contrast with The Great Pianists which focuses on the specific contributions of each pianistI often wondered at some of the “great” composers he included Some he terms “minor” composers Perhaps they did not contribute anything earth shattering but did produce works that continue to be popular ie Greig I can understand their inclusion But what of the chapter devoted to Meyerbeer Cherubini and Auber? Not only did they not contribute anything significant to the repertoire but they also are never played But I suppose this is nitpickingOverall Schonberg is a great writer though I did feel he exhausted musical prose here than in The Great Pianists I lost count of how many composers found themselves to be an “anachronism in his own time” for example Still those who have not studied the composers before will find a fine exposition For those who have studied them before a fitting recapitulation


  10. says:

    This is a fantastic book thoroughly researched lucidly written and highly entertaining It contains details on the lives of all the great composers and many of the obscure ones as well The composer Charles Ives became one of my heroes after reading this One of my friends is currently writing an instructional book on playing the guitar titled How to Become a Guitar Player from Hell and he told me this book really inspired him and also influenced some of the musical ideas he decided to include for illustration purposes


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The Lives of the Great Composers

Harold C. Schonberg ê 6 characters

S Stockhausen and Carter the iconoclastic John Cage the individualistic Messiaen minimalist composers the new tonalists and women composers of all eras including Mendelssohn Hensel Chaminade Smyth Beach and Zwilich Scattered throughout are many changes and additions reflecting musicological findings of the past fifteen years. “We are in contact with a mind and we must attempt an identification with t

Free download ☆ PDF, eBook or Kindle ePUB ê Harold C. Schonberg

Bach Mozart Beethoven the Schumanns Copland and Stravinsky weaving a fabric rich in detail and anecdote He also includes the creators of light music such as Gilbert and Sullivan and the StraussesSchonberg has extended the volume's coverage to provide informative and clearly written descriptions of the later serialists such a. I learned a lot but this was far too dry to merit than 3 stars Still glad I

characters The Lives of the Great Composers

In this new edition Harold Schonberg offers music lovers a series of fascinating biographical chapters Music the author contends is a continually evolving art and all geniuses uniue as they are were influenced by their predecessors Schonberg discusses the lives and works of the foremost figures in classical music among them. I rarely read biography especially biographies of writers and other artists I


About the Author: Harold C. Schonberg

Harold Charles Schonberg was an American music critic and journalist most notably for The New York Times He was the first music critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism 1971 He was the author of a number of books on musical subjects and also one on chess