The Music Men

They composed music no one else had ever heard. They created musical forms that never existed before. They touch our lives daily centuries after their deaths. How did they do this? Explore the lives of some of the great composers of the last three hundred years and see if any of these questions can ever be answered.

Cosima Wagner, Extraordinary Daughter of Franz Liszt

By Alice Hunt Sokoloff

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Cosima was a child of the passionate and stormy union between Franz Liszt and Marie d'Agoult. She married her father's brilliant pupil Hans von Bulow, but her husband's devotion to the "master" he idolized, Richard Wagner, led Cosima to a great passion for Wagner. Scandel and divorce followed, but it was as Cosima Wagner that her life found fulfilment. She gave Wagner the total devotion that he needed, making possible the completion of the Ring cycle of operas and the realization of his dream that became Bayreuth.
The author was a student of Alexander Siloti who was a pupil of Liszt.
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Chopin's Funeral

By Benita Eisler

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At twenty-one, Chopin fled Russian-occupied Poland for exile in France. He would never see his native country again. With only two public concerts in as many years, he became a star of Parisian society and a legendary performer at its salons, revered by his great contemporaries Schumann, Liszt, and the painter Eugène Delacroix. Blessed with genius, success, and the love of Europe’s most famous—and infamous—woman novelist, George Sand, Chopin’s years of triumph ended with his expulsion from paradise: less than two decades after his conquest of Paris, the composer lay destitute and dying in the arms of Sand’s estranged daughter, Solange. Chopin’s Funeral is the story of this fatal fall from grace, of an Oedipal tragedy unfolding, and of illness and loss redeemed by the radical breakthrough of the composer’s last style. This love story is revisited (not completely accurately) in the film Impromptu, starring Hugh Grant and Judy Davis.

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Charles Ives: A Life with Music

By Jan Swafford

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An illuminating portrait of a man whose innovative works profoundly influenced the course of twentieth-century American classical music. Jan Swafford's colorful biography first unfolds in Ives's Connecticut hometown of Danbury, then follows Ives to Yale and on to his years in New York, where he began his double career as composer and insurance executive. The Charles Ives that emerges from Swafford's story is a precocious, well-trained musician, a brilliant if mercurial thinker about art and life, and an experimenter in the spirit of Edison and the Wright brothers.

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Johannes Brahms: A Biography

By Jan Swafford

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"Johannes Brahms has consistently eluded his biographers. Throughout his life, he attempted to erase traces of himself, wanting his music to be his sole legacy. Now, in this masterful book, Jan Swafford, critically acclaimed as both biographer and composer, takes a fresh look at Brahms, giving us for the first time a fully realized portrait of the man who created the magnificent music. Brahms was a man with many friends and no intimates, who experienced triumphs few artists achieve in their lifetime. Yet he lived with a relentless loneliness and a growing fatalism about the future of music and the world.

"The Brahms that emerges from these pages is not the bearded eminence of previous biographies but rather a fascinating assemblage of contradictions. Brought up in poverty, he was forced to play the piano in the brothels of Hamburg, where he met with both mental and physical abuse. At the same time, he was the golden boy of his teachers, who found themselves in awe of a stupendous talent: a miraculous young composer and pianist, poised between the emotionalism of the Romantics and the rigors of the composers he worshipped--Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. In 1853, Robert Schumann proclaimed the twenty-year-old Brahms the savior of German music.

"Brahms spent the rest of his days trying to live up to that prophecy, ever fearful of proving unworthy of his musical inheritance. We find here more of Brahms's words, his daily life and joys and sorrows, than in any other biography. With novelistic grace, Swafford shows us a warm-blooded but guarded genius who hid behind jokes and prickliness, rudeness and intractability with his friends as well as his enemies, but who was also a witty drinking companion and a consummate careerist skillfully courting the powerful."

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Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington

By John Edward Hasse

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No one led a band like Duke Ellington, no one led a life like Duke Ellington, and no one wrote music like Duke Ellington. One of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Ellington was acclaimed in his lifetime as a bandleader, but this biography explores his skill as a composer and musical "problem-solver." The author also guides the reader through the bewildering array of Ellington recordings, selecting and commenting on the most essential ones from each period of Ellington's career.

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Berlioz

By David Cairns

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"This biography of composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) describes with unprecedented intimacy, affection, and respect the life of one of France's greatest artists. After long being regarded as an oddity and an eccentric figure, Berlioz is now being accepted into the ranks of the great composers. Based on a wealth of previously unpublished sources, and on a profound understanding of the humanity of his subject, David Cairns's book provides a full account of this extraordinary and powerfully attractive man. Berlioz, Volume I, previously published only in Britain, is now available to American readers in a revised edition, together with the eagerly awaited, new Volume II. These two volumes together comprise a monumental biographical achievement, sure to stand as the definitive Berlioz biography.

"In researching Berlioz's life, Cairns has had access to unpublished family papers, and in Volume I he is able to portray all the people close to Berlioz in his boyhood, and to evoke a detailed picture of their lives in and around La Cte St.-Andr in the foothills of the French Alps. No artist's achievement connects more directly with early experience than that of Berlioz, whose passionate sensibility began to absorb the material of his art long before he had heard any musical ensemble other than the local town band. Volume I also traces the student years in Paris and Italy and discusses Berlioz's three great love affairs, shedding remarkable light on his later character and development. Volume I ends on the afternoon of December 9, 1832, the day of the concert that launched the composer's career."

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Mozart: A Cultural Biography

By Robert Gutman

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"This major work places Mozart's life and music in the context of the intellectual, political, and artistic currents of eighteenth-century Europe. Even as he delves into philosophic and aesthetic questions, Robert Gutman keeps in sight, clearly and firmly, the composer and his works. He discusses the major genres in which Mozart worked--chamber music; liturgical, theater, and keyboard compositions; concerto; symphony; opera; and oratorio. All of these riches unfold within the framework of the composer's brief but remarkable life. With Gutman's informed and sensitive handling, Mozart emerges in a light more luminous than in previous renderings. The composer was an affectionate and generous man to family and friends, self-deprecating, witty, winsome, but also an austere moralist, incisive and purposeful. Mozart is both an extraordinary portrait of a man in his time and a brilliant distillation of musical thought."



 

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Mozart

By Peter Gay

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"The greatest mind in Western music, by a National Book Award-winning writer on culture and psychology.

"Mozart's unshakable hold on the public's fascination can only be strengthened by the historian and biographer Peter Gay's bold, new perspective. His passionate and painstaking research reveals truths more fascinating than the myths that have long shrouded the maestro's life. Here is the archetypal child prodigy whose genius triumphed over early precociousness, and who later broke away from a loving but tyrannical father to pursue his vision unhampered.

"Peter Gay's Mozart traces the legendary development of the man whose life was a whirlwind of achievement, and the composer who pushed every instrument to its limit and every genre--especially opera--into new realms. More than an engrossing biography, this is a meditation on the nature of genius and, for any music lover, a trove of new critical insights."

Also available as an audiobook.

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Verdi: A Biography

By Mary Jane Phillips-Matz

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Verdi was one of the greatest, the most successful, and the longest-lived of all composers. Written with the full cooperation of the Verdi family and drawing on a wide range of sources, this is an authoritative re-examination of a long, vigorous and productive life. The book captures Verdi's tremendous energy, creativity, Italian nationalism and philanthropy and offers insight into the complexities involoved in the composition and production of opera.

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Rossini

By David Mountfield

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This small book has a companion compact disc recording of Rossini's most popular compositions. This is a good introduction to the composer of The Barber of Seville and William Tell. Included are a listing of Rossini's complete works and a list of recommended recordings.

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