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A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians: From Mozart to Modern Jazz, and Everything in Betweenby Stuart Isacoff
Synopses & Reviews
A beautifully illustrated, totally engrossing celebration of the piano, and the composers and performers who have made it their own.
With honed sensitivity and unquestioned expertise, Stuart Isacoff—pianist, critic, teacher, and author of Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization—unfolds the ongoing history and evolution of the piano and all its myriad wonders: how its very sound provides the basis for emotional expression and individual style, and why it has so powerfully entertained generation upon generation of listeners. He illuminates the groundbreaking music of Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Schumann, and Debussy. He analyzes the breathtaking techniques of Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Arthur Rubinstein, and Van Cliburn, and he gives musicians including Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Menahem Pressler, and Vladimir Horowitz the opportunity to discuss their approaches. Isacoff delineates how classical music and jazz influenced each other as the uniquely American art form progressed from ragtime, novelty, stride, boogie, bebop, and beyond, through Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Cecil Taylor, and Bill Charlap.
A Natural History of the Piano distills a lifetime of research and passion into one brilliant narrative. We witness Mozart unveiling his monumental concertos in Vienna’s coffeehouses, using a special piano with one keyboard for the hands and another for the feet; European virtuoso Henri Herz entertaining rowdy miners during the California gold rush; Beethoven at his piano, conjuring healing angels to console a grieving mother who had lost her child; Liszt fainting in the arms of a page turner to spark an entire hall into hysterics. Here is the instrument in all its complexity and beauty. We learn of the incredible craftsmanship of a modern Steinway, the peculiarity of specialty pianos built for the Victorian household, the continuing innovation in keyboards including electronic ones. And most of all, we hear the music of the masters, from centuries ago and in our own age, brilliantly evoked and as marvelous as its most recent performance.
With this wide-ranging volume, Isacoff gives us a must-have for music lovers, pianists, and the armchair musician.
"Pianist and author Isacoff (Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization) again ventures into music's conceptual thickets, this time emerging with an encyclopedic and argumentative overview of all things piano: its antecedents, builders, players, popularity, and cultural status. It is not a strictly chronological history, as the main narrative is festooned with inset boxes, artist's photos, and backstory sidebars on topics ranging from 'What's a Sonata?' to jazz icon Billy Taylor on 'Learning from Tatum.' Isacoff's main concern, it appears, is classifying how matters of style, sound, mood, and technique associated with such classical masters as Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, and others interrelate and perpetuate across genre into modern times. As Isacoff puts it, 'Despite the large swath they cut across time and geography, many of these creators fell naturally into a handful of stylistic categories.' Those groups — combustibles, alchemists, rhythmizers, and melodists — shape a piano gestalt through which readers will be impressed (and occasionally rendered numb) by the depth and diversity of Isacoff's research and references. And, of course, there's room for argument. To his credit, though searching for the affinities that may make music universal, Isacoff also illuminates elements of what may, in fact, make music timeless." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In this splendidly engrossing and vividly descriptive book, Stuart Isacoff—performer,critic, teacher—celebrates the piano, and the composers and performers who have made it their own. Here is the instruent in all its complexity and beauty—one of the great accomplishments of the Western musical tradition.
Isacoff describes the ongoing evolution of the piano and how its sound gives rise to emotion and individual artistry. He illuminates the groundbreaking music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Liszt. He analyzes the breathtaking techniques of Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, and many other pianists, and he gives musicians including Alfred Brendel and Murray Perahia the opportunity to discuss their techniques. Isacoff delineates how classical music influenced jazz as it progressed from ragtime and stride to Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, and Cecil Taylor.
With this wide-ranging, beautifully illustrated volume, Isacoff has given us a must-have for music lovers, pianists, and the armchair musician.
About the Author
Stuart Isacoff, a pianist and writer, was the founder of Piano Today magazine, which he edited for nearly three decades. A winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music, he is a regular contributor on the arts to The Wall Street Journal and has written for The New York Times, Chamber Music, Symphony, Musical America, Stagebill, and The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Mr. Isacoff is also the author of Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization. He is on the faculty of the SUNY Purchase College Conservatory of Music. He lives in Closter, New Jersey.
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