Synopses & Reviews
As editor of the Guardian
, one of the world's foremost newspapers, Alan Rusbridger abides by the relentless twenty-four-hour news cycle. But increasingly in midlife, he feels the gravitational pull of music — especially the piano. He sets himself a formidable challenge: to fluently learn Chopin's magnificent Ballade No. 1 in G minor, arguably one of the most difficult Romantic compositions in the repertory. With pyrotechnic passages that require feats of memory, dexterity, and power, the piece is one that causes alarm even in battle-hardened concert pianists. He gives himself a year.
Under ideal circumstances, this would have been a daunting task. But the particular year Rusbridger chooses turns out to be one of frenetic intensity. As he writes in his introduction, “Perhaps if I'd known then what else would soon be happening in my day job, I might have had second thoughts. For it would transpire that, at the same time, I would be steering the Guardian through one of the most dramatic years in its history.” It was a year that began with WikiLeaks massive dump of state secrets and ended with the Guardian's revelations about widespread phone hacking at News of the World. “In between, there were the Japanese tsunami, the Arab Spring, the English riots... and the death of Osama Bin Laden,” writes Rusbridger. The test would be to “nibble out” twenty minutes per day to do something totally unrelated to the above.
Rusbridger's description of mastering the Ballade is hugely engaging, yet his subject is clearly larger than any one piece of music. Play It Again deals with focus, discipline, and desire but is, above all, about the sanctity of ones inner life in a world dominated by deadlines and distractions.
What will you do with your twenty minutes?
"The struggle to keep up an inspiring musical hobby while maintaining a manic, high-powered career animates this sprightly memoir. Rusbridger, editor of London's Guardian newspaper and an amateur pianist, spent 18 months learning Chopin's Ballade in G Minor, a piece whose treacherous rhythms, blindingly fast filigree, thunderous chords, and death-defying keyboard leaps give fits to concert virtuosos. Rusbridger's account of trying to learn this widow-maker by practicing 20 minutes a day longer sessions resulted in 'burning shoots of pain' makes an absorbing study in the intricate, exasperating physical niceties of high-performance piano playing. (His long-winded conversations with concert pianists from Daniel Barenboim to Murray Perahia on the meaning and emotional impact of the piece are less interesting, as talk about music tends to be; their pensées are usually as inchoate as Chopin's chromaticisms.) Meanwhile, Rusbridger handles breaking news (at one point he finds himself rehearsing the piece in war-torn Tripoli) and collaborates with Julian Assange on WikiLeaks revelations. The reader follows Rusbridger as he squeezes practice and a social life built around impromptu musicales into an unforgiving news cycle; the result is a vibrant tale of work-life balance and an imaginative case for the continuing importance of amateurism in a world fixated on professional expertise. Photos. (Sept. 10)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"This captivating book masquerades as the journal of a magnificent obsession, but you soon realize that its wider-ranging than that, and far more endearing. The story pivots on a feeling that many of us share: a deep and abiding love of music coupled with a daydreamers challenge to master one truly great work. With an exegetical discussion of Chopin's masterpiece, Alan Rusbridger insists we step inside the music with him and consider the score with the probing mind of a dedicated amateur. A remarkable tour de force." Thad Carhart, author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank
"This is not only the diary of a sixteen-month challenge but also an extended essay on beauty, memory, and performance; on time and how we use it; on work and what we do it for. A wonderful book." Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live: or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer
About the Author
Alan Rusbridger has been the editor of the Guardian since 1995. Born in Northern Rhodesia, he was educated at the University of Cambridge and lives in London.