Books about music

As Sir Thomas Beecham said, There are no good books about music.

Why? Because, as Captain Tobias Hume said, To praise music were to say, that the sun shines.

There are certain books about music that I love. For my tenth birthday my Dad gave me both the Oxford Companion to Music and the Oxford Junior Companion to Music. From the pictures I saw at once that renaissance and baroque composers were more interesting than romantic and later ones, who either scowled or just looked stuffy—with the exception of Liszt, Brahms, Verdi, Humperdinck, and Stravinsky.

I found descriptions of musical instruments fascinating, and in my late teens my favourite book became Musical Instruments Through the Ages by Anthony Baines.

Just before giving up the piano (we never did get along) I discovered the FitzWilliam Virginal Book, and my commitment to early music was affirmed. I went to hear the Jaye Consort of Viols in London, and was underwhelmed: they played with such English restraint that you couldn’t hear a damn thing. Undeterred, I also went to hear the crazy Dolmetsch family doing their annual squabbling festival in Haslemere. Again I was unimpressed, but coming out I picked up a leaflet advertising the Viola da Gamba summer school, 1967. I went along, and was generously welcomed into the community by Nathalie Dolmetsch, Layton Ring, and Gordon Dodd. I rented a Barak Norman treble for a year and brought it home to Dublin, and soon I bought a Dolmetsch treble and an East German bass viol, and put my name down for a Kessler 7-string.

Looking back later I wondered what had guided my hand to the viol summer school leaflet, and not the Lute Society one beside it on the table at Haslemere. I suppose I had been captured by an image from another childhood favourite, The Observer’s Book of Music, where a man in a tall hat and two women in long full skirts consorted peacefully.  I could hear them clearer than I heard the Jayes.

2 Responses to “Books about music”

  1. samwell Says:

    i’d love to see that picture of the man in the tall hat. was he a bearded man? was he also wearing sandals?!

    • recumbentman Says:

      I looked around the house for the book but I can’t find it; I can’t have thrown it out, though I may have given it away. In any case I have ordered a second-hand copy over the net, and when it comes I’ll scan the picture and post it here.

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