Last time around, I gave you a listening list of horn music in preparation for our Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club discussion of Jasper Rees’ A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument. Well, I’m pleased to report that the book was a delight and not a devil to read. Rees warms a librarian’s heart by doing so much in-depth investigation of both the ancient and recent history of the horn. Then he shows off his storytelling skills by deftly weaving the threads of teenage remembrance, present-day experience, and historical research throughout each chapter. Also impressive is how the struggling amateur Rees ingratiated himself to the community of elite horn players. Finally, he grew even further in our book club’s estimation by talking to us via Skype even though it was past midnight in the UK. Consider us charmed.
Next up for the club is Arnold Steinhardt’s Violin Dreams, also a captivating read. Steinhardt is first violinist of the esteemed Guarneri Quartet. Unlike Rees, he is a professional musician who studied for decades with the greatest masters and mentors of his instrument. But like Rees, his book also weaves together memories with research into the premier players and their instruments. Steinhardt also includes vivid descriptions of his sometimes anxious dreams. Finally, the most significant piece of music that threads its way through the book is J. S. Bach’s Chaconne (the final movement of his Partita no. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004), the crown jewel and one of the mightier challenges of the violinist’s repertoire. The book comes with a CD with two recordings of Steinhardt performing the piece, in 1966 and forty years later.
We hope to see you on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. in the Music Department for another great book discussion with your fellow readers, library staff, Jim Cunningham from WQED-FM, and Pittsburgh Symphony Associate Concert Master Mark Huggins.