Music by the Book!

Music by the Book

Music by the Book!

A pairing of music and words
just for book groups!

In Music by the Book!, Tom Moon, author of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, pairs words and music just for book groups.

For your next gathering, why not pair a book selection from Reading Group Choices with a music choice from Music by the Book!


This month, Tom suggests some music parings for your discussion of
An Unfinished Score
Elise Blackwell.

Music lives on virtually every page of this tale of infidelity, romance and art. The main characters are accomplished musicians and/or composers, so author Elise Blackwell laces many scenes with casual discussions of masterworks of the classical repertoire, including Brahms’ Double Quartet. Blackwell’s protagonist, a concert violist named Suzanne, is grieving the sudden death of her illicit lover, a renowned conductor. The conductor’s widow blackmails her into finishing his last composition, a task that proves loaded with intertwined emotional and musical challenges.

Classical music history contains plenty of pieces started by famous composers that, due to death or unforeseen circumstances, were either left incomplete or finished by others – including Mozart’s famed Requiem. Below are a few superlative recordings of unfinished works that might inspire discussion of the ideas within An Unfinished Score.

Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 8 in B minor (“Unfinished”) and Symphony No. 9 (“The Great”); Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell cond. (Sony).  There have been attempts to round out the two movements Schubert left for his No. 8 (including a contest sponsored by a record company), but they seem futile: Usually only the two original movements, which were written six years before Shubert died, are performed. This version, on a mid-price CD that also features Schubert’s glorious 9th, benefits from the crisp articulation of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Edward Elgar: Symphony No. 3 (Sketches Elaborated by Anthony Payne): London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis cond. (LSO Live). To finish a work begun by a famous composer is an almost impossible job. It requires understanding not only the shape of the piece and the composer’s intention, but also an intimate knowledge of the composer’s “vocabulary,” his or her traits and trusted devices. Anthony Payne took the 130 pages of sketches left by Elgar and crafted this acclaimed, carefully logical extension of Elgar’s thinking.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 10: Berlin Philharmonic, Simon Rattle cond. (EMI). The story here is that Mahler’s widow, Alma, held onto the great composer’s work, which included two fully scored movements and sketches for the remainder, until the 1960s. At that time, Deryck Cooke developed a “performance edition” of the piece, fleshing out and orchestrating melodies that were Mahler’s creation. The opening Adagio is a grand almost summarizing work, full of Mahler’s sweeping gestures and epic vision, and Rattle’s performance earns high marks for its urgency.

About Tom:

Tom Moon
For the last three and a half years, award-winning music journalist Tom Moon has been searching out peak musical experiences from all genres and every corner of the earth. 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, published by Workman Publishing in August 2008, is the result of his journey. Covering both acknowledged world-culture masterworks (J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations) and recordings that have been unfairly overlooked (Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left), the book is designed to encourage listeners to become explorers.

Moon lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs and an attic full of music outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.