Music by the Book!
A pairing of music and words
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
by 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.
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.