2018 Reading List Recommendations (Biographies)

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday.

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A common New Year’s resolution is to spend more time reading and January is the time when many of us put together a reading list for the upcoming year. A great addition to any reading list is a biography of a renowned, historical figure, to help inspire a better, more grounded direction in your career and your daily life. In today’s blog, I have tracked down 10 wonderful biographies of composers and flutists to add to your 2018 reading list. I hope they inspire you as they have inspired me. Enjoy!

Books - Mozart

Mozart by Maynard Solomon

Available on Amazon: Mozart: A Life

This biography about Mozart’s life examines not just how he developed as a composer but also how his relationships shaped both his musical and personal lives. The central relationship in Mozart’s life, his father, Leopold Mozart, is explored in depth through letters circulated between the two that shed light on the psychological damage caused by a demanding and unyielding father and emotional reactions of a highly sensitive, tortured genius searching desperately for the serene utopia promised in his compositions. By examining the history of the letters, Solomon gives us a very personal account of Mozart and his struggles as a child prodigy turned struggling genius.

About the Author: Maynard Solomon’s books on Beethoven and his renowned writings on Mozart, Schubert, and Ives led a contributor to Music & Letters to name him “the leading musicologist-biographer of our time.” His classic biography, Beethoven, has been translated into seven languages and his Beethoven Essays received the Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society for best book of the year in 1989. Mr. Solomon, who lives in New York, has taught at Columbia, Harvard, and Yale Universities. (Source: Harper Collins Publishers)

Books - Taffanel

Taffanel, Genius of the Flute by Edward Blakeman

Available on Amazon: Taffanel: Genius of the Flute

Known as the “father of the French Flute school,” Paul Taffanel (1844-1908) was the most celebrated French flutist, composer, and pedagogue of the late 19th century. The flute playing world owes quite a debt to Mr. Taffanel and his support for the Boehm-style flute, which has now become standard in flute studios everywhere. Blakeman’s historical account of Taffanel’s career includes a number of unpublished letters and papers painting the composers as a major musical figure in fin de siécle Parisian society. This biography beautifully tells the story of an artist thriving in an extraordinary political and cultural era, exploring relationships with other musicians and prominent French composers as he solidified his reputation as one of the most extraordinary musicians of the French Romantic era.

About the Author: Edward Blakeman is a commissioning and program Editor at BBC Radio 3, where his responsibilities include overseeing the broadcasts of the annual season of BBC Proms. Before joining the BBC, he freelanced as a flute player, writer and presenter, and was Head of the Wind Department at the London College of Music. He is a member of the Council of the Royal Philharmonic Society, and editor of various music editions. (Source: Faber & Faber)

Books - Moyse

Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute by Ann McCatchan

Available on Amazon: Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute

Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute is the definitive biography of this legendary figure. Drawing on her five years of scholarly research and well over one hundred interviews with European and American students, colleagues and Moyse family members, Ann McCutchan traces his career with particular attention to the cultural and political conditions that helped mold him, his colleagues, and his followers on both sides of the Atlantic. The result is a full and truthful portrait of this charismatic, complex and often puzzling man. (Source: http://www.annmccutchan.com/marcel-moyse.html)

About the Author:  Ann McCutchan holds music performance degrees from Florida State University and the University of Michigan, and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston.  The founding director of the University of Wyoming’s MFA creative writing program, she taught creative writing for ten years at the University of North Texas, where she received the Kesterson Award for outstanding graduate teaching and was Editor of UNT’s American Literary Review.  Ann was elected to the Texas Institute of Letters in 2010 and sits on the artistic advisory board of Voices of Change, the Dallas contemporary music ensemble. (Source: http://www.annmccutchan.com/marcel-moyse.html)

Books - Barrere

Monarch of the Flute: The Life of Georges Barrère by Nancy Toff

Available on Amazon: Monarch of the Flute: The Life of Georges Barrère

This is a great biography to read after reading Taffanel: Genius of the Flute as George Barrère was one of the most prominent flutists that studied with Paul Taffanel at the Paris Conservatorie during the turn of the century. George Barrère brought the French flute playing style from Paris to New York, solidifying his place in the history of American flute playing and setting a new standard for flute performance in The States. He is best known for his performances of Poem of Charles Tomlinson Griffes and Density 21.5 by Edgard Varese, both of which were dedicated to him. Based on archival research and oral histories, this biography follows Barrère throughout his early studies and career in Paris, his interactions with contemporary composers during his time in both Paris and New York, his experiences as principal flute of the New York Symphony, and his experience as a touring chamber musician.

About the Author: Nancy Toff is author of The Flute Book, The Development of the Modern Flute, and Georges Barrère and the Flute in America and is a past president of the New York Flute Club. Toff is the 2012 winner of the National Flute Association’s National Service Award. Ms. Toff currently serves as an executive editor at Oxford University Press.

Books - Beethoven

Beethoven by Maynard Solomon

Available on Amazon.com: Beethoven, Revised Edition

Maynard Solomon is on this list twice because his biographies are some of the best researched and best written biographies on the market. This biography is very similar to his biography on Mozart, tracing the parallels between Beethoven’s profession and personal lives and comparing the impact of his relationships with others (and with himself) to his psychological development. To truly decipher what a composer is trying to say in a composition, we must try understanding where they are coming from personally, politically, and professionally. Maynard Solomon helps us achieve this by looking at the letters and documents written by the composer himself. We all know that Beethoven was a genius, but we often forget just much how he struggled with his health and emotional life during the later part of his life. This biography connects the political landscape of the time to Beethoven, his music, his emotions, and his personal struggles as a tormented genius.

About the Author: Maynard Solomon’s books on Beethoven and his renowned writings on Mozart, Schubert, and Ives led a contributor to Music & Letters to name him “the leading musicologist-biographer of our time.” His classic biography, Beethoven, has been translated into seven languages and his Beethoven Essays received the Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society for best book of the year in 1989. Mr. Solomon, who lives in New York, has taught at Columbia, Harvard, and Yale Universities. (Source: Harper Collins Publishers)

Books - Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn: A Life in Music by R. Larry Todd

Available on Amazon: Mendelssohn: A Life in Music

In this account of Felix Mendelssohn, R. Larry Todd masterfully connects many of the composer’s best known (and little known) compositions to events and relationships in Mendelssohn’s life using analyses of autographed manuscripts, correspondence, diaries, and paintings. Mendelssohn often gets a bad wrap as a composer writing overly sentimental work, however Todd describes how the composer used understatement and subtle yet colorful orchestration to create masterpieces full of freshness and vividness. This biography also discusses the impact of Mendelssohn’s Jewish heritage in relation to the anti-Semitic attacks on his music by Richard Wagner, his complex relationships with his sister Fanny, and his relationships with the cultural elite.

About the Author: R. Larry Todd was hailed in The New York Times as “the dean of Mendelssohn scholars in the United States.” A Professor of Musicology at Duke University, he has published widely on Mendelssohn and his time, and nineteenth-century music. (Source: Amazon.com)

Books - Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician by Christoph Wolff

Available on Amazon: Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician

This engaging new biography portrays Bach as the living, breathing, and sometimes imperfect human being that he was, while bringing to bear all the advances of the last half-century of Bach scholarship. Wolff demonstrates the intimate connection between the composer’s life and his music, showing how Bach’s superb inventiveness pervaded his career as musician, composer, performer, scholar, and teacher. And throughout, we see Bach in the broader context of his time: its institutions, traditions, and influences. With this highly readable book, Wolff sets a new standard for Bach biography. (Source: Amazon.com)

About the Author: CHRISTOPH WOLFF is Adams University Research Professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA and Visiting Professor at the Juilliard School in New York. He currently serves as Director of the Bach-Archiv in Leipzig and President of the Répertoire International des Sources Musicales. Recipient of the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association in London (1978), the Humboldt Research Award (1996), an honorary professorship at the University of Freiburg, and several honorary degrees, he is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften. He has been awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, honorary membership by the American Musicological Society, the American Bach Society, and the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician” won the Otto Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society for the best musicological book published in 2000. (Source: Amazon.com)

Books - Rampal

Music, My Love by Jean Pierre Rampal

Available on Amazon: Music, My Love

Finally – an Autobiography!! And it just happens to be about the most notable performing flutist of the 20th century, Jean Pierre Rampal. I must confess – I did not know that this book existed until I was researching for today’s blog. This is a very fun and personal account from the master himself about his love of flute playing and his experiences as a flute player. Fun fact: Jean Pierre Rampal had originally intended to be a doctor. This autobiography is just plain fun, written by a performer whose reputation stands the test of time.

About the Author: Jean-Pierre Rampal, in full Jean-Pierre-Louis Rampal, (born Jan. 7, 1922, Marseille, France—died May 20, 2000, Paris), French flutist who brought the flute to new prominence as a concert instrument and demonstrated the appropriateness of the flute as a solo instrument adaptable to a wide range of music, from Baroque masterpieces and English folk songs to improvised jazz. Rampal was the son of a flute teacher but was encouraged to become a doctor, and he attended Marseille Medical School. During World War II he was drafted into a German labour camp, and he abandoned his studies to go underground in Paris. Rampal began taking flute lessons at the Paris Conservatory and garnered attention after winning the school’s prestigious competition. After the war he began his career as a flutist in the Vichy Opéra orchestra (1947–51) and later was first flute at the Paris Opéra (1956–62). In 1968 he joined the faculty of the Paris Conservatory. Particularly devoted to chamber music, Rampal founded the French Wind Quintet in 1945 and the Baroque Ensemble of Paris in 1953. In addition to making international concert tours, he edited music by Baroque composers and taught. In later years he took up conducting. His popularity was in large part due to his extensive recording. Rampal gained admiration for his authentic interpretation of 18th-century music, his smooth, cleanly articulated tone, and his mastery of subtle tonal nuance. (Source: www.Britannica.com)

Books - Wagner

Richard Wagner: A Life in Music by Martin Geck

Available on Amazon: Richard Wagner: A Life in Music

Like him or loathe him, Richard Wagner’s music has made a lasting impression on the world, and his contributions to opera in particular have earned him a permanent place in the canon of Western Classical music. This biography traces the dramatic life and career of Richard Wagner and his theatrical writings on culture, philosophy, literature, theater, visual arts, and composition. Best known for the four-opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, Wagner also composed some of the most significant operas of the Romantic era including The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Tristan and Isolde. Geck brilliantly ties Wagner’s compositional life with his ever-evolving (or devolving, in some cases) understanding of aesthetics.

About the Author:  Martin Geck is professor of musicology at the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany. His other books include Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work and Robert Schumann: The Life and Work of a Romantic Composer, the latter also published by the University of Chicago Press. Stewart Spencer is an independent scholar and the translator of more than three dozen books. (Source: Amazon.com)

Books - Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky (Critical Lives) by Johnathan Cross

Available on Amazon: Igor Stravinsky (Critical Lives)

(Source: Amazon.com) Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) was perhaps the twentieth century’s most celebrated composer, a leading light of modernism and a restlessly creative artist. This new entry in the Critical Lives series traces the story of Stravinsky’s life and work, setting him in the context of the turbulent times in which he lived. Born in Russia, Stravinsky spent most of his life in exile—and while his work was deliberately cosmopolitan, the pain of estrangement nonetheless left its mark on the man and his work, distinguishable in an ever-present sense of loss. Jonathan Cross shows how that work emerged over the course of decades spent in Paris, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, in an artistic circle that included Joyce, Picasso, and Proust and that culminated in Stravinsky being celebrated by both the White House and the Kremlin as one of the great artistic forces of the era. Approachable and absorbing, Cross’s biography enables us to see Stravinsky’s life and artistic achievement in a new light, understanding how his work both reflected and shaped his times.

About the Author: Jonathan Cross is professor of musicology at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford. (Source: Amazon.com)

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What is on your 2018 reading list? Which one of the above biographies do you wish to add to your list? Which one of these figures inspires you the most? Please comment below!

Happy Fluting (and happy reading)!

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