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Sunday, February 10, 2013

 

A Natural History of the Piano by Stuart Isacoff - Book review



A Natural History of the Piano

The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians - from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between


By: Stuart Isacoff

Published: November 20, 2012
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
ISBN-10: 0307279332
ISBN-13: 978-0307279330
Publisher: Vintage









"But the piano is more than just an instrument; in the words of Oliver Wendall Holmes, it is a 'wondrous box',filled as much with hopes, yearnings, and disappointments as with strings and hammers and felt', writes pianist, composer, critic, and educator at the SUNY at Purchase,Stuart Isacoff, in his engaging and highly informative book A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians - from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between. The author describes the fascinating story of the rise in importance of the piano, from its origins in the Medici court, along its astounding journey through classical and jazz music composition and performance.

Stuart Isacoff recognizes the overall preeminence of the piano as more than a mere musical instrument, but also as an expression of human culture and creativity. The author guides the reader along a musical voyage that spans several centuries of piano composition and musical expression. Stuart Isacoff shares the beauty and grandeur of the piano, its music, and the pianists who play the piano's eighty-eight keys.

From Mozart to Beethoven and Debussy to Liszt, the author presents the piano as integral to the sounds, textures, and history of classical music. Offering the performances and compositions of jazz pianists from Peterson to Ellington, Stuart Isacoff demonstrates the versatility of the piano as musical instrument and outlet for cultural expression.


Stuart Isacoff (photo left) understands that a piano can capture the spirit of any time and place, as well as an outlet for emotions and creativity. Whether in a concert hall, a home, or a tavern, the piano and its myriad of moods and sounds forms a crucial point of focus and enjoyment. Indeed, the author presents the concept of the near mystical overtones of the piano, and the spell it casts over those who play it, and those who listen to its music. The piano can express the music of any time, any style, and any place as a universal bearer of music and delight.

Stuart Isacoff takes the reader for a magical musical tour of the times and places of the piano, and of those who tinkle its ivories. The book includes the following chapters in the piano's amazing and intricate journey:

* A gathering of traditions
* The piano is born
* The first piano superstar
* Piano fever
* Performers on the road
* The four sounds
* The combustibles
* The alchemists
* The rhythmitizers
* The melodists
* The cultivated and the vernacular
* The Russians re coming
* The Germans and their close relations
* Keys to the world
* On the cutting edge
* Everything that is old is new again

For me, the power of the book is how Stuart Isacoff combines a a detailed and entertaining history to the piano, with a fascinating account of those who play the piano and utilize it as an inspiration to create new music. The author creates a history that is part musical and part social, as he sheds light on how musical tastes in the world of classical and jazz based piano have both evolved and been reborn. The story of the piano is one of passion for music, creative expression, and the central importance of the piano itself in musical history.

Stuart Isacoff enhances the delightful text and narrative with numerous photographs and artwork pieces to illustrate the great composers and performers who created their own special joy of music. The book is fully annotated with end notes for each chapter along with a brief, but useful biographical appendix. The book also contains additional contributions by great musicians and composers, of today and through history, that enrich the text and provide depth and background to each chapter.

I highly recommend the enjoyable and informative book A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians - from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between by Stuart Isacoff, to anyone who shares the joy of the piano as a composer, educator, performer, historian, or a listener seeking a clear and concise history of the piano, its music, and some of its greatest jazz and classical performers. This book will both entertain and enlighten you, while increasing your enjoyment of the wonderful piano.

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