I’ve been browsing in the collections of program notes by Michael Steinberg. These are in three books: The Concerto, The Symphony, and Choral Masterworks. Steinberg’s prose is elegant and companionable, but more importantly, his writing makes me want to revisit some older favorites, as well as get to know some pieces unfamiliar to me – the Violin Concertos by Britten and Sessions, and works by Frank Martin and Franz Schmidt, among others. The best writing on music points you toward the music itself.
Lydia Davis’s Collected Stories are admirable for their craft, for their humor, for their unique conjunction of the ordinary and the strange. But I am struck most by the incredible range and variety of the pieces – something I wish for in my own work. Go here to read a fine essay on Davis’s stories by Mary Kenagy Mitchell.
When I was a grad student at Penn, the audio portion of the Music Library had open stacks. I remember seeing a forbiddingly large box of LPs on the shelf, daring me to take it down and listen.The box contained Julius Katchen’s recordings of the complete Brahms works for solo piano. (Well, he does leave out the pieces based on Chopin and Weber, as well as the left-hand version of the Bach Chaconne.) I never got to the LPs, but I recently made my way through all six discs of the CD reissue. Katchen plays superbly, though perhaps he lacks the last degree of inwardness that Radu Lupu brings to the late collections of short pieces. If, like me, those late collections – Op. 117, 118, and 119 – are the Brahms piano music you know best, then the extroverted virtuosity of works like the early piano sonatas will come as surprising news.