Financial Times ‘Books of 2021’

Posted by Susan Tomes on 20 November 2021 under Musings  •  1 Comment

The Financial Times has been publishing its ‘Books of 2021’, category by category across recent days, and now they have arrived at Classical Music.

I’m proud to see that my piano book is one of their Books of 2021.

This is the link, but unless you’re a subscriber it seems to lead only to a paywall.

Last weekend I reported that my book had been chosen as one of the Books of the Year in The Spectator, so I am feeling very fortunate. It’s good to ‘feel seen’, as they say these days, at the end of another long and lonely year during which live concerts have remained largely in pandemic-related hibernation.

The photo of a sunrise this week in my neighbourhood has a nice metaphorical flavour.

My piano book is in The Spectator’s ‘Books of the Year’

Posted by Susan Tomes on 12 November 2021 under Books, Reviews  •  1 Comment

An exhilarating moment in an otherwise quiet stretch of autumn:

Jenny Colgan has chosen my piano book as one of her Books of the Year in The Spectator (the print edition comes out on 13 November).

She calls it ‘one of the two most beautiful books I got my hands on this year.’

One can’t assume that writers have books on classical music on their piles of reading material, so this is a delightful surprise.

A ‘Strictly’ for pianists?

Posted by Susan Tomes on 7 November 2021 under Daily Life, Inspirations  •  1 Comment

I was discussing ‘Strictly’ with a friend who’s also a fan of the show. He asked me:

‘How do you think it would work if celebrities were partnered with professional pianists, to learn to play the piano in a few weeks and then perform, say, a piano concerto in front of a TV audience?’

I started to say that quite a few competitors on Strictly have had prior dance training, but equally it’s true that many of them stress the fact that they have never danced before, or at least not more than joining in with the dancing at a wedding reception or whatever.

Before I had formed an answer to the question about ‘Strictly’ for pianists, we had started laughing. It seemed obvious that such a format wouldn’t work, at least not if competitors were truly starting from scratch. Yes, perhaps they could learn some simple tunes and chords in a few weeks, but the idea of playing a piano piece as dazzling and intricate as the dance routines we see on Strictly …. ‘not gonna happen’.

Now I should stress that I have great admiration for the dancers on Strictly. I think the professionals do an extraordinary job of teaching the celebrities, who in turn achieve amazing things in a short time. Watching everyone’s progress week by week is a delightful experience – and this year’s bunch is already performing at a high level.

However, I can’t imagine that the format would work with piano-playing (or many other musical instruments). Dancing is an extension of what we do anyway, but playing the piano to a high level is not quite as ‘natural’. Of course, almost everyone is musical, so in that sense, playing a musical instrument is an extension of an innate quality.

However, an instrument is not part of your own body, no matter how much we musicians like to imagine that it is. A piano is a complicated mechanical device that takes effort to master, and (for classical repertoire at least) there’s also the matter of learning to read music. It takes special study and a long time to lay down neural pathways and train the fine muscles of the fingers to a level where you can control the piano and perform music designed to delight, impress and move an audience.

When you think about it, it’s amazing that so many people persevere with learning the piano. The first steps come easily, but to go beyond them takes patience and discipline. Luckily, by the time they get past the first steps, many people are hooked. The peaks of the piano repertoire hover before them like a gorgeous mountain range and they are drawn towards it, day by day, month by month, year by year.

‘This is a hugely stimulating book that inspires and enlightens’, says International Piano

Posted by Susan Tomes on 4 November 2021 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

Renowned piano teacher and educator Murray McLachlan has reviewed my book in International Piano:

The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces

To read more reviews of this book, click here

Musical Opinion review of ‘The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces’

Posted by Susan Tomes on 2 November 2021 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

The quarterly magazine Musical Opinion has a review of my book in its October-December 2021 issue.

Some excerpts from Julian Jacobson’s review:

‘Susan Tomes’ new book is aimed at the informed amateur or mélomane, in the untranslatable French word: the Radio 3 (perhaps rather than Classic FM) listener or Wigmore Hall and festival devotee. Analysis is kept to a minimum and couched in general rather than technical terms, however there are many delightful insights into how the music actually feels to play. Biographical and historical material is well covered with a light, non-polemical touch.

The selection is by no means restricted to classical music: Tomes’ own experience in jazz, extending to a period of study in Boston with Jaki Byard and her performances of the jazz-inflected salon music of Billy Mayerl, lead her to include a whole section on jazz, and her experience as a celebrated ensemble pianist has engendered penetrating essays on major chamber works of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak, Fauré and others. Rightly she sees this as essentially not separate from the great solo repertoire.

…Ultimately the book is a joyous celebration of the piano, its central place in musical and general life, and its range of style, emotion and density from Scott Joplin through the virtuosity of Islamey and the third Rachmaninoff Concerto to the lofty heights of the Goldberg Variations, Beethoven’s Appassionata and the Ives Concord Sonata. There are no music-type examples: everything is described in terms which will enhance the listener’s experience without intimidating those who do not read musical notation.’

For more reviews of this book, click here (and scroll down to the bottom of the page)