Toppings Bookshop ‘author event’ last night

Posted by Susan Tomes on 14 August 2021 under Books, Musings  •  Leave a comment

Last night I did an ‘author event’ – the first in-person event of this year – at Toppings Bookshop in Edinburgh. This bookshop, fairly new to Edinburgh, has been beautifully designed around the many interestingly-shaped rooms of the historic building. Curved wooden bookcases follow the line of the curved walls. Rolling library ladders enable you to climb up to higher shelves. Readers sit by windows with cups of tea from pretty teapots (see photo). As a visitor you don’t know what to look at first, the books or the artistry of the store.

My husband Bob ‘interviewed’ me about my new book. To make this feel spontaneous, we hadn’t agreed on the questions beforehand. I had a pretty good idea of what he might ask, but all the same his actual questions were new to me and prompted a genuine off-the-cuff response. At the end, audience members asked questions  – and very intriguing questions they were too. Like: ‘Do you ever feel like varying the text of classic pieces of piano music by improvising phrases of your own instead of what’s written?’ (Answer: no, but it’s quite a long answer.)

After a year and a half of the pandemic, doing live events is a strange mixture of familiar, disquieting and heartening. We have trained ourselves to be wary of people sitting close together. Yet many of us long to be back in settings where we can be close together, enjoying the energy of the crowd. ‘Crowd’ is not quite the word for my bookshop gathering, but all the same they had a unity. They were wearing masks, but sitting close together and reacting ‘as one’ to particular moments in the discussion, just like a concert audience would. For me, this was a lovely feeling. I’ve missed it!

Review of my book in ArtMuseLondon

Posted by Susan Tomes on 10 August 2021 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

My book The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces has just been reviewed by ArtMuseLondon.

Some excerpts:

‘…This book is not simply a chronology of the piano, not by any means; but rather a detailed exploration of some of the greatest music composed for the instrument as well as lesser-known gems, written from the authoritative standpoint of someone who knows both instrument and repertoire intimately.

‘Susan Tomes writes with a lucid eloquence founded on knowledge, experience and, above all, an enthusiasm and affection for the piano, which shine through every paragraph. She not only offers the reader important analysis, historical context and performance notes, but also demonstrates a deep understanding of what it feels like to play the music, the sensation of the notes “under the hands”, how it sparks the imagination and provokes emotions, and the experience of learning and shaping it to bring it to life in concert – fascinating insights for both players and listeners.

‘…The range of pieces covered in the book reflect the vast breadth of the piano’s repertoire, and Tomes is the perfect guide through this almost overwhelming embarrassment of musical riches. Thus, the book acts as both a historical survey and a primer for those seeking more detailed information about specific works, with guidance on performance practice drawn from Tomes’s own experience as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher.

‘…This comprehensive, informative and highly readable celebration of the piano and its literature is a must for pianophiles and music lovers, and for those who play, a book to keep close by the instrument to refer to, dip into, and cherish.’

‘The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces’ – a must-read for pianophiles & music lovers

‘Literary Review’ – review of my book

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

There’s a review by Gulliver Ralston of my new book in the August 2021 issue of Literary Review. As part of it is behind a paywall, some excerpts:

‘…Completed just as lockdown began in the UK last March, these short essays open worlds of sound and history, illuminating familiar and forgotten works with succinct vignettes. They make up a book that encourages you to listen to and explore gems from the piano repertoire. Susan Tomes has chosen great pieces from across the centuries and brings them alive with just enough historical, biographical and musical context. …Tomes is adept at sketching political and personal backgrounds with few words, letting flashes of world events break through.

‘Her love for jazz pianists, in particular Art Tatum, is infectious. … There is also a great short essay on Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano 3a-3, a piece for mechanical piano designed to be played at a superhuman speed.

‘…The history of the jazz piano is still centred on men, and here Tomes’s elegant prose has teeth. The same is true when she turns to ambient music, where the best-known exponents are also men, ‘often in priest-like black’ and ‘happy with “guru status”‘. ‘To me’, she writes, ‘listening to them is often like waiting and waiting for the actual music to begin and then discovering that the piece is over.’

‘…In June 2020, the New York Times reported that sales of pianos had gone up as a result of the pandemic. Live music may have suffered, but it’s heartening, as Tomes says, to think that the piano, ‘being such a good companion’, may have entered ‘a new chapter of its history’.

Master Keys

BBC Radio Scotland ‘Classics Unwrapped’ this Sunday evening

Posted by Susan Tomes on 31 July 2021 under Books  •  Leave a comment

On Sunday 1 August, I’ll be talking about my new book The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces on BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Classics Unwrapped’ programme, which begins at 7pm. The interview will be ‘live’ and if you’re in a position to listen to BBC Radio Scotland, you can hear my segment from about 7.20 until 7.45pm.

The show’s usual host, Jamie McDougall, is unable to be in the studio on this occasion and his place is being taken by Professor Stephen Broad.

I won’t be in the studio either – we’re going to try to do the interview using my landline phone while I sit comfortably in my own living-room. When I’ve taken part in this show on previous occasions, I’ve gone to Glasgow to record the interview, but the pandemic has changed so many of our usual ways of doing things. I’m glad to be able to stay at home, but a bit nervous about using my home phone for a radio interview – fingers crossed!

Find out more about Sunday’s programme by clicking this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000ydg9

Visiting Daunt’s Books, and a review in ‘Pianist’

Posted by Susan Tomes on 24 July 2021 under Books, Reviews, Travel  •  3 Comments

In London yesterday, I visited the beautiful premises of Daunt’s Books in Marylebone High Street to sign some copies of my new book (see photo). The architecture of the store certainly gives one the feeling of being in a temple of books.

Today I came across a nice review of the book in the new issue of Pianist magazine – here are a couple of snippets:

‘A fascinating survey of 100 pieces …This is Susan Tomes’s personal tour through the rich history of the piano’s repertoire – and what an interesting, entertaining and enthusiastic guide she is over the course of its 350 pages.

‘The author draws upon her intimate knowledge of the music to detail her observations about the piece and its performances as well as relating its historical background. She does so with wonderfully eloquent and descriptive writing that reminds me of the wordsmithery of the most engaging musician-authors such as Stephen Hough. … A book that should appear on every pianophile’s wishlist.’

Pianist magazine, 23 July 2021