‘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

BBC History Magazine podcast about ‘The Piano’

Posted by Susan Tomes on 20 July 2021 under Books, Musings  •  Leave a comment

I recently recorded a 30-minute podcast for BBC History magazine – talking to interviewer Ellie Cawthorne about my new book, ‘The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces‘.

The podcast is now available by clicking on this link: https://www.historyextra.com/period/21st-century/piano-musical-history-podcast-susan-tomes/

You don’t need headphones or special equipment to listen to it – if you’re sitting at a computer you can just listen on your usual speakers. Scroll down the BBC History Extra page and click ‘play’ on the History Extra Podcast banner under ‘The piano – a musical history’. Of course, you can also listen on your phone or however you usually listen to podcasts. There’s an advert at the beginning, and another in the middle – but just keep listening.

The photo shows me signing copies of my new book in Blackwell’s Edinburgh bookstore.

Publication day for ‘The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces’

Posted by Susan Tomes on 13 July 2021 under Books, Inspirations  •  2 Comments

My new book comes out today. Perhaps there’s no real significance to the formal publication date, especially as pre-ordered copies have been landing on people’s doormats for a week or two now – but still, it feels like a day to be happy.

I made a YouTube playlist to go with the book, featuring twenty favourite pieces in excellent recorded performances. You can read my comments about them here, on the Yale books blog.

My goodness, there’s some fabulous piano playing to listen to! For example, if you don’t know it, have a listen to Track 16, the blind African-American jazz pianist Art Tatum leading Dvorak’s Humoresque a merry dance in 1940.

Quite apart from admiring his piano technique, any pianist can learn from the way Tatum keeps his jaw relaxed while he plays – something that one doesn’t see very often in performance! I’ve never fully understood why, but keeping the jaw relaxed helps to relax the whole person.