‘The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces’ pops up in the Irish Independent

2nd October 2023 | Musings | 1 comment

A belated review of my book The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces has been prompted by a debate on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The debate began when comedian and actor Adrian Edmondson was the guest on Desert Island Discs and declared (half-humorously, I think) that he hated classical music after being made to listen again and again to certain records when he was a child. Afterwards, things became less amusing.  Professor Alice Roberts tweeted:

‘How refreshing to hear Adrian Edmondson daring to say he hates classical music!’
Lots of people were provoked to ask what was ‘refreshing’ about such an attitude. I joined in:
‘Perhaps Adrian Edmondson does not realise how diverse classical music is. Just saying that you ‘don’t like it’ is like saying that you don’t like food.’
This in turn led to George Hamilton, host of The Hamilton Scores on RTE lyric fm in Ireland, mentioning my most recent book in a short article for the Irish Independent. You can read it here. For now, an excerpt:

‘And if, instead of choosing the playtext of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” as the one book he [Adrian Edmondson] could to take with him to his desert island, he’d gone instead for Susan Tomes’ excellent salute to her instrument, he’d surely have become aware of the immense variety in just this one specific corner of the musical firmament.

The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces (published by Yale University Press) — a book of the year in 2022 in both The Spectator and the Financial Times — is a fascinating insight into a performer’s relationship with the music she plays.

It’s a love letter to the instrument that connects her and her audiences to the genius of those who created such captivating sounds across the centuries.

The hundred pieces begin with works composed for keyboards that predate the concert grand — the harpsichord and the fortepiano. This offers a perspective on how things changed when the much more sophisticated instrument was developed offering musicians greater scope in performance.

The author doesn’t restrict herself to her own area of expertise — recitals and chamber music — but casts the net wide to include concerti, a highlight being the modern masterpiece known as ‘Rach 3’ — Sergei Rachmaninoff’s monumental Concerto No.3 that scales an Everest in Romantic music, combining achingly beautiful melody with pianistic virtuosity and sumptuous orchestration.

If he gave it a chance, I’m sure even the classical sceptic in Adrian Edmondson would enjoy it.’

1 Comment

  1. Mary Cohen

    Teenage pupils in intermediate string quartet session: We don’t like classical music. No-one we know likes classical music. Our school friends don’t like classical music.

    I nod in sympathy and hand them a few items of music.

    Teenagers: Oh I love this piece. Can we do that other one afterwards? etc…

    Afterwards I tidy away the Haydn, Telemann, Mozart and Vivaldi that they love playing, week after week. (Not to mention Sibelius – yes, Sibelius!)

    This was over a decade ago, and I often wonder if they ever realised what I was doing!

    Reply

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