Robert Philip’s ‘Companion to Orchestral Music’

16th October 2018 | Books, Inspirations | 1 comment

Robert Philip with his new book

It’s a great moment in our household because my husband Robert Philip’s epic study of orchestral music is about to be published by Yale University Press. Pre-ordered copies have started to land on people’s doormats, probably with a thud.

The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music has been thirteen years in the writing. At almost 1000 pages it also turns out to be on the limit of what can be bound in a single volume.

13 years ago, Robert started off with the plan of writing short, snappy entries on favourite orchestral pieces. But he made the mistake of starting with Beethoven, about whom it is hard to write snappily. As he became engrossed in describing Beethoven’s symphonies and their effects, the entries got longer and longer.

When he moved on to other composers, he tried to go back to writing concisely, but the new entries looked sparse beside the ones on Beethoven. So Robert allowed himself to write more expansively about the new works. And so on. The task became more and more mountainous, the research more extensive, while the yet-to-be-tackled composers remained a distant procession on the horizon. But finally the book is finished, and what a huge achievement!

On the back cover are enthusiastic endorsements from Nicholas Kenyon, Rob Cowan, Richard Wigmore and Marin Alsop.

Robert’s work with the BBC and the Open University were important influences.  His years with his beloved OU have made him sensitive to readers who are approaching a subject freshly, and his radio broadcasting has trained him in how to write as if he were speaking to you.

In his new book, essentially a giant collection of programme notes, he writes conversationally but without sacrificing complexity. It’s a marvellously lucid volume which encourages readers to dip in and out of it. Wherever they land, they’re sure to find something illuminating. Perhaps the best place to start is with the introduction, a warm and wise account of how Robert came to love orchestral music.

I’m biased, of course, but in my view this book is the ideal Christmas gift for anyone who loves orchestral music.

1 Comment

  1. Rob Foxcroft

    Dear Susan,

    Robert will not remember me but I remember him as the kindest and most encouraging supervisor imaginable when I was an undergraduate student at Cambridge. Please will you pass on to him my good wishes; tell him that I have been teaching the piano for many, many years here in Glasgow, with an ever-increasing sense of happiness and fulfilment; and that I remember many things he said, mostly about recordings and interpretations of music, which had a lasting effect on my understanding and appreciation of the repertoire and the richness of its imaginative possibilities. Robert also introduced me to the A major Rondo of Schubert one afternoon, when he got me to sit down and sightread it with him. The moment has stayed with me.

    Kind regards,

    Rob Foxcroft


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