Books & Articles
Women and the Piano: A History in 50 Lives
Hardback edition, Yale University Press, 288 pages, ISBN-10: 030026657X
To be published on 12 March 2024 – can be pre-ordered now from Yale University Press and leading bookstores.
Women are an essential part of the history of the piano―but how many women pianists can you name?
Throughout most of the piano’s history, women pianists lacked access to formal training and were excluded from male-dominated performance spaces. Yet despite their music being largely confined to the domestic sphere, women continued to play, perform, and compose on their own terms. Susan Tomes tells the stories of fifty enterprising women from across the piano’s history. Including now-famous names such as Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn. Tomes also highlights overlooked women: from Hélène de Montgeroult, whose playing saved her life during the French Revolution, to Leopoldine Wittgenstein, influential Viennese salonnière, and Hazel Scott, the first Black performer in the United States to have a nationally syndicated TV show. From Maria Szymanowska to Nina Simone, and including interviews with some of today’s leading female concert pianists, this is a much-needed corrective to our understanding of the piano―and a timely testament to women’s musical lives.
The Piano – A History in 100 Pieces
Published in July 2021 by Yale University Press
A personal selection of a hundred influential, important, popular and cherished pieces which illustrate a timeline of piano music from across 200+ years.
‘A fascinating survey … and what an interesting, entertaining and enthusiastic guide she is ….wonderfully eloquent and descriptive writing. A book that should appear on every pianophile’s wishlist.’ Pianist, July 2021
The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces was a Book of the Year in the Financial Times and The Spectator, winner of a Presto Music Award for book of the year, a Book of 2021 in The Scotsman, and a ‘Notable Book of 2021’ as chosen by the Seminary Coop Bookstore in Chicago.
Speaking the Piano – Reflections on Learning and Teaching
Published: June 2018
Format: Hardback, 277 pages, 21.6×13.8 cm
In Speaking the Piano, renowned pianist Susan Tomes turns her attention to teaching and learning. Teaching music encompasses everything from putting a drum in a child’s hands to helping an accomplished musician unlock the meaning and spirit of the classics. At every stage, some fundamental issues keep surfacing. In this wide-ranging book, Susan Tomes reflects on how her own experience as a learner, in different genres from classical to jazz, has influenced her approach to teaching. She tells us how her performing career has given her insight into what young performers need to know, and how discussions with students have fed into her own practice. She describes the brilliant and intriguing teachers whose masterclasses opened her ears to the many ways in which music can be brought alive and communicated. This is a book to appeal to a wide range of readers – pianists of every level from beginner to professional, piano teachers, musicians of all kinds, and the broader community of music-lovers. In a passionate contribution to the ongoing debate about the place of music in education, Susan Tomes argues that this most inspiring of arts can play a unique role in personal development.
‘This is a lovely, wise, elegantly written book, filled with tips and anecdotes which could be helpful and encouraging for any pianist, whether a beginner or a professional. Above all it is a book in which one senses constantly the deep love the author has for music itself, for its ability to inspire, touch and, indeed, change lives.’ STEPHEN HOUGH
Sleeping in Temples
Hardback edition, The Boydell Press, 2014, 263 pages, £19.99 RRP
In several decades as a distinguished classical pianist, Susan Tomes has found that there are some issues which never go away. Here she takes up various topics of perennial interest: how music awakens and even creates memories, what “interpretation” really means, what effect daily practice has on the character, whether playing from memory is a burden or a liberation, and why the piano is the right tool for the job. She pays homage to the influence of remarkable teachers, asks what it takes for long-term chamber groups to survive the strains of professional life, and explores the link between music and health. Once again, her aim is to provide insight into the motives and experiences of classical performers. In this fourth book she also describes some of the challenges facing classical musicians in today’s society, and considers why this kind of long-form music means so much to those who love it.
Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook
Chosen by ‘Chopin’ magazine in Japan as one of the five best books of 2012 (in the translation by Noriko Ogawa)
Hardback edition, Boydell Press 2010, 276 pages, £19.99 RRP
ISBN-10: 1843835576, ISBN-13: 978-1843835578
‘Out of Silence’ is my diary of a year as a performer. It aims to show something of how everyday life provides ideas for the task of understanding music, and vice versa. You can read excerpts, listen to a sound clip of me playing the piano, look at pictures, connect to social networks, and order the book via this widget.
- Buy the book from Amazon (Hardback edition)
- Buy the book from The Book Depository
- To order the book by phone from Boydell’s US outlet in Rochester NY, call 585-275-0419 in the USA
- To order by e-mail from Boydell’s US outlet, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read reviews of Out of Silence
Excerpts from the book were published in the Guardian on Sat 20 March 2010.
A Musician’s Alphabet
Hardback edition, Faber and Faber 2006, 149 pages, £12.99 RRP
ISBN-10: 0571228836, ISBN-13: 978-057122883
‘A Musician’s Alphabet’ is a series of 26 little meditations about performing. From ‘A is for Audience’ through ‘G is for Grace’, ‘J is for Job – not a proper’ and ‘U is for Unhelpful Thoughts’ to ‘Z is for Zen’, it introduces the arts-loving reader to some of the topics that preoccupy a performing musician. The book was inspired by some of the questions that people asked me after hearing concerts. They made me realize that the working life of a classical musician is a slightly closed book, even to concert-goers, and I wanted to try and throw some light on it.
Beyond the Notes
Hardback edition, The Boydell Press, 2004, 210 pages
ISBN-10: 1843830450, ISBN-13: 978-184383045
Paperback edition, The Boydell Press, 2005, 216 pages, £14.99 RRP
ISBN-10: 1843831600, ISBN-13: 978-1843831600
‘Beyond the Notes’ is a collection of writings which started as my private diary about the life of the chamber group Domus in the early 1980s. Domus was named after the portable concert hall, in the form of a geodesic dome, which a group of young idealistic musicians took around and put up in places where it was not usually possible to hear concerts. For several years we travelled with our dome to fields, hilltops, parks and city squares in Europe and Australia. Later we moved into the traditional concert hall, where we continued to develop our thoughts and expertise about the chamber music we loved. Part One of the book gives an insight into our difficulties and achievements when traveling with our dome. Part Two is a collection of my later essays about other aspects of performing and preparing for concerts.
Books to which I’ve contributed
The Cambridge Companion to Recorded Music, Cambridge University Press 2009 (author of Personal Take: ‘Learning to live with recording’): ISBN 978-0-521-86582-1 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-521-68461-3 (paperback)
Life in the Real World: how to make music graduates employable, edited by Dawn Bennett, with a foreword by Susan Tomes, published by The Arts in Society, Australia, 2013
Archives of articles by Susan Tomes for The Guardian:
My reviews of other authors’ books:
- On Late Style by Edward W Said (The Independent, May 2006)
- Lorenzo da Ponte by Rodney Bolt (The Independent, Aug 2006)
- Robert Schumann: Life and death of a musician by John Worthen (The Independent, Aug 2007)
- Mr Langshaw’s Square Piano by Madeline Goold (The Guardian, May 2008)
- Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound by David Rothenberg (The Guardian, Jun 2008)
- Everything is Connected: The Power of Music by Daniel Barenboim (The Guardian, Aug 2008)
- The World in Six Songs by Daniel Levitin (The Guardian, Aug 2009)
- The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin (The Independent, Feb 2010)
- Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie (The Independent, May 2013)
Other publications for which I’ve written articles include:
- Financial Times Arts page
- Financial Times Economics page
- Financial Times Weekend section
- Financial Times Travel section
- BBC Music Magazine
- Gramophone Magazine
- Piano Magazine
- Pianist Magazine
- CAM (Cambridge Alumni Magazine)
- Cambridge (the magazine of the Cambridge Society)
- The Scotsman
Two weeks today I'll be playing a recital at London's Wigmore Hall to mark the launch of my new book about the history of women playing the piano. My programme consists of music by some of the historical women featured in the book. I've been wondering how many of...
Get The Latest Posts
Interested in what Susan has to say about all things classical music? Subscribe below and whenever Susan writes a new blog post you will be notified by email. Simple!