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Charles Munch Hardcover – January 19, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"A fascinating read. Holoman's passion for and knowledge of his subject is quite compelling. In contemporary discussions of the great conductors of that era, Munch tends to be relatively overlooked. Holoman makes a persuasive historical case for Munch's importance, both to musical life in France and to the evolution of the Boston Symphony. Along the way, he also provides a detailed look at what life was like for conductors (and orchestras) in the middle part of the twentieth century." --Aaron Sherber, Music Director and Conductor, Martha Graham Dance Company

"A joy to read: well-conceived, well-executed, well-written. Holoman's combination of musical and literary skill brings twentieth-century culture to life throughout, on both sides of the Atlantic. 'Ah, qu'il était beau!' and he still is, in Holoman's vivid biography." --Thomas Kelly, Harvard University

"Charles Munch--the musical icon. When you played a concert with Charles Munch or attended one of his performances as a listener, it was not just a concert. It was an event. He never used the same palette twice. As a player, you had to give 110% of yourself, or be left out of the music. This book is an excellent portrayal of this musical phenomenon!" --Vic Firth

"The qualities that marked D. Kern Holoman's biography of Berlioz and his epic The Société des Concerts du Conservatoire--the grand sweep combined with the minute attention to detail, the narrative flair, the breadth of human sympathy, the evocation of the musician's existence, which, as himself a conductor and organiser of concerts, he understands so well--shine out in this new book. Charles Munch's life, spanning three continents and two world wars, raises fascinating issues--personal, social, political, as well as musical. Reading it, we learn both about the teeming, intricate world of mid-twentieth-century music and about the struggles and achievements of one of its best-loved and most committed practitioners. Holoman has a remarkable story to tell and he tells it superbly." --David Cairns

"Among its other virtues, D. Kern Holoman's warmly sympathetic new biography sheds necessary light on an already forgotten chapter from the history of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Few readers of this book will be prepared to discover what was expected of a Boston Symphony music director as of 1949, when Charles Munch took over from Serge Koussevitzky--Munch was to stay put in Boston; guest conductors were a rarity. And there was new music on virtually every subscription concert. A lot has changed since then." --Joseph Horowitz, author of Classical Music in America: A History

"A book such as this has been needed for quite a while...Very strongly recommended: it is a masterly study." --Musical Opinion

"Beautifully written and arranged in every respect...Accessible to a wide audience...Recommended." --Choice

About the Author

D. Kern Holoman is Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis, and conductor emeritus of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra. He is the author of Writing About Music, Evenings with the Orchestra, Berlioz, and the popular textbook Masterworks.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199772703
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199772704
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Tod Verklärung on January 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you had the good luck to hear Charles Munch in performance, this book will have some appeal. In its favor is the thorough coverage D. Kern Holoman gives to Munch's career and the many names that appear along the way, including Albert Schweitzer, Honegger, Dutilleux, Poulenc, and others. Much time is spent on his spontaneity in concert and his lack of interest in rehearsal. He is portrayed as a charismatic but shy man who came alive on stage; an art collector, a generous colleague and friend, and a man of some considerable courage. The book is well researched, as well. And yet...

The sadness and loneliness that Munch experienced are not explained and the author admits as much. Nor does he do more than describe the outward aspects of Munch's marriage to a rich, intelligent, somewhat older but infirm woman who helped finance the early portion of his conducting career, but with whom Munch might never have consummated the marriage. Apparently the conductor had numerous extra-marital affairs, some long lasting, making the conductor's personal life look a little bit like that of Don Draper, the protagonist in "Mad Men."

Perhaps more importantly, Munch's ability to achieve hair-raising musical results is not really explained. Within the body of the text there is little critical analysis of Munch's recordings. For myself, many of these recordings paled in comparison with Munch's electric renditions in the concert hall. The best explanation I ever heard of this had to do with the conductor's spontaneity: since multiple "takes" were required in the studio, Munch supposedly had to rein himself in during recording sessions so that he could produce consistent results in terms of tempo, etc.
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By Robert Malone on January 28, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really looked forward to this book, given I consider Munch to have been one of finest orchestra conductors of all time and my personal favorite. I give this 5 stars because it would appear that Dr. Holoman did his best in presenting a thorough biography of his subject. I get the feeling, however, that a lot of vital, first-hand information was simply not to be had as Munch has been gone now for over 4 decades. The book also includes details on obtaining additional material which is available on-line. If you are a fan, you will want this.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent biography of a conductor who should never be forgotten with the passage of time. Munch's expert and selfless musicianship and championing of significant repertoire (particularly that of Arthur Honegger) are so important to remember in this day and age of media-made, callow, globe-trotting "maestros". Thanks to Mr. Holoman for such a fine literary portrait.
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert Chadis on March 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
speilberg should make film of this.
charles munch is greatest of all conductors.
his very unusual life is amazing.
bio helps understanding of music.
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