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Talks With Great Composers Paperback – August 4, 1998

3.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

What Inspires Creativity?

Between the years 1890 and 1917 Arthur M. Abell engaged in lengthy, candid conversations with the greatest composers of his day-- Johannes Brahms, Giacomo Puccini, Richard Strauss, Engelbert Humperdinck, Max Bruch, and Edvard Grieg-- about the intellectual, psychic, and spiritual tensions of their great creative endeavors. The result of their probing and insightful discussions is quite simply a masterpiece-- a document that reveals the agony, triumphs, and the religiosity inherent in the creative mind.

The six composers readily agreed to explore with their friend their innermost thoughts regarding the psychology of the creative process. Brahms insisted, however, that his disclosures not be published until fifty years after his death, because, he said, "I will not find my true place in musical history until at least half a century after I am gone."

A tribute to creative inspiration, "Talks with Great Composers" sparkles with wit, candor, humor, and the genius of the most cherished composers of all time.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Citadel (August 4, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806515651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806515656
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have to give this little book very high marks. It taught me a lot. The prose can be stilted, it can be repetitive, and it was astonishing for me. I recommend it to anyone interested in the workings of great minds. I have no works with which to compare it, but one needs to start somewhere.
I want to honest about this. I was astonished when I read the Brahms interview. The prospect of a creative man, however great, consciously and deliberately asking God to speak through him to the man's audience floors me. Basically all of the composers whom Abell treats carried out the same or similar invocation, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. I was though.
I've given the book to others, and I've asked for their reactions to it. Remarkably, for me at least, no one else admitted to surprise on finding that Brahms speaks with the authority of the almighty Himself. That was a really cool revelation too,in it's own way. We must live in a world with a lot more mystic connections than a reprobate such as me appreciates. Many people in this second audience I created wished to dispute Brahms on his theology, but no one seemed surprised by his activities or reacted to them as a first response. I had to drag responses out of these individuals, and they gave them up with reluctance. Something really personal is going on here, and if you read this little book, you can get in on it.
I'm currently in a position to lead a discussion group at a university. For fun I'm going to speak on spirituality in teaching and in the classroom, and I'm going to try to do an end run around the syllabus and introduce the Brahms conversation from this little book. I'm sure it's going to be interesting, and I may come away from the event not only surprised but also a little better informed. Wish me luck.
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Format: Paperback
The skeptics raise ligitimate questions about the accuracy of this work, but they are overwrought in their judgment. For the last 2000 years, almost all of the great artists have believed that their inspiration came from God. Why should they be so upset that Arthur Abell claims that Brahms was part of this tradition?

True, Brahms was very reticent about his religious beliefs and the Cambridge Companion to Brahms says that "most" Brahms scholars "question" the account solely because of that reticence, but Abell met Brahms near the end of his life and some people become garrulous as they sense the end coming. Also, Abell was introduced to Brahms by a very close friend which may have loosened him up a bit. What's more, the Cambridge Companion concludes that accounts of other composers in this book are correct. And Patrick Kavanaugh reaches the same conclusion as this book about Brahm's spirituality without relying on Abell, so there is plenty of material to suggest that Abell's account is accurate in its main premise.

Abell was a prominent music critic for more than 20 years and got to know many composeers very well. He wrote this book from memory many years after his conversations with these composers, with all the unreliability that creates. But that's different than fabrication.

This book is charming, instructive and covers more than the spiritual values of the composers. Puccini's account about his first meeting with Caruso is alone worth the price of the book.

One should be skeptical of everything one reads, but don't pass this one up.
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Format: Paperback
The difficulty validating this book is not easy, because it was subjected to unique stipulations and circumstances. First and foremost, its author was asked to wait until 50 years after Brahms died before publishing his interviews. The 50th year was 1948. When finally published here, it was 1955. By then, Arthur M. Abell was virtually unknown to American readers. Precious little can be found of the man outside of this book.

I bought the book in 1962 in a used book store in Seattle. Philosophical Press? I was very skeptical. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it. It was a captivating read. Rather recently, I have learned more and much that validates its author.

First, for 25 years (1893-1918), Arthur M. Abell was the chief music critic and correspondent for The Musical Courier in Europe. He wrote reviews of much of the music being given first performances in Europe. (The Musical Courier stopped publication in 1961.)

Arthur Abell died in 1958 at his home in Hastings on Hudson, New York. His widow, Louise Abell, subsequently gave her husband's articles, photos, correspondence and manuscripts to the New York Public Library. A description of what is in those 17 boxes can be found online at http://archives.nypl.org/mus/20021. You'll find letters from and to such musicians as Richard Strauss, Max Bruch, Rudolph Ganz, Robert Haven Schauffler, and hundreds of other first-rank composers, conductors and performers.

One example of Mr. Abell's high regard in Europe, is illustrated by what happened at one of his dinner parties. He had invited to his home in Berlin a gathering which included many of the most accomplished violinists of his day. They were invited specifically to hear the first Berlin performance of a young Jascha Heifetz.
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