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Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide Paperback – March 28, 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Steinberg, program annotator for the San Francisco, Boston, and New York Philharmonic orchestras, describes some 50 works for accompanied chorus. For each, he begins with the composer's statistics, continues to the voices and instruments in the piece, sketches its genesis and first performances and how it fits into its creator's compositional history, and leads the reader through its sections, noting what to listen for. The big boys--Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, and Stravinsky--are represented by their major works, but the less-well-known likes of John Adams' Harmonium, based on poems by Donne and Dickinson; Luigi Dallapicola's Canti di prigionia, settings of writings from prison by Mary Queen of Scots, Boethius, and Savonarola; and Arthur Honegger's Le Roi David, the story of David and Saul, also appear. Steinberg's most personal essay is on Sir Michael Tippett's oratorio A Child of Our Time, whose genesis lies in the infamous Kristallnacht of 1938, and whose structure is based on Handel's Messiah. Well-written, concise introductions that record collectors, concertgoers, and chorus members alike should enjoy. Alan Hirsch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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"What sets Steinberg's writing apart is its appealing mixture of impregnable authority (he knows this music) and purely personal asides (by the end of the book, we know this man). Choral Masterworks can be read by anybody, from a professional musician to any young listener newly braced by the stoic pessimism of the Brahms 'German Requiem.'" --Washington Post Book World
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195340663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195340662
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 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: #822,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Someone has said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. When Robert Schumann was asked what a piece he had just played meant, he played it again, and he was one of the most literary of composers. Stravinsky, who looms large in this book, insisted that music has no meaning beyond its sound. Most of the time, these reservations are accurate enough, and most books about music range from dumbed down to cast in poetic terms meant to compete with the composer rather than explicating the work at hand. This book is the exception. It is in fact a model of a book about music which can be understood and enjoyed by amateurs and professionals alike. There are only a few musical examples, so the ability to read music is not a requirement. But those who can read music, as well as those who can't, will derive instruction and enjoyment and, the prime test of such a book, enhancement of their enjoyment of the works covered.

The book begins with an insightful, rather moving essay on "Sacred Texts in a Secular World: A Word to Nonbelievers - and Believers." This is in fact a serious issue for many modern music lovers, for most choral music is Christian and many people today are not Christian - are nonbelievers, as the section title notes, or belong to other religions (Steinberg was Jewish, indeed a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany). Certainly if you wish to sing any of the great choral works, with very few exceptions you will have to join a Christian choir - I know I could not sing Handel's Messiah, or the Bach Passions or B-Minor Mass, or the Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms in synagogue (one of the unintended consequences of the legal restrictions on religious activities in public schools is the deprivation of Jewish students of the choral repertory of the Western world).
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Format: Paperback
This volume makes a perfect introduction to the major choral works you're likely to hear (along with some relatively obscure ones as well). While lacking any recommendations or discography, this book certainly fits the bill for checking before attending any performance or just listening to music being broadcast. The table of contents alone is a "must have" list for choral compositions, or for filling any holes in a cd collection!
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Format: Hardcover
UPDATE: Mr. Michael Steinberg recently passed away (as is noted by A Music Fan in the comments), and so unfortunately we will not having any more writing from him on this earth. Rest in Peace, Mr. Steinberg. And thank you for that you did write. I appreciate your books more and more with every passing year.

I am giving Mr. Steinberg Four Stars for his good work.

Mr Steinberg says in his introduction that he regrets omissions, but does not intend to apologize for anything he DID include. Well, if I were him I would retract that; as I will show, he makes some inclusions that are hardly earth-shattering.

He omits Berlioz's Te Deum (one of the works he regrets leaving out), yet includes several of the smaller Brahms works! I'm not anti-Brahms, but why would you leave out a work like the Berlioz Te Deum in the first place? And however interesting it may be, why include the Mozart-Handel "Messiah"? If Mr. Steinberg had left that out, the smaller Mozart and Brahms, he would have had space to include Berlioz, Bruckner, Poulenc, Monteverdi, and at least one more Haydn mass, the "Nelson".
There are several great settings of the "Gloria" by Antonio Vivaldi which are wonderful. I would have suggested Vivaldi's "Dixit Dominus". Poulenc's "Gloria" is also a work which deserved to be included, as did Dvorak's Requiem...whatever George Bernard Shaw's opinion of it may have been.

One of the most unforgivable omissions was Monteverdi's "Vespro della Beata Vergine", but of course Mr. Steinberg doesn't apologize for it's omission like he did for obscure Pfitzner, Gerhard and [less obscure] Delius. Monteverdi's Vespers, even though it is a collection of pieces, is accepted as one of the greatest choral works.
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