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Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History (Dover Books on Music) Paperback – March 17, 2011
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P.S. I read the Kindle edition. I strongly suspect the publishers put the printed book through an optical character reader, because the electronic object annoyed me with many "typos" that made no sense at all from the viewpoint of manual QWERTY keyboard input. Still, this did not quash my enthusiasm for Loesser's work.
As for the content of the book, we can almost say it is a Marxist analysis of the history of the piano. He mostly discusses the life of the piano and its use in society from the point of view of class differences, as well as from the point of view of means of production and organization of labor. Much of the motivation for the middle classes to own pianos was to emulate the higher classes, he says. In this sense I felt like I was reading Paul Fussell's excellent book "Class." Both books contain a derisive attitude toward the middle classes, depicting them as motivated solely by their desire to appear more high class than they really are, and as not really having their own independent minds, but as being swept away in whatever trend has been recently marketed to them by those who can only make a profit by selling their mass-produced inventory.
A final note: Keep a dictionary handy when reading this book. The author's vocabulary is enormous, and he's not afraid to use it.
More relevant today is the recent role of pianos in our daily home entertainment, and how there is a long history of piano playing being expected of young girls, along with their sewing, cooking, and other everyday activities known as accomplishments.
As one who has performed a great deal of research for my book project, as a professional researcher, and while employed by the Library of Congress, I am well aware that this book is all the more a stunning achievement because its author, Arthur Loesser, had helpful librarians working with him to gain access to the majority of his extensive research materials via interlibrary loans. My success rate with getting materials through ILLs is spotty at best. Kudos to Mr. Loesser's resourceful, professional librarians who managed to call in deeply arcane items published in many languages from around the world, to Cleveland in the early 1950s, a time when state-of-the-art searching was performed with 3x5" cards in long drawers.