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Shostakovich Symphonies and Concertos - An Owner's Manual: Unlocking the Masters Series Paperback – May 1, 2006
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Here is the problem: this book, like so many books on music written recently, takes the position that it would be the kiss of death to actually include a single musical example. To which many might say, yahoo! But if you resolutely avoid any use of musical notation, or even musical terms, in talking about music in a detailed fashion, then you find yourself having to say things like "and now the bippity-boop theme returns, this time on the flute." And I'm only slightly exaggerating. Imagine several pages about a work that uses a characteristic rhythm throughout in which the only way the author can refer to this rhythm is as 'The Rhythm'. Imagine if we have two themes and instead of describing one as being repeated eighth notes on D and the other as being rising fourths he has to refer to them as "the droney theme" and "the leapy theme". (These names are made up.) This is to reduce discussion of music to baby talk. And when the subject is large symphonic works, that seems particularly incongruous.
But I suspect that the author is not as much to blame as might be thought. He is after all, not starting a trend, but merely extending it. Apparently no-one, not even music-lovers, actually learns to read music any more. And also, apparently, if you want to actually, y'know, sell your book on music it must not contain any actual music.
But it's still baby-talk.
Basically, it works. Hurwitz is always clear and detailed and is a good writer. His explanations of how things are put together, if read along with listening, pretty well "stick" the first time. I expect that this will bring about a long-term increase in my enjoyment of the music.
It's sad that there are no musical examples, but I expect their inclusion would have increased the production cost (and the price) of this book to an unhappy extent. Fortunately I'm having no problem at all following his verbal descriptions, especially as they're accompanied by notes on the orchestration and so forth. As a bonus, of course, the book can be just as useful to people who don't read music at all.
In short, the book is exactly what I hoped it would be. Yes, musical examples would have been nice, but likely impossible at this price point. More on the music's background, reception, and so forth would have been nice too -- but it's an "owner's manual" after all (think cars). So, if you consider "value" as a rating attribute, and you understand that the book is limited to a specific purpose, then it fully deserves five stars.
One critic of this book feels that he is being talked down to. Well I feel just the opposite in grasping the ideas laid out in this book. All fifteen symphonies of Shostakovich and all six of his concertos are laid out for examination. Mr. Hurwitz comes to conclusion in this book for instance that the Shostakovich 4th symphony first movement which was thought to be nonsense just decades ago is an inverted Sonata Form movement. He also concludes in the book and I guess I am spoiling it by saying that in all twenty-one works Shostakovich never used the same patterns of music twice! Indeed this book makes you admire Shostakovich all the more if you don't already know him.
I should warn you that the book alone will not teach you about Shostakovich's music. But if you have his music and read what Hurwitz has written it makes a lot of sense especially to the novice or those with little education in music. This book might seem redundant to you if you already know Shostakovich's music and can analyze it for yourself. Personally it has clarified what I already have known and made me appreciate Shostakovich even more.
If you are collecting books about Shostakovich I would consider this one to be the third behind a good biography and the Hulme Catalog of his works.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
For most of my life I never appreciated the music of Shostakovich. It's only recently, at 63, that I can't get enough of his music and learn enough about this man's genius. Read morePublished 13 months ago by pdxdennis
Yes, it would be nice to have some music examples, but Dr. Hurwitz's book is, nevertheless, a splendid and reliable guide to all (but one! Read morePublished on August 15, 2009 by Ivan Weiser
I have to agree with the reviewer who wrote "...[h]ere is the problem: this book, like so many books on music written recently, takes the position that it would be the kiss of... Read morePublished on August 11, 2009 by Thomas Martin
I found this most interesting and easy to read. Hurwitz has whimsical style that makes it easy to be informed and entertained. Read morePublished on July 9, 2006 by Nathan V. Plafker
Born in 1906 Shostakovich lived through the communist years in the Soviet Union. This book covers Shostakovich from his first symphony, completed when he was 19 through his next 14... Read morePublished on June 18, 2006 by John Matlock