Library Journal Review
Tommasini is no stranger to music: at 16, he won a piano competition in Manhattan and went on to study music at Yale and Boston University, earning both a master of arts and a doctor of arts in music. In his role as the chief classical music critic for the New York Times, he is eminently qualified to share his expertise in what became known as the Top Ten Composer Project, the basis for this book. The first thing readers will notice is that there are more than ten composers here-in all classical genres-as the author was encouraged to say more about why composers were, or were not, chosen. This expanded list is a treasure trove of biographical information and a primer on the language and notation of music itself, and, yes, he explains terminology as he goes. VERDICT Tommasini makes a potentially dry and academic subject accessible. This is, of course, of special interest to musicologists and performers, but it will also appeal to listeners of classical music.-Virginia Johnson, John Curtis P.L., Hanover, MA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Seventeen classical composers are celebrated in these insightful critical essays. A concert pianist and New York Times classical music critic, Tommasini (Virgil Thompson: Composer in the Aisle) expands on a series of his newspaper articles to present a roster of favorites, including Renaissance pioneer Monteverdi; repertory pillars Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert; opera auteurs Verdi and Puccini; and the high modernist Schoenberg, whose atonal music he loves. Tommasini twines engaging biographical sketches of the maestros and their tragic ailments, love affairs, and endless scrambles for money with appreciations of masterpieces, the latter enriched by his memories of hearing and performing them. The portraits merge into a metanarrative about the emergence of the classical tonal language of comprehensible keys and lucid harmonies and its decay (or liberation) into unmoored dissonance. Tommasini's interpretations sometimes overreach-he detects a "gay sensibility" (as have other critics) in the music of Schubert, because "seemingly happy passages contain disquieting subliminal elements"-but he excels at the difficult task of capturing music in words. "[A] gnarly, slow theme, like the grim song of a Slavic bass" with "hulking, weighty, strange intervals and chords" nails Chopin's Prelude No. 2. The result is an engrossing study that will appeal to both classical music aficionados and novice listeners who want a road map. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.