front cover of Beethoven's French Piano
Beethoven's French Piano
A Tale of Ambition and Frustration
Tom Beghin
University of Chicago Press, 2022
Using a replica of Beethoven’s Erard piano, scholar and performer Tom Beghin launches a striking reinterpretation of a key period of Beethoven’s work.

In 1803 Beethoven acquired a French piano from the Erard Frères workshop in Paris. The composer was “so enchanted with it,” one visitor reported, “that he regards all the pianos made here as rubbish by comparison.” While Beethoven loved its sound, the touch of the French keyboard was much heavier than that of the Viennese pianos he had been used to. Hoping to overcome this drawback, he commissioned a local technician to undertake a series of revisions, with ultimately disappointing results. Beethoven set aside the Erard piano for good in 1810.
Beethoven’s French Piano returns the reader to this period of Beethoven’s enthusiasm for all things French. What traces of the Erard’s presence can be found in piano sonatas like his “Waldstein” and “Appassionata”? To answer this question, Tom Beghin worked with a team of historians and musicians to commission the making of an accurate replica of the Erard piano. As both a scholar and a recording artist, Beghin is uniquely positioned to guide us through this key period of Beethoven’s work. Whether buried in archives, investigating the output of the French pianists who so fascinated Beethoven, or seated at the keyboard of his Erard, Beghin thinks and feels his way into the mind of the composer, bringing startling new insights into some of the best-known piano compositions of all time.

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Mozart the Performer
Variations on the Showman's Art
Dorian Bandy
University of Chicago Press, 2023
An innovative study of the ways performance influenced Mozart’s compositional style.
We know Mozart as one of history’s greatest composers. But his contemporaries revered him as a multi-instrumentalist, a dazzling improviser, and the foremost keyboard virtuoso of his time. When he composed, it was often with a single aim in mind: to set the stage, quite literally, for compelling and captivating performances. He wrote piano concertos not with an eye to posterity but to give himself a repertoire with which to flaunt his keyboard wizardry before an awestruck public. The same was true of his sonatas, string quartets, symphonies, and operas, all of which were painstakingly crafted to produce specific effects on those who played or heard them, amusing, stirring, and ravishing colleagues and consumers alike.

Mozart the Performer brings to life this elusive side of Mozart’s musicianship. Dorian Bandy traces the influence of showmanship on Mozart’s style, showing through detailed analysis and imaginative historical investigation how he conceived his works as a series of dramatic scripts. Mozart the Performer is a book for anyone who wishes to engage more deeply with Mozart’s artistry and legacy and understand why, centuries later, his music still captivates us.

front cover of Piano in the Dark
Piano in the Dark
Nancy Naomi Carlson
Seagull Books, 2023
Poetry from an especially deft magician of words.
This latest book of wonders from Nancy Naomi Carlson fixes upon one of the few defenses we have to confront the body’s betrayals—our words. Though in the end, even the world’s last word “forgets its name . . . has no word for this forgetting.” At once vulnerable and open, tempered and tempted equally by the erotic and the empathic, such dualities limn these affectingly beautiful and lyrical poems. Carlson’s lines, entreating as Scheherazade, “weave chords / into tales within tales, whirlpools within seas” to save her life. Indeed, music has no need for voice or harp, as “in anechoic chambers, you become / the only instrument of your worldly sounds,” echoing Mozart’s credo “that music lies / in the silence between notes.” In a world scarred by pandemics, wars, and violent tribalism, the givens are gone—“talismans we clung to, believing / we might be spared in some way / by marking our doors / with our own sacrificial blood.” In these unflinching free and formal verse poems, Carlson seduces us with the promise of the joy yet to be had, were we to look in the right places.

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