Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Try Whistling This: Writings about Music

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Try Whistling This: Writings about Music

Article excerpt

Andrew Ford, Try Whistling This: Writings about Music (Black Ink, 2012),

One would have to be tone deaf not to thoroughly enjoy this book. The author, Andrew Ford is a composer, writer, and broadcaster, who presents The Music Show on the ABC Radio National. The collection in this book consists of a few reviews, essays and scripts from his radio series Music and Fashion. He regards himself as primarily a composer, and that is his justification for writing about other people's music.

It is with Music and Fashion that the book begins, and this first chapter raises many of the questions that are examined in the chapters that follow. What makes some music fashionable; what is the difference between art and entertainment, if there is a difference; or how much a listener may be influenced by publicity and the fame of a performer. Ford concludes that 'great music can be fashionable and fashionable music can be great, but ultimately these concepts are unrelated' (76).

'Modernism' is followed by a chapter on 'Beethoven, the Moderniser'. This juxtaposition illustrates the skillful way in which Ford has placed the chapters so that there is a natural progression that allows the book, as a whole, to flow. The subsequent chapters are devoted to different composers, or performers and Ford highlights one aspect of the composer's work so that for those are not steeped in, for example, the entire opus of Mahler, will not feel daunted by the chapter 'Mahler's Secret Operas'. The more likely effect is to send them to listen to Mahler's music with a new, or fresh, ear.

Ford is not above the titillating details in some musician's life. Toscanini for example, insisted on his lovers sending him 'monthly tokens in the form of handkerchiefs dipped in menstrual blood. He called them diaphanous veils and holy shrouds' (118). This is learned from a collection of Toscannini's letters, which also reveal that 'he was an idealist, a perfectionist, a martinet' (118). Surely the latter is more relevant to assessing him as a conductor. …

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