Magazine article American Music Teacher

Reviews: Reviews of Books, Videos, Software and Music for the Professional Music Teacher

Magazine article American Music Teacher

Reviews: Reviews of Books, Videos, Software and Music for the Professional Music Teacher

Article excerpt


Music Across Times and Fences, by Bent Sorensen. Secantus, 2016.; 440 pp., $12.00. The Etude Music Magazine published an editorial in 1909 entitled "Attempting the Impossible Invites Ridicule." Readers were admonished to choose well-prepared selections from the standard repertory for their public performances. Straying from that advice, the article warned, tempted public embarrassment. Fortunately, Bent Sorensen never read that particular article or heeded similar advice, because his prodigious history of global music, Music Across Times and Fences, has indeed tackled and, in most cases succeeded, in the seemingly impossible.


Instead of publishing yet another generic textbook designed to guide students through a survey course focused on one specific genre of music in hopes of igniting a spark of interest, Sorensen has instead created an expansive reference book of musical inclusivity that seeks to emphasize significance over popularity and innovation over familiarity.

The universality of Sorensen's approach to music is reflective of his academic background. Not a conventional pedagogue with scholarly achievements only in music, Sorensen is instead an interdisciplinary writer with primary credentials in science, augmented by secondary achievements in the arts. Sorensen brings his expansive breadth of knowledge in diverse disciplines to his readers here, motivating them to consider the value of music through non-traditional filters, including their social and political significance.

With such great quantity of music comes an inevitable lack of depth. Sorensen introduces his readers to music that spans centuries and continents, but beyond perfunctory acknowledgements of each entry, incisive, penetrating explorations that might illuminate genuine significance are sadly absent. The expansive discussions are categorized in divisions that seem, at times, oddly constructed. Music composed during the baroque, classical and romantic periods, arguably the most consequential two centuries in all of Western music, are skimmed in a mere 20 pages. Meanwhile folk music, which for Sorensen spans from 12-tone compositions to Tin Pan Alley songs, earns an impressive 150 pages.

"Never take down a fence," Robert Frost advised, "until you know why it was put up." Perhaps some of the "fences" Sorensen seeks to transcend in this impressive opus were erected on solid epistemological grounds, and, as such, are better left intact.--Reviewed by Wm. Keith Heimann, Brookdale Community College

Schumann's Virtuosity: Criticism, Composition, and Performance in Nineteenth-Century Germany, by Alexander Stefaniak. Indiana University Press, 2016.; 312 pp., $46.00.

In this scholarly, yet conversational book, Stefaniak traces Robert Schumann's perspectives on virtuosity and its implications on art music. Indeed, this 19th-century debate on the merits of a reverent interpretation utilizing poetic virtuosity as opposed to technical display for virtuosity sake is still a hotly debated topic today. Overall, the book looks at Schumann's views in a kind of chronological order with individual chapters (which can be read separately) highlighting specific works along with criticisms from Schumann's Neue Zeitschrift Journal.

The first section of this beautifully presented book focuses on Schumann and various perspectives of virtuosity which became the macro trends of 19th-century music. Through beautifully laid out graphics and extensive musical examples Stefaniak discusses how various piano virtuosos of the 1830's such as Clara Wieck Schumann and Franz Liszt figured into Schumann's growing ideology war between what he thought of as the Philistines and Davidsbunders of musical life. In the second part Stefaniak explores the influence of virtuoso Priestess Clara Wieck Schumann, and Joseph Joachim on Werktreue; revering the composers intentions as an inter-preters' highest objective, a concept which most performers engage in today, and how that has influenced the concept of virtuosity. …

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