Schoenbaum (The United States and the State of Israel, 1993, etc.) writes fondly and expansively about the instrument he plays for pleasure.
Another subtitle for this massive exposition might well be: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Violin—and More. In four sections, the author covers the creation and evolution of the instrument, its marketing and manufacture (from the 16th century), the biographies and skills of many notable players and, finally, how the violin has appeared in art, literature and films. The scope of Schoenbaum’s research is astonishing. He’s seemingly listened to every recording, read every biography and history of every major (and many minor) player and symphony orchestra and chamber group, read every novel with a significant violin presence and seen every TV show and film featuring a violin. He focuses principally on classical players; although he mentions Charlie Daniels, he does not write much about country music, jazz or other popular musical genres—though he does not neglect them entirely, either. He performs an important service to general readers by discussing makers other than Antonio Stradivari, and he enlivens his prose with occasional puns, colorful similes (“other quartets renewed themselves like deciduous trees”), sharp details (Dorothy DeLay had an “elegantly manicured right hand” and unexpected descriptions (he compares the salaries of members of the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Symphony). The literary summaries are somewhat excessive, and the many names and details may overwhelm some nonmusical readers.
A long and richly textured love letter to an instrument, a tradition and an art.