SOUNDS MAGNIFICENT: The Story of the Symphony by Herbert Chappell

SOUNDS MAGNIFICENT: The Story of the Symphony

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Contrary to its optimistic title, this accompaniment to a six-part BBC TV series strikes consistently dissonant chords. Too short (169 pgs.) to do justice to its complicated subject, this volume, by a TV producer/cum ""musicologist,"" patches together a few short, term-paperish bios of some of the giants (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovitch) with familiar anecdotes, and simplistic analysis. In abundance are amateurish statements: ""the music of Mozart defies description. He can make us happy and sad. . .no other composer has that gift."" Along the way, we do learn that the symphony was born centuries ago in smaller formats (the overture and orchestral suite) to accompany dramatic performances, masques, ballets and operas, performed by small ensembles of any available assortment of instruments. By the 18th century, it had evolved into a structured, multi-movement, independent statement of melodic and harmonic ideas which are developed and neatly resolved. Beethoven stretched thematic development throughout a piece, lavishing it with dissonance and booming dynamics which required a larger, varied ensemble of instruments, thus paving the way for romantic self expression, and 20th-century serialism and electronics. But that reasonably cogent history done with, we get an embarrassing 24-pg. mishmash called ""Sounds for Tomorrow,"" which reduces the 20th-century decline of the symphonic form to an excuse for grousing. Chappell whines about our obsession with records, when ""there is actually little difference between one good recording and the next. . .differences of interpretation are trivial,"" a statement he then contradicts by acknowledging ""archival value."" While neglecting the likes of Mahler and Bruckner, he does find time to indulge in armchair pontificating, complaining that TV has caused ""our powers of concentration to diminish."" Sounds hypocritical coming from a TV producer intent on publicizing his series with this book. Those interested in a decent musical education will have to look to another source.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1986
Publisher: Parkwest (P.O. Box A-10, Cathedral Station, New York, NY 10025)