A DEVIL TO PLAY by Jasper Rees


One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument
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How a middle-aged man recovered his love for music by taking up the French horn again.

Rees, a seasoned journalist, decided after decades of musical inactivity to bring his instrument out of hiding and promptly joined the British Horn Society. Though barely able to provoke a noise from it, he was so awed by the horn’s legacy and the camaraderie among players that he vowed to return to the Society in a year’s time and play a challenging solo. In pursuit of this goal, he became obsessed with classical music, especially horn music, and built an enviable collection within a matter of weeks. He stalked renowned horn players after their concerts and even convinced one of them to give him lessons. Throughout the experience, he clung to his dented old Lídl, a limited student instrument that a succession of professional musicians dismissed as beneath notice. By way of explaining his growing fascination, Rees weaves into his tale a robust account of the horn’s role in history, from crumbler of the walls of Jericho to harbinger of trompe de chasse, but always the orchestra’s outsider. He includes a meticulously researched chronicle of famous works for horn, though, fortunately for the book’s tempo, there are very few of these. His embouchure may have softened, but his years as a journalist have honed the author’s storytelling muscles and tightened his comic timing. It is difficult not to admire his chutzpah in setting such a high goal for himself and in striving to achieve it despite the hurdles and fairly reasonable scoffs of his detractors. The author laughs loudest at his own hilarious foibles, and it is his doggedly self-deprecating humor that makes the book worthwhile.

A delight for any reader with a passing interest in music and a sense of humor.

Pub Date: Dec. 12th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-162661-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2008