PERFECT PITCH: A Life Story by Nicolas Slonimsky
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In the autobiographical sweepstakes, Slonimsky took a big gamble, delaying his entry until his 94th year. But the Russian emigrÉ pianist-conductor-composer-cum-writer, author of Music Since 1900 and the Lexicon of Musical Invective, editor of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, has come up with a life story brimful of wit and irony. Not since Oscar levant's memoirs has such an engaging musical autobiography been written, From his opening sentences (""When I was six years old my mother told me I was a genius. This revelation came as no surprise to me"") to his closing page, where he summarizes his ambitions and failures (""To be a composer. . .the inspirational sphincter of my musical imagination was so constricted, however, that I could produce only miniatures""), this is a work to he savored. Along the way, Slonimsky relates his experiences with some of the musical greats of the century. Koussevitsky looms large, as the author details his stint as a sort of ultimate personal secretary who was finally kicked out by Koussevitsky's wife as a result of an insufferable propensity for pointing out blatant tonal errors in even the most cacophonous modern pieces. Slonimsky also offers anecdotes about such modern figures as Henry Cowell, who ended up in jail on a morals charge; Joseph Schillinger, who became a musical guru for such as George Gershwin; Aaron Copland; and Charles Ives. His sense of fun is never far away, a reflection of his life (as evidenced by his confession of a hoax entry in his Music Since 1900, where he inserted an entry chronicling an 11-year-old composer named ""Sol Mysnik,"" which turns out to be an anagram of his last name). He ends his book, in what he calls his ""Age of Absurdity,"" invited by Frank Zappa to perform the electric piano at a concert on one day's notice, at the age of 87. Zappa has the last word, referring to Slonimsky as ""our national treasure."" This autobiography is a jewel.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1988
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press