CONTINUO: A Life in Music by Robert Starer

CONTINUO: A Life in Music

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An odd lot of chapters assembled into a brief book of memoirs by a composer and teacher, formerly of the Julliard School. Starer's trajectory was from Eastern Europe to Israel to America, and along the way he met some interesting people, a few of whom are recalled here in tribute. The best of these chapters--a memoir of the Wagnerian tenor Jadlowker, who dropped that composer's music during the Nazi era and moved to Palestine--has already appeared in The New Yorker. Starer reveals a flair for the humorous phrase, such as Jadlowker remembering Brahms, who ""had a large potbelly and he kept his foot on the pedal a lot,"" or the martinet conductor William Steinberg, who answered the phone to a composer, ""Do you know what I am doing? I am studying your WRONG metronome indications."" However, much of the material here is of less interest, more along the lines of dressing room chitchat. And Starer has a curious view of himself as a non-establishment figure, despite his grants from the McDowell and Yaddo Corporations, his stint at Julliard, and the frequent performance of his music by such conductors as Bernstein and Ozawa. In addressing more general problems in the state of music today, however, Starer succumbs to the inevitable risk of fuzzy thinking and fuzzier prose. For example, he addressed a hostile listener who walked out of one his concerts, and the reader hardly knows with whom to sympathize: Starer's ""Mr. X."" so convincingly detests modern music that the author (and reader) can offer little argument in response, in short, this memoir is amusing enough on the little concrete details of recollection that make for entertaining lectures. However, there doesn't seem to be enough material here to justify an entire book. Lightweight, but diverting.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 1987
Publisher: Random House