PIANO PIECES by Russell Sherman


Dazzling Reflections on Music and Metaphysics
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 Pianist/pedogogue Sherman has mixed together takes on Zen philosophy and modern chaos theory with the meandering literary style of Laurence Sterne and snippets of fortune-cookie wisdom to produce this collection of brief, largely unrelated paragraphs on music, modern society, and piano technique. Seemingly incapable of expressing a thought that takes longer than a paragraph or two to develop, Sherman has created a book that is brief yet tedious. It is divided into five general parts: the first on piano playing, the next on teaching, a section of ``cultural critique,'' the fourth on interpreting the score, and a final ``coda'' that features more philosophical mumbling. As you might suspect from an expert pianist, Sherman is at his best when writing about the mechanics of piano playing. His description of the different fingers, for example, is amusingly poetic (``The thumb is a finger in the sense that a whale is a fish''). But his tendency to rely on facile linguistic games and puns (``Each chapter of the struggle tempers the mind and mines the temper'') has the effect, at best, of clouding his meaning. Sherman is at his worst as a social critic, bewailing the ``virtual reality and virtual junk'' that dominates contemporary life. He dislikes popular culture in general and rock music in particular, which he describes as ``monotonous, predictable, stagnant, and dreary.'' Yet he fails to acknowledge that his beloved Mozart, Wagner, and Chopin were all at one time blackened with the name of crowd pleasers. One recital would tell us more about piano playing than a library of books like this one.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-374-23206-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996