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Piano Man: A Life of John Ogdon, by Charles Beauclerk, Simon & Schuster, RRP£20/ $29.99
Ogdon was one of the most gifted pianists of modern times but, after scaling the heights of his profession, he ended his life in penury and mental breakdown. Beauclerk’s immaculately researched biography encapsulates the extremes of Ogdon’s life, public and private, manic and depressive, in a way that makes for compulsive reading.
Harrison Birtwistle: Wild Tracks, by Fiona Maddocks, Faber, RRP£22.50
Maddocks’ long familiarity with one of Britain’s leading composers, 80 this year, has given her privileged access to his thoughts, making her “conversation diary” an illuminating study of compositional psychology and process. We eavesdrop on Birtwistle’s insecurities and obsessions, and learn how the wider threads of his life are woven into his music.
Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews – Notes from the Heart, collected, introduced and annotated by Nicolas Southon translated by Roger Nichols, Ashgate, RRP£65/ $109.95
Not just a witty composer, Poulenc’s writings and correspondence are full of breezy aperçus, as this fascinating volume makes clear. He writes “in praise of banality”, analyses Strauss’s Elektra and waxes lyrical about “the heart of Maurice Ravel”. Poulenc’s independence of spirit is emblazoned on every page.
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