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Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music, by Anna Beer, Oneworld, RRP£16.99/$22.99
Why is it, asks Anna Beer, that male composers have consistently eclipsed their female counterparts? The solution, she admits, is more complicated than simply rewriting music history “on the principle of add women and stir”. In probing deeper, she has given us a compelling account of eight women composers’ lives and the many and various difficulties they encountered.
Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet, by Edward Dusinberre, Faber, RRP£18.99/ University of Chicago Press, RRP$30
Goethe, a contemporary of Beethoven, described the string quartet as “four rational people conversing with each other”. In this autobiographical book Edward Dusinberre, leader of the Takács Quartet, makes it sound very different — a 20-year struggle for perfection, full of tension and companionship, as the four players master Beethoven’s great quartets.
Conducting the Brahms Symphonies: From Brahms to Boult, by Christopher Dyment, Boydell Press, RRP£25
In his preface Dyment wonders if he is merely a “fossil hunter”. A detective might be a better analogy, as he tries to establish how Brahms wanted his four symphonies to be performed from over a century of reminiscences, criticism and recordings. The final judgment may be inconclusive, but the evidence is scrupulously researched and fascinating.