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5 minutes reading time (999 words)

Summer 2019: Book Reviews

Review by Ann DuHamel
Debussy's Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Époque, by Catherine Kautsky. 

The first time I heard Professor Catherine Kautsky speak at a conference, I was utterly entranced: she gave a captivating, lively, and energetic session that I still remember years later. Her enthusiasm for French music was palpable, and she provided an exciting and thought-provoking framework for the works discussed. Since then, whenever presented with an opportunity to attend one of her appearances, I've jumped at the chance. Likewise, I jumped at the chance to read her book Debussy's Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Époque. The book is as delightful as her speaking engagements and has lived up to all of my hopes and more.

Debussy's Paris offers social and historical background for the time and place in which Debussy wrote his music. By examining this framework, "… [we] enter into his world with infinitely more subtlety and comprehension [by placing] ourselves in his universe" (p. xxix). Kautsky provides layers of context for Debussy's world and music: philosophical, aesthetic and artistic, cultural and historical, even sociological and gender roles. The rich and densely woven text requires close reading for the nuanced, lively detail that transports the reader to the Parisian Belle Époque, the period lasting from 1871 to 1914. 

The book begins with a condensed biography of Debussy. Topics covered in the thirteen main chapters span a wide and dizzying array of subjects. Beginning with the significance of the Commedia dell'arte and Pierrot, the reader learns of the allure of masks, circuses, dance, the cakewalk, and minstrel shows during the Parisian Belle Époque. We read of Debussy's fascination with the Orient, including Africa, Spain, and Greece, as well as Southeast Asia. We are thrilled by the fantastical and imaginative worlds of children's make-believe and fairy tales, dreams and enchantment, the magical sway of water and the creatures found therein. And, perhaps surprisingly, we discover Edgar Allan Poe as an inspiration, in addition to the growing influence of French identity and nationalism.

Though "[much] of this book strays from musical analysis and meanders through historical and social phenomena" (p. xxix), musical examples of Debussy's piano works appear throughout, including references to some lesserknown works. Kautsky quotes extensively from Debussy's own writings and letters, providing a fascinating glimpse into his personal history. Debussy's Paris is replete with evocative art works. Replicas of famous and not-so-famous paintings illustrate points and complement the text, though they are all in black and white, and might be too small to see all of the intricate details. The supplemental material on the marvelous corresponding website (https://www.debussysparis.com/) is a veritable treasure trove of wonders, with poetry, artistic images, additional text, and links to recordings by Kautsky and others.

Kautsky acknowledges from the outset that she is a performer. Nevertheless, Debussy's Paris reminds me of a wonderfully rich, interdisciplinary graduate level musicology class—the gorgeously written, colorful prose that is vividly presented immerses the reader in the Parisian Belle Époque and the culture that inspired Debussy. After reading this book I have a deeper and more holistic understanding of Debussy's world—his influences, contemporaries, and artistic and musical philosophies. (Rowman & Littlefield, 254 pages, $38)

Ann DuHamel, NCTM, serves as Head of Keyboard Studies at the University of Minnesota Morris. She earned a DMA from the University of Iowa, and is currently the President-Elect of the Minnesota Music Teachers Association.

Review by Julie Welsh Miller
The Best of Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer, edited by Larry Fine.

Larry Fine has long been respected as a piano guru, thanks mainly to The Piano Book: Buying and Owning a New or Used Piano, first published in 1987. He is also adaptable and smart; having realized that the field was developing more quickly than he could publish new editions, in 2009 he created an online magazine, Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer. Since then, Fine has accumulated a vast archive of useful articles about almost every conceivable aspect of buying and owning keyboard instruments. From that enormous resource he has now assembled The Best of Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer. Additionally, Fine publishes the Piano Buyer Model and Price Supplement twice a year, with the most current information. 

The Best of Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer is a brief encyclopedia of useful and interesting articles written by Fine and other experts. Piano lovers of all levels will revel in this collection, and each will learn something new. The wide range of topics includes: buying a piano for a young beginner, brands to avoid, whether to rebuild, piano moving, voicing, digital pianos, software pianos, hybrid pianos, and many others. It is pleasant to browse the diverse articles and stories, to search the table of contents for a specific topic, or to read from cover to cover. While containing expert advice, the information is accessible to the general reader and contains moments of humor. The occasional photographs are helpful, showing various types and styles of instruments, as well as some harrowing piano moves. Piano geeks like me will delight in the shots of hammer, soundboard, and pinblock replacements. (Full disclosure: I have been married to a piano technician for almost thirty years; rebuilds are so romantic.) Fine retains the advertisements from the online magazine, but they are attractive and relevant. The anthology concludes with one of my favorite features: a brief description of all significant brands of acoustic pianos, digital pianos, and electronic player-piano systems. More thorough and continually updated information of the brands is available at pianobuyer.com. I have read, re-read, and recommended Larry Fine's other publications through the years, and I will certainly do the same with this convenient compilation. (Brookside Press LLC, 256 pages, $24.95)

Julie Welsh Miller has taught piano in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Michigan, California, Louisiana, and New York. She is a staff pianist at the Crane School of Music (SUNY Potsdam) and editor at Lorica Press, specializing in the music of Keith Gates.

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Creativity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Summer 2019: New Music and Materials
 

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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