Here are some terrific books from this year that would be of special interest to music lovers, even if they are not directly about music
Cage: Six Paintings by Gerhard Richter by Robert Storr (Tate Publishing)
The catalogue of a show at London’s Tate Modern that featured a suite of massive paintings by one of the greatest painters of our time, Gerhard Richter. They were directly inspired by the music of John Cage. This hefty catalogue includes essays along with splendid reproductions of the paintings themselves.
Diaghilev and the The Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909 – 1929 (V&A Publishing)
A collection of extraordinary historic photos and essays cataloguing a recent show at the Victoria & Albert Museum about impresario (and so much more) Sergei Diaghilev, along with the composers, like Stravinsky, Ravel, Prokofiev and Debussy, painters like Picasso, and dancers like Nijinsky he worked with to create ballets for his company, Les Ballets Russes.
The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett (faber and faber)
A new play by Alan Bennett (Beyond the Fringe, The Madness of George III) featuring a discussion between Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden about life, sex and basing an opera on the novella Death In Venice by Thomas Mann (who happened to be Auden’s father-in-law). Although such a conversation never actually took place, Auden did write the libretto for Britten’s earlier opera Paul Bunyan. This ranks with the very best plays about music like David Pownall’s The Composer Plays (Music to Murder By, Elgar’s Rondo, Elgar’s Third, and especially Master Class) and Tom Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (which has a part for symphony orchestra, written by André Previn).
The Jazz Loft Project by Sam Stephenson (Knopf)
A selection of photos and transcripts of conversations taken from the 40,000 photos and 4,000 hours of audiotapes of conversations and jam sessions made by photographer W.Eugene Smith between 1957 and 1965 in his New York loft. They were discovered eleven years ago by Sam Stephenson, who has put together this remarkable volume. Along with musicians like Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, and Paul Bley, a young Steve Reich was a regular for a few years.
Playing (Less) Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians by Janet Horvath (Hal Leonard)
Wise and detailed advice for performers who have been injured or want to avoid being injured, as well as musicians and music-lovers who want to investigate the physical demands of playing an instrument. Horvath is a Toronto-born cellist who plays in the Minnesota Orchestra.
Safe Passage by Ida Cook (Harlequin)
The extraordinary memoir written by the younger of two intrepid British sisters, Ida and Louise Cook, who managed to turn their passion for opera, and numerous friendships with opera singers, into a means of rescuing dozens of Jews from persecution and death by the Nazis. This memoir is published by Harlequin because Ida was a successful writer of romance novels.
Sketches from Here and There by A.J. (Jack) Diamond (Douglas & McIntyre)
A collection of vibrant watercolours, featuring buildings and other man-made structures, by architect Jack Diamond, who designed the Canadian Opera Company’s Four Seasons Centre. Diamond is currently working on the new Mariinsky Opera House in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats by Pannonica de Koenigswarter (Abrams)
The quirky vision of Pannonica de Koenigswarter, a member of the British branch of the Rothchilds, who abandoned her life as a baroness to move to New York and become friend, muse and supporter of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. In two leather-bound Hermès notebooks she recorded the answers she received to the question, “If you were given three wishes, to be instantly granted, what would they be?”. This fascinating book includes responses from the most notable jazz musicians of the time, as well as photos.