cover image For the Love of Music: A Conductor’s Guide to the Art of Listening

For the Love of Music: A Conductor’s Guide to the Art of Listening

John Mauceri. Knopf, $25.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-525-52065-8

Classical music is “the epitome of Western art and human expression,” according to this passionate meditation. Grammy Award–winning conductor Mauceri (Maestros and Their Music) takes an impressionistic ramble through the classical canon, celebrating its unique ability to convey narrative drama with extraordinary emotional force despite being a wordless evanescence of “invisible houses made of vibrating air.” In loosely thematic chapters, he sketches basics of music theory, compositional structure (he gives an illuminating discussion of Richard Wagner’s use of leitmotifs, musical phrases associated with characters or events, to orient listeners during his stupefyingly long Ring operas), the electrifying charisma of live acoustic performances with their high-wire displays of physical dexterity married to complex aesthetic decision-making, and the elevating effect of classical music’s suggestion of a harmonious moral order. Writing in graceful, engaging prose, Mauceri weaves in his own experiences of listening and conducting, along with evocative appreciations of favorite pieces. (In Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, a musical portrait of Stalin’s Russia, “the timpani pounds out a repeated series of inflexible and barbaric eighth notes, all of which begin to accelerate, as if we were under the heels of a thousand jackboots.”) Mauceri’s love letter will provoke newbies to give classical a whirl and inspire fans to listen with fresh ears. (Sept.)