Perfect Pitch

Perfect Pitch : A Life Story

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Nicolas Slonimsky, pianist, composer, conductor, author, and lexicographer, was born in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1894. Pronounced a genius by his mother, he seemed destined for a professional career in music, but the 1917 revolution brought an end to his hopes, and his errant life took him south to Kiev, Yalta, Constantinople, and finally Paris, where he was hired as rehearsal pianist by the renowned conductor Serge Koussevitsky. He went to the United States in 1923, spending many years in Boston where he gained a dazzling reputation for conducting first performances of difficult works by such composers as Ives, Varese, and Cowell. Since 1937 Slonimsky has developed an international reputation as a writer on music, especially of reference works such as "Music Since 1900" and "Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians", of which he has edited the last three editions. His "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns", an exhaustive compendium of modernistic melodic patterns, unexpectedly became a bible to jazz and rock musicians, bringing him into contact with, among others, Frank Zappa. "Perfect Pitch" is an ironic commentary on a life in which failure to fulfil the highest expectations of an over-ambitious mother is never allowed to obscure a story of real achievement in music. It is a book crowded with anecdotes, personal letters, and vignettes of his remarkable family and of the many famous men and women he has more

Product details

  • Paperback | 271 pages
  • 134.62 x 203.2 x 17.78mm | 181.44g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • Ill.
  • 0195062434
  • 9780195062434

Review Text

In the autobiographical sweepstakes, Slonimsky took a big gamble, delaying his entry until his 94th year. But the Russian emigre pianist-conductor-composer-cum-writer, author of Music Since 1900 and the Lexicon of Musical Invective, editor of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, has come up with a life story brimful of wit and irony. Not since Oscar levant's memoirs has such an engaging musical autobiography been written, From his opening sentences ("When I was six years old my mother told me I was a genius. This revelation came as no surprise to me") to his closing page, where he summarizes his ambitions and failures ("To be a composer. . .the inspirational sphincter of my musical imagination was so constricted, however, that I could produce only miniatures"), this is a work to he savored. Along the way, Slonimsky relates his experiences with some of the musical greats of the century. Koussevitsky looms large, as the author details his stint as a sort of ultimate personal secretary who was finally kicked out by Koussevitsky's wife as a result of an insufferable propensity for pointing out blatant tonal errors in even the most cacophonous modern pieces. Slonimsky also offers anecdotes about such modern figures as Henry Cowell, who ended up in jail on a morals charge; Joseph Schillinger, who became a musical guru for such as George Gershwin; Aaron Copland; and Charles Ives. His sense of fun is never far away, a reflection of his life (as evidenced by his confession of a hoax entry in his Music Since 1900, where he inserted an entry chronicling an 11-year-old composer named "Sol Mysnik," which turns out to be an anagram of his last name). He ends his book, in what he calls his "Age of Absurdity," invited by Frank Zappa to perform the electric piano at a concert on one day's notice, at the age of 87. Zappa has the last word, referring to Slonimsky as "our national treasure." This autobiography is a jewel. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Nicolas Slonimsky

About the Author Nicolas Slonimsky is author or editor of numerous books on music, including Music Since 1900, Lexicon of Musical Invective, Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns and Baker's Biographical Dictionary of more

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35 ratings
4.37 out of 5 stars
5 43% (15)
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3 6% (2)
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