Recommendations for good biography of violinist or composer

Edited: September 20, 2018, 5:59 AM · Wondering if anyone could recommend a good biography of a violinist or composer. Perhaps one that does not require a degree in music to understand the contents. I know biographies are usually not technical tomes, but, just a caveat.

Replies (17)

September 15, 2018, 10:47 PM · There are a number of them available I believe. I have one of Haydn which isn't too technical (jargon wise).
September 15, 2018, 10:57 PM · I really love the Wolfgang Hildesheimer biography of Mozart (so, both violinist and composer...). Not a conventional biography, but also not one that requires a music degree, either.
September 15, 2018, 11:36 PM · I strongly second the recommendation of Hildesheimer's Mozart book. It is way better than most biographies I have read.
September 15, 2018, 11:43 PM · Composer George Antheil's autobiography, 'Bad Boy of Music' is supremely entertaining.
September 16, 2018, 12:10 AM · Two autobiographies: Violinist Josef Szigeti, "With Strings Attached", shows how different the music business was in the first half of the 20th century. Pianist Oscar Levant "The Unimportance of Being Oscar" is a window on the Hollywood Golden age. Very witty, half-crazy,invited to all the parties, and was rehearsal pianist/assistant for George Gershwin.
Edited: September 16, 2018, 3:11 AM · Leopold Auer's Violin Playing as I Teach it (1921) is pretty much a waste of time unless you are a completist/obsessive.

Toby Faber's Stradivarius seems pretty good after 50 pages.

September 16, 2018, 8:00 AM · I second the recommendation of Szigeti's "With Strings Attached", particularly the 2nd Edition (for which I compiled the discography). Also interesting is David Tunley's biography of Alfredo Campoli: "The Bel Canto Violin".
September 16, 2018, 8:01 AM · I can't recommend a specific biography, but I would say read about Beethoven. Knowing his story completely changed the way I see his music.
September 16, 2018, 2:12 PM · I haven't read a full bio of a famous violinist or composer in a long, long time. But I'm sure there is a treasure trove of such bios.

I do recall a good one - Yehudi Menuhin's autobiography - which has the greatest title of any autobiography of any ever written by anybody - "Unfinished Journey."

However, I do have in my quote collection what I consider the best quotation about music every written by anybody. And it is by Tchaikovsky:

"Music is not illusion. It is, rather, revelation. It's triumphant power is that it reveals to us beauties we find nowhere else. And the apprehension of them is not transitory, but a perpetual reconcilement of life."

If anyone has a better one, I'd love to know what it is.


Edited: September 16, 2018, 7:58 PM · Composer? I recommend Duke Ellington's memoir, "Music is my Mistress". The book "great contemporary pianists speak for themselves" was wonderful too. I read it twice.

Sander i'd say start a new thread but there are already so many quote lists out there.

September 16, 2018, 8:56 PM · My go to book for biographies of violinists is "Great Masters of the Violin". This is a sweeping work by Boris Schwarz published in 1983 covering the virtuosos of the violin from the early 1600s to the date of publication. Despite the breadth of the work he is also able to cover the lives of the violinists in surprising depth.There's a lot of grist here for the cerebral mill and the material will inspire readers to investigate further into the the lives of these individuals
September 16, 2018, 9:02 PM · Arnold Steinhardt's "Indivisible by Four"
Nathan Milstein's "From Russia to the West"
September 16, 2018, 9:11 PM · Read about Louis Spohr. He was a violinist, composer, and contemporary of Beethoven.
Edited: September 16, 2018, 11:21 PM · Thank you all. I'm leaning towards that Mozart biography, because I know a little more about him, but maybe I should go for something I don't know.

Just checked. My local library does not have the Hidelscheimer book. They do have "WIth Strings Attached" and "Indivisible by Four". I might start there.

September 16, 2018, 11:33 PM · The Hildesheimer Mozart biography (make sure you spelled it right when you searched...) is best for someone who knows a little about the subject, because it is unusual and goes into remarkable detail. I don't know, I'd be tempted to send you my copy, but I really treasure the thing. Several versions on Amazon...
Edited: September 17, 2018, 11:57 AM · Am I alone in hating the movie Amadeus? I've seen it twice and both times I felt insulted afterwards.

I think a good Mozart biog would be the right antidote for me.

(I just bought the Hildesheimer)

September 17, 2018, 3:57 AM · Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven
John Eliot Gardiner

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