Music

Orpheus – composer and singer of his own song – is regarded as the founding figure of opera. One of the most arresting images of Orpheus is of his death – his dismembered head on his lyre floating down a river, still singing. Opera’s history is dogged by its own death wish; the art form has been pronounced dying, or even dead almost from its inception, yet z ...

In April 2011 the Australian edition of Rolling Stone featured a cover photo of Yolngu multi-instrumentalist and singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu ... ... (read more)

Possibilities by Herbie Hancock

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May 2015, no. 371

In the opening pages of his memoir, Herbie Hancock recounts an onstage episode in Stockholm in the mid-1960s, when he was playing with Miles Davis. In a few brief paragraphs, he sums up Davis’s genius as only a musician deeply conversant with his music could. It is this sort of privileged entrée into Hancock’s musical world that makes Possibilities a wor ...

A four hundred-page Thames & Hudson hardback stuffed with photographs? A coffee table book, you might think. And you would be right, since this is a history of the most famous label in jazz – with no discography. But it is gorgeous, full of great images, the design matches the label’s style, and the book tells Blue Note’s history well for the lay ja ...

It is, of course, one hundred years since almost 9,000 Australians died on a small Turkish peninsula during a campaign that, despite its localised failure as a military operation and futility in influencing the overall course of the war, has been unalterably woven into the fabric of our national mythos. Commemorative presentations are frequent. Orchestras, televisio ...

There are two Roger Woodwards in Beyond Black and White. One vividly brings to life his early years as an imaginative and highly talented boy whose future was determined when, at the age of seven, he first heard the music of Bach. The second presents the adult Woodward, whose memoirs relate in punctilious detail his fifty-year career as an acclaimed pianist.

It may seem contradictory for a man declared a ‘pianistic genius’ and ‘the greatest living performer of contemporary music’ (both accolades are on the book’s back cover), but Woodward’s recollections of his childhood in Sydney form by far the most lively and entertaining chapters in the book. His encounters with illustrious composers, conductors, and musicians often read like formal reports. Woodward’s inner life as an adult is overshadowed by minutiae and long lists – of people, places, musical scores, performances – so many in fact (one comprises forty-five consecutive names in a single paragraph) that they impede the narrative.

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It is difficult to imagine a more satisfying long-form narrative about pop music than Yeah Yeah Yeah. Although the book runs to almost 800 pages, British author Bob Stanley writes with such authority and infectious passion that the momentum never skips a beat. Beginning with the first British hit parade and the popularisation of the electric guitar, Stanley traces the arc through to modern forms such as dance and hip-hop while fulfilling the role of tour guide. He takes the reader through a museum of pop music, pausing before significant artefacts to offer erudite commentary, and encouraging the reader to don headphones and experience the sounds of each era.

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The concert pianist Alfred Brendel is one of the leading twentieth-century interpreters of music, with a special interest in the German repertoire. When he retired in 2008 after six decades of performing, he did so not through loss of stamina, but because of crippling arthritis in his hands. Brendel continues, at eighty-three, to teach, lecture, and write. (His poetry collection, Playing the Human Game [2011] contains one of the most damning attacks on that well-known pest, the concert cougher.) A Pianist’s A–Z explores his personal relationship with the piano. It covers the classical repertoire, offering insights, asides, reflections, and the occasional and excruciatingly corny joke.

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Usually the subject’s death signals the end of a biography, but for Dylan Jones it is the starting point. Three decades after his death in 1977, Elvis Presley has proven even more ubiquitous, and lucrative, than he was in life. When he died – with the official cause listed as heart failure, but a vast cocktail of drugs playing an undeniable role – his manager, ...

FORBIDDEN MUSIC: by Michael Haas & HOLLYWOOD AND HITLER by Thomas Doherty

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August 2014, no. 363

For all their differences of subject matter and approach (not to mention style), both of these studies can be seen as belonging to the category of what might be termed archaeological history. That is, they are concerned with retrieving and bringing to the surface a gallery of characters and set of important stories and connections which have been either suppressed o ...