Music: Hearing secret harmonies


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

On the rock front, a number of the year's music titles will please children of the Sixties. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Abrams, £26.99) is a lavish volume, tying in with Martin Scorsese's documentary, that every Beatle fan will covet. With many of Harrison's own photos, it reflects his wide-ranging interests. As his widow writes, "everything was important to him but nothing really mattered".

The inner life has rarely detained Mick, Keith and co, as Glenn Crouch's Treasures of the Rolling Stones (Carlton, £25) shows. Slipcased and packed with facsimile memorabilia, it's as hi-octane as any of their shows. So too 40 Years of Queen (Carlton, £30) by Harry Doherty, who chronicled the band's career. He wrote with "a transparency which indicated a mind and heart untouched by the need to ingratiate... or seek notoriety", notes Brian May in a foreword.

Bob Dylan turned 70, which prompted a restored edition of No Direction Home (Omnibus, £19.95) by Robert Shelton, the only biographer with whom Dylan cooperated. The collection Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010 (Faber, £15.99) is by turns obscure, absurd, stimulating. Nick Hasted draws on thoughtful sessions with Ray and Dave Davies in You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks (Omnibus, £19.95). Tom Waits on Tom Waits (Aurum, £12.99) by Paul Maher Jr is an anthology of 50 "interviews and encounters" over four decades with a man "whose spoken rap is as compelling as his diamond-precision lyrics".

David Bowie's most fertile period, the 1970s, is the focus of The Man Who Sold the World (Bodley Head, £20), Pete Doggett's song-by-song analysis of "the artist rather than the celebrity". There's fascinating social history in Simon Wells's look at "the great Rolling Stones drugs bust" of 1967, Butterfly On a Wheel (Omnibus, £14.95), its title taken from a Times editorial, itself from Alexander Pope. Two collections of lyrics stand in stark contrast, though both authors agree lyrics on the page are "out of their natural habitat", as Jarvis Cocker puts it in Mother, Brother, Lover (Faber, £14.99): a must for Pulp fans. Look, I Made a Hat is the second volume of Stephen Sondheim's memoir in words-and-music (Virgin, £35). His work is guided by three principles: Less is more. Content dictates form. God is in the details – "all in the service of clarity". Quite.

Another great offering from a practitioner is A Singer's Notebook (Faber, £16.99) by Ian Bostridge, who tackles subjects as diverse as Monteverdi, Wolf, Coward and Dylan, aiming to build bridges between the historian he once was and the musician he became. But since Faber has (shamefully) ceded most of the turf, Yale is now the only heavyweight publisher to take classical music seriously. For Mahlerians, Stewart Spencer's translation of Gustav Mahler by German academic Jens Malte Fischer (£29.99) contains much new information on a multi-faceted musician whose autobiography can be read in his symphonies. Charles M Joseph turns his attention to the composer whose works constitute "one of the pinnacles of western music history". Stravinksy's Ballets (£25), looks beyond The Rite of Spring, "birth certificate" of modernism, to less familiar works, such as Agon and Apollo.

Wendy Lesser seeks to bring "Shostakovich and his fifteen quartets" out from the shadow of his operas and symphonies in Music for Silenced Voices (Yale, £18.99). While the large-scale works reveal the public face of Shostakovich, the Quartets offer "unparalleled access to the composer's inner life". Musicians who play them can read the music like a diary and, while much is speculative, so now may we. Peter Conrad examines "a self-tormenting egotist" and "the choirmaster for an entire country" in Verdi And/Or Wagner (Thames & Hudson, £24.95). "Verdi appeals to humanists, Wagner to mystics and also to misanthropes" – yet we need them both, he concludes. And The Penguin Guide to the 1000 Finest Classical Recordings (£30) draws on the Penguin Guide to Classical Recordings. Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton and Paul Czajkowksi choose recordings "indispensable to one or to all of us". It's a welcome gift for any discophile.