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Paul Bowles on Music: Includes the last interview with Paul Bowles [Hardcover]

Paul Bowles , Timothy Mangan , Irene Herrmann
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 2 2003 Roth Family Foundation Music in America Book
"It's an easy enough job if one has something to say," Paul Bowles remarked in a letter to his mother about his first foray into music criticism. And Paul Bowles, indeed, had plenty to say about music. Though known chiefly as a writer of novels and stories, Paul Bowles (1910-99) thought of himself first and foremost as a composer. Drawing together the work he did at the intersection of his two passions and professions, writing and music, this volume collects the music criticism Bowles published between 1935 and 1946 as well as an interview conducted by Irene Herrmann shortly before his death.

An intimate of Aaron Copland and protégé of Virgil Thomson, Bowles was a musical sophisticate acquainted with an enormous range of music. His criticism collected here brilliantly illuminates not only the whole range of modernist composition but also film music, jazz, Mexican and Moroccan music, and many other genres. As a reviewer he reports on established artists and young hopefuls, symphonic concerts indoors and out, and important premieres of works by Copland, Thomson, Cage, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky, among others. Written with the austere grace of his better-known literary works, Bowles's criticism enhances our picture of an important era in American music history as well as our sense of his accomplishments and extraordinary contribution to twentieth-century culture.

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Review

"Bowles on Music captures the writer from 1935 to 1946: the formative years of the much lauded "Greatest Generation." It was one of the most exciting periods in our nation's history, and Bowles, a talented and mostly self-taught composer, had the right ear and eye to capture it."--"Orange County Register"

From the Inside Flap

"In this wonderfully engaging and informative collection we hear the voice of a different Paul Bowles. Writing on a wide range of subjects--jazz, film music, classical music, popular music, ethnic music--he is direct, opinionated, incisive, analytical, humorous, and passionate."—Millicent Dillon, author of You Are Not I: A Portrait of Paul Bowles

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5.0 out of 5 stars famous writer also composer and critic Oct. 20 2010
By jibli
Format:Hardcover
this book consists of articles from "modern music" and short reviews (written under deadline) for the new york herald tribune between 1935 and 1946. concerts and new records are briefly noted, while longer pieces study the new art of film soundtracks and music from other countries.
what is interesting is that bowles, as a composer, not only deals with the performances, but with the compositions being played. pleasure for some readers will be found in the way works and artists are savaged in such a civilized way.
sometimes, however, the criticism is direct. shostakovich's 6th symphony is "insensitive heavy-handed clowning". one piece by richard strauss "has an ugly form and character", while another has "fascinating hideousness". rachmaninoff is tagged with an "unamusing degenerate style" and a "deficient harmonic sense".

of possible interest to some are the short mentions of new 78s by the likes of tampa red, sonny boy (john lee) williamson, and jazz gillum. was there anyone else reviewing "race records" for major publications?

dealing with art music, one encounters concepts such as " tonal ambiguities", "phrasal tournure", "harmonic unreliability", "harmonic brutality", "circumspect tonalities" and "meaty logical harmony".

occasionally, a review such as the one describing his friend virgil thomson's 2nd symphony ("its musical ideas alternate between naive sincerity and the professor's classroom joke") make one want to hear the composition in question.

the only real gaffe comes when, referring to moroccan ghaita players, he says, "gills are pierced in the neck of the player". the technique of "circular breathing" was evidently unknown to him at this time ( before he moved to tangier and became a famous writer of fiction).
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paul Bowles Reviews Music Aug. 24 2005
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I wanted to read this book of Paul Bowles's (1910 - 1999) music reviews for several reasons. I am an admirer of Bowles's fiction, including the novel "The Sheltering Sky," which he wrote as an expatriate American in Tangiers beginning in 1947. Furthermore, before he began his career as a novelist, Bowles was a rising and prolific composer. A self-taught protege of Aaron Copland, Bowles wrote ballets, suites, art songs, film scores, and scores for the theater, including plays by Tennessee Williams. Music and literature are two of my passions.

This leads me to the third reason for wanting to read this book. Bowles spent several years reviewing music of all sorts, chiefly for the "New York Hearald Tribune" and for the periodical "Modern Music". He wrote this work as a journalist, for little pay, and with tight deadlines. Yet he managed to write well and to find something important to say. It is this work-a-day world of writing that reminds me of my efforts, and those of my fellow reviewers, writing on this site It is a challenge to write short pieces with regularity on subjects one loves and to try to produce something others will find valuable. In short, Bowles's reviews, and his progress from composer to critic to novelist somehow became emblematic and inspirational to me of the Amazon reviewing process.

In this book, Timothy Mangan and Irene Herrmann have gathered together Paul Bowles's music reviews written primarily from 1940--1946. Bowles writes in a spare, understated, succinct style that will be familiar to readers of "The Sheltering Sky". His reviews cover a broad spectrum and include reviews of scores for films, record releases, and concerts. They cover too a wide range of music, including the then-recent works of Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, John Cage, and other contemporary classical composers, to folk music of Mexico, North Africa, South America, and Cuba, through American jazz and blues. I was intrigued by his references to the blues singer Memphis Minnie (p. 230), the blues pianist Champion Jack Dupree (sings "with a fine primitive self-accompaniment on the piano", p.205), and Arthur Crudup (p.230) who would become the most direct and immediate influence on young Elvis Presley.

Bowles's reviews give a lively picture of concert life in New York City during the war years as he describes for us the venues for music, and the performers and performances that he witnessed. Many young composers and performers he reviewed were just starting out and would subsequently become famous, such as the 25 year old Leonard Bernstein (Bowles reviewed the premier of his "Jerimiah" symphony) and the young 18 year old pianist Eugene Istomin. But he also reviewed concerts by composers and performers then considered to be of promise who have subsequently been forgotten. It is good to remember these composers and flegling performers and their efforts. The book allows the reader to see the manner in which musical tastes have changed from the 1940s to the present.

Bowles was a composer and writes about music from a composer's viewpoint. He writes eloquently about structures, harmonies, music periods, textures, interpretations and performance practices. One can learn a good deal about listening intelligently to music from these reviews, even though the performances, and in some cases the music he describes, has long been forgotten.

I noticed that Bowles had a predeliction for early music and, in particular for the music of the harpsichord. In a review praising a 1942 concert by harpsichordist Ralph Kilpatrick, Bowles wrote: "it is difficult not to be enthusiastic over such a concert, if only because it involves the harpsichord itself, that antidote to the poison sounds of our era's daily life. It is the instrument which allows every note of every voice of a piece of contrapuntal writing to be heard with complete clarity; remote and recessed as a voice may sound, it is never hidden." (p.58) In a 1991 interview included in this book, Bowles offered similar observations in discussing his reactions to the performances of Wanda Landowska (pp 267-269). Bowles's criticism of "the poison sounds of our era's daily life," echoed in many reviews in this collection, perhaps help explain his decision to leave New York City in favor of the life of an expatriate in Tangiers.

Bowles decried what he viewed as a growing commercialization and uniformity in all types of music, from folk, to jazz to classical and cherished music as a way of life rather than as a casual entertainment. It is fitting to quote the end of his final review, written in 1946, in which Bowles decried the increasingly sterile character of traditional folk music. He wrote:

"In Latin America as elsewhere, the radio and cinema are systematically exterminating folk music before its creators and consumers are in a position to participate in the creation or enjoymnent of art music. What fills the gap? Commercial music. But there are still thousands of small villages in that part of our hemisphere where radios and projectors have yet to arrive, and where the people still make their own music just as they have for centuries, not for entertainment, but because it is an absolute essential to their living." (p.257)

It is this ideal of music as "essential to living" that I found most lasting in these reviews by Paul Bowles.

Robin Friedman
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Music and Writing in Different Rooms Oct. 2 2005
By Andrew Garcia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It would be possible to know of Paul Bowles (1910-1999) as a writer exclusively. His first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949), established him as one of the greatest English language novelists of the post-war generation. However, Bowles was a gifted and prolific composer as well. While he was modest about his accomplishments as a composer, Bowles' managed to compose three operas, five ballets, incidental music for over twenty stage productions, as well as many chamber works, film scores and songs. Of the two pursuits (writing and music composition), Bowles described them as being "different rooms". His creative mind could only manage one at a time and to him they were distinct. It is with interest then to learn in Paul Bowles on Music (edited by Timothy Mangan and Irene Herrmann) that Mr. Bowles was writing articles and reviews about music long before the publication of his novels and stories. In all, he managed to write over four hundred articles and reviews for Modern Music and the New York Herald Tribune where he was ultimately employed as a music critic and writer between 1942-1945. The book provides an important introduction which describes how Bowles was courted by the composer and music critic Virgil Thomson for the Herald Tribune job and how he doubted he could write under strict deadlines.

Except for a non-revealing interview (his last) at the end of the book, the rest contains his articles and criticisms arranged in chronological order. The idea is an appealing one since this `non-fiction' of his has never been compiled in one book until now. With Bowles' music reaching a wider audience of late one might be interested in what he had to say about the subject. Unfortunately, there is not much interest in reading the reviews. Bowles' intelligence, wit and musical knowledge are evident but many of the reviews reveal him as opinionated and petty: "...most of the music reminds me of the Indian stuff in old Westerns, only it's not quite so good.". Remarks like this appear without explanation. We never learn in his reviews why something is "good" or "awful" just that, from his perspective, they are. The letters and articles hold more interest and import as they reveal Bowles' passion for and careful research of topics ranging from folk music to jazz. One may want to keep the layered metaphors and psychological perception of his novels and the rhythmic precision and harmonic spaciousness of his music in different rooms as he intended.

For Bowles' scholars, this book is essential because it fills a void. Everyone else may want to start with Paul Bowles' novels and compositions before reading his criticisms. It seems, in the final analysis, that his fear of writing well on deadline was rational and the writing included here, simply does not do him justice.
5.0 out of 5 stars composer and critic Oct. 20 2010
By jibli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
this book consists of articles from "modern music" and short reviews (written under deadline) for the new york herald tribune between 1935 and 1946. concerts and new records are briefly noted, while longer pieces study the new art of film soundtracks and music from other countries.
what is interesting is that bowles, as a composer, not only deals with the performances, but with the compositions being played. pleasure for some readers will be found in the way works and artists are savaged in such a civilized way.
sometimes, however, the criticism is direct. shostakovich's 6th symphony is "insensitive heavy-handed clowning". one piece by richard strauss "has an ugly form and character", while another has "fascinating hideousness". rachmaninoff is tagged with an "unamusing degenerate style" and a "deficient harmonic sense".

of possible interest to some are the short mentions of new 78s by the likes of tampa red, sonny boy (john lee) williamson, and jazz gillum. was there anyone else reviewing "race records" for major publications?

dealing with art music, one encounters concepts such as " tonal ambiguities", "phrasal tournure", "harmonic unreliability", "harmonic brutality", "circumspect tonalities" and "meaty logical harmony".

occasionally, a review such as the one describing his friend virgil thomson's 2nd symphony ("its musical ideas alternate between naive sincerity and the professor's classroom joke") make one want to hear the composition in question.

the only real gaffe comes when, referring to moroccan ghaita players, he says, "gills are pierced in the neck of the player". the technique of "circular breathing" was evidently unknown to him at this time ( before he moved to tangier and became a famous writer of fiction).
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