In my thirties, as a parent whose kids gorged on a diet of the Cartoon Network, the inevitable Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes and Bug Bunny especially, some sounds of what I saw on the small screen remained with me as a precursor to a larger education. Later, with an emergent interest in Western Classical Music, I got hold of a collection of the Great Western Classicals, and found that many of the tunes in the list were familiar, so familiar that I could hum along once I got the first note. Surprisingly, some of these were connections that went back to the Cartoon Network times with my son, the Old Spice advertisements during the breaks, and the wedding theme BG used in those Hollywood movies on the channels.
Vague familiarity soon turned to specific recognition and I found myself identifying among other tunes, the Carl Orff- O Fortuna, as the Old Spice connection. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was the music in those hand held games called brick games. The Rimsky-Korsakov – the Flight of the Bumble Bee was what made my kid rush to the sofa when Tom & Jerry played hide-n-seek. Johann Sreauss II- On the Beautiful Blue Danube was the Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes identity. Felix Mendelssohn’s The Wedding March was the tune that made the wedding moods in Hollywood. Toccata in D Minor, Bach, made me break out in goose pimples as the BG of Horror Movie themes. Richard Strauss and the opening of the movie, 2001, A Space Odyssey merged in my musical memories.
I found all this and more, in the engrossing read that Kishore Chatterjee has written for Niyogi Books, titled ‘Beethoven and Friends’.Written for the aspiring layman who is looking to be an aficionado, the history of Western Classical music comes out in the form of a number of extraordinary tales that has shaped it in its current form.
The book brings forth a number of nuggets about the ‘Bach tribe’ as the author calls Set out in Four Chapters the book takes one through a whole rainbow of music-related information. Find out what were the monophonic Gregorian chants, why did Gustav Mahler compose in secret, know more about the Opera or discover unknown stuff on Gioachino Rossini, the only composer born on the leap date, February 29 and was the composer with the distinction of having been popular during his lifetime. Have you heard about the Inimitable Beecham, said to be the greatest wit since Oscar Wilde, and the Beecham Stories said to be so many that a CD has come out with Beecham at a rehearsal making witty remarks? In case you are a youngster wanting to develop an interest in Western Classicals, Kishore Chatterjee tells you how to go about it; “Cultivate the Concerto”.
Yes, arguably you only need to Google for bare information of this sort, but to connect the Greats in music into a chain of a comprehensible and intriguing study is no simple task and requires not just scholarship but passion for the subject too. Kishore Chatterjee has achieved that tough task here and in his engaging style, invites the reader to be a ‘friend of Beethoven’. His long-continuing column in the Statesman about the life and times of composers and music forms form the basic material for the book, as also his talks on the AIR and the BBC and various prestigious venues on the history of music. To add personal trivia, Kishore Chatterjee has an immaculate pedigree as the grandson of Sunayani Devi, of the Tagore lineage.
The book is beautifully produced and with excellent quality to the pictures. The pictures include those of musical instruments with labelled parts of it labelled intended to a greater understanding of how it functions. As to the layman who doesn’t know a violin from the double bass or has never seen an oboe or a cor angalis, the pics in this book is a treasure house. Can you recognise between a trumpet and a trombone, a tuba or a French horn? How is a lute different from a mandolin?
Finally, the epilogue lays out the “Requiem” and all you wanted to know about it, as also the text of the Standard Mass in English and Latin. There is a list of essential classics on one page and popular western classical music terms too. All in 288 pages and in a dust jacket of keep-sake quality; it’s one of the most scholarly books on Western Classical music for the layman in India; yet, very readable.
Book: Beethoven and Friends;
Author: Kishore Chatterjee;
Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pice: Rs 995