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After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance [Hardcover]

Kenneth Hamilton
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Dec 2008
Kenneth Hamilton's book engagingly and lucidly dissects the oft-invoked myth of a Great Tradition, or Golden Age of Pianism. It is written both for players and for members of their audiences by a pianist who believes that scholarship and readability can go hand-in-hand. Hamilton discusses in meticulous yet lively detail the performance-style of great pianists from Liszt to Paderewski, and delves into the far-from-inevitable development of the piano recital. He entertainingly recounts how classical concerts evolved from exuberant, sometimes riotous events into the formal, funereal trotting out of predictable pieces they can be today, how an often unhistorical "respect for the score" began to replace pianists' improvisations and adaptations, and how the clinical custom arose that an audience should be seen and not heard. Pianists will find food for thought here on their repertoire and the traditions of its performance. Hamilton chronicles why pianists of the past did not always begin a piece with the first note of the score, nor end with the last. He emphasizes that anxiety over wrong notes is a relatively recent psychosis, and playing entirely from memory a relatively recent requirement. Audiences will encounter a vivid account of how drastically different are the recitals they attend compared to concerts of the past, and how their own role has diminished from noisily active participants in the concert experience to passive recipients of artistic benediction from the stage. They will discover when cowed listeners eventually stopped applauding between movements, and why they stopped talking loudly during them. The book's broad message proclaims that there is nothing divinely ordained about our own concert-practices, programming and piano-performance styles. Many aspects of the modern approach are unhistorical-some laudable, some merely ludicrous. They are also far removed from those fondly, if deceptively, remembered as constituting a Golden Age.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; 1st edition (6 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195178262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195178265
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.8 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 577,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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One can make too much of the handing down of great traditions of piano playing, as Kenneth Hamilton demonstrates in one of the best music books to be published in the last twelve months: his erudite, revealing and wittily subversive study of the Liszt-Paderewski years and the rather primmer world we inhabit today. (Richard Osborne, The Oldie)

the most irresistible music book I read this year...scholarly, but hilariously sarcastic (Damian Thompson, The Daily Telegraph, Christmas book choice)

jolly and entertaining...full of wit and interest, and written with passion...a delightful and instructive book (Charles Rosen, Times Literary Supplement)

Hamilton's healthy mixture of common sense, insightful arguments, and considerable experience as both scholar and pianist demonstrate just how far our current notions of performance etiquette, textual fidelity, and audience responsibility can be from those of practitioners a century or more removed. (Jonathan Kregor, Notes)

This is beyond doubt an important, if controversial book, befitting a new century and brilliantly argued (Malcolm Troup, Piano Journal)

is written in a engaging and entertaining style, and it covers a wealth of material, making a major contribution to the study of performance style. Bluntly, it should be required reading for all piano literature classes, read by all serious students of the piano, and likewise by anyone interested in the ways performance styles and personalities intersect with the literature...[It] will probably retain its relevance for decades. (Jonathan Bellman, Journal of Musicological Research)

a revelatory analysis of musical interpretation... rarely can any new musicological treatise have been so densely crammed with jaw-dropping insights, or so enjoyable a guide to an alien mindset, as this one. (R.J.Stove, The University Bookman)

Since very many people share Kenneth Hamilton's fascination with the piano and its music, his skilful handling of so many sources of information to build up a lively picture of the world of the Romantic pianist will likewise fascinate a wide readership. And what a world that was, as Hamilton describes it! (Peter Williams, The Musical Times)

I hope Hamilton's eminently laudable contribution to the discourse has a seismic impact. His prose reads, for the most part, like silk: fizzing with humour, some timely sarcasm, and written through the perceptive eyes of one pianist evaluating another (David Trippett, 19th Century Music Review)

is a provocative book in which Hamilton gives a virtuoso performance. (Daniel Gallagher, Ad Parnassum)

is a lively reminder that classical music once passed for mass entertainment... (John Terauds, Toronto Star)

a deft, sympathetic account of the old-school virtuosos and their gaudy habits...Hamilton, an accomplished Scottish pianist, contrasts the showmanship of Liszt with the "sheer routine and funereal boredom" of many recitals he hears today (Alex Ross, The New Yorker)

a fascinating book (Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post)

This much-reviewed and best-selling book seeks out origins, through careful scholarly research, of many of the myths and stories handed down through generations of high-level pianists and their serious piano students... it inspires musical self-reflection (Stephanie McCallum, Musicology Australia)

One only has to read the preface of Kenneth Hamilton's (Seymour Bernstein, Chamber Music Magazine)

to know that the book will be beautifully written, informative, entertaining - and highly controversial. Mr Hamilton is a knowledgeable musician as well as a scholar...he states his facts and opinions brilliantly in an easy-going style.

brilliantly researched, beautifully written, and filled to the brim with amusing anecdotes (capped by the author's wry humour) (Stuart Isacoff, Symphony Magazine)

An impressive and thoroughly engrossing piece of scholarship. (Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone)

An important new book by Kenneth Hamilton...His style is dryly witty, his scholarship immaculate-and his conclusions challenging. (Terry Teachout, Commentary Magazine)

recounts the more arcane habits of historical pianism...Hamilton brings back what has been missing from concerts in these politically correct times - an unapologetic sense of fun. (Dr Chang Tou Liang, The Straits Times, Singapore)

Hamilton's book explores this almost mythical 'Golden Age of Pianism and the links between then and now...We shouldn't resurrect every idiosyncrasy, says Hamilton, but with period performance having become mainstream, surely it's also time for us to open our imagination to the more recent past? (Classic FM Magazine)

...unputdownable...Deftly, wittily, humorously, the author, himself an international pianist, traces the development of piano playing from Liszt to Paderewski and beyond with illuminating perception and detail...He also has the rare knack of expressing complexity with simplicity (Alexander Letvin, Piano Magazine)

this delightful book... concert-giving has changed enormously. The pianist and author Kenneth Hamilton is an ideal guide to the changes, his dry Scottish humour the perfect weapon with which to skewer egos and pomposity. (Susan Tomes, The Independent)

Kenneth Hamilton's excellent new Oxford history of romantic pianism (Norman Lebrecht, La Scena Musicale Online)

a wonderful book (James Fenton, The Guardian)

After the Golden Age is a cri de coeur, lamenting the loss of a passionate, individualistic, free-form performance style - Dionysus in the concert hall - and arguing for its reconsideration. For all that, Mr. Hamilton's own prose style is gentle and deft. (James F. Penrose, The Wall Street Journal)

This book is a tour de force, a milestone in the history of musical performance. Kenneth Hamilton's vivid, evocative prose admirably reflects the virtuoso character of his subject. He calls into question the very nature of music, while throwing down a series of challenges to today's performers. A truly magnificent achievement! (Colin Lawson, Director, Royal College of Music, London)

...a thoughtful, highly stimulating look at the golden age of pianism and its nineteenth-century exponents. Kenneth Hamilton wears his considerable scholarship lightly as he re-examines stylistic markers of the great pianists and argues cogently for their relevance to modern performers. (R. Larry Todd, Arts & Sciences Professor, Duke University, and author of Mendelssohn: A Life in Music)

A compelling and richly detailed volume. Kenneth Hamilton puts the 'golden age' of romantic pianists into broad historical perspective, shrewdly confronting issues over authenticity, 'grand manner', and continuity with the present. (William Weber, Professor of History, California State University, Long Beach)

Hamilton's delightful wit, narrative flair and wealth of anecdotes... (Pamela Margles, Wholenote Magazine)

a delightful book, which you should read (Bernard Holland The New York Times)

A very stimulating book...I recommend it to all who care about music, and all who perform music. (Henry Fogel, Arts Journal)

An interesting and insightful look into the nebulous and wide-ranging performance practices of the nineteenth-century (Timothy H. Lindeman, College Music Symposium)

Entertaining, informative and thought-provoking... (Clara Levy, Music Educators' Journal)

will engage every piano lover, professional and amateur, teacher and student, and everyone interested in the performance styles of that time.

Book Description

a mesmerising history of Romantic pianism (Heather Macdonald, City Journal)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Chopin composed Preludes 22 Oct 2013
Little to add to Amazon's excellent introductory material and the other reviews. I'm not any sort of specialist, don't play an instrument; solo piano music is among my favourite listening, with a special place for older recordings, e.g. Cortot, or Rubinstein in the 1930s. I found this book very readable; I took it a bit at a time. It's written with character and personality, not a dry tome at all. It ranges from Mozart to (just) Schoenberg/Busoni.
Two points:
1. The author clearly favours "emotionally generous" performances.
2. I now know why Chopin composed 24 Preludes, which has long puzzled me: what's the point of a prelude with nothing to come after it? And just after finishing the book I was listening to Mozart Concerto no 22 (Schiff/Vegh), and distinctly heard a prelude in mid-movement.
This book can open your ears.
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This book is extremely well written. It is easy and entertaining to read for the expert and novice alike. The historical information is a real eye opener (especially for those who aren't familiar with piano performance pre- Uchida,Schiff,Ashkenazy,Pollini et al) and sadly illustrates how depressingly clinical modern piano playing (and general music making)has become. I can't recommend this highly enough and sincerely believe it should be taught in ALL music conservatories (not just here in the UK but all around the world). I have purchased several copies to give as gifts and the recipients have all been delighted and enlightened. Someone now needs to write a similar book on 'the lost art of portamento' in string playing.
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1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kenneth Hamilton 5 Feb 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book really gave me full permission to be the pianist I am. If only I'd read it 30 years ago......
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How we got here from there 22 May 2008
By klavierspiel - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In its relatively concise length, Kenneth Hamilton's book deals with several related questions concerning the history of piano performance in a remarkably comprehensive fashion. Beginning with the broadest questions, such as where and for whom pianists customarily performed in the nineteenth century, the author, himself a distinguished pianist, continues with issues such as the length and composition of concert programs, the role of improvisation in public performances, memorization, and the eternal problem of fidelity to the printed score and respect for the composer's intentions.

It is inevitable that the figure of Franz Liszt would take center stage in a book that asks whether there was indeed a "golden age" of pianism. One of the singular virtues of Hamilton's work is that the great pianist and composer is presented as the complex, multifaceted figure he was. His public performances were very different from piano recitals today, with assisting artists, improvisation, so-called "preluding," and above all, vocal and frequently riotous audience expression. In fact, they were quite a bit like popular music concerts are today. How we got from those lively, frequently lightweight and sloppy, but exciting events to the solemn, reverent affairs that piano concerts are today is a central, though hardly the only, topic of Hamilton's discourse. He shows us that although something has arguably been gained by this transformation, something also has been lost.

There are some tedious stretches in the book--it is difficult to enliven, for example, a chapter that is basically a recitation of concert programs played by this or that pianist--and not all of the author's observations are fresh. It is hardly news to read, for example, that modern recording technology has altered both performer's attitudes toward and audiences' expectations of live performance. Nevertheless, Hamilton's perception and frequent sharp wit serve to make "After the Golden Age" an engaging and entertaining read, despite copious footnotes and documentation.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must! 7 Aug 2008
By Chiara Bertoglio - Published on
A thought-provoking and enjoyable book! It is written skillfully and with humour, so it's a real pleasure to read it; but at the meantime it provides the reader with the most advanced scholarly research, with a complete and thorough insight on performance practice, and has the added value of combining the musicologist's knowledge with the pianist's practical experience and creativity. a MUST!
5.0 out of 5 stars After the Golden Age: An excellent walk to the past in piano history 9 Feb 2013
By Dennis E. Ferrara - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A truly excellent reference book including a proper discussion of various eras as well as famous pianists of the past. The bibliography section is extremely noteworthy; moreover, Hamilton presents both positive and negative sides of several questions. There is humor as well as fantastic examples of past writings of famous pianists.
This book is highly recommeded for pianists, music lovers and aficandoes alike. One only wishes that photographs were available. Pianists could learn much from this book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Survey 2 Oct 2010
By Wade Meyers - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you're into piano performance practice and the history of the pianists you should absolutely read this - it's similar to Schonberg's writings, like The Lives of the Great Pianists, but more intensive.

The book deals with the change of performance practice from the late 19th century into the 20th century in a good amount of detail and with a number of cited sources. Mr. Hamilton's sense of humor also shines through, so you have no need to worry about a 'dry textbook' style of writing. Of the books I've picked up in the past few years, this is certainly one of my favorites and one of those which has given me a great deal to think about.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly perfect condition 29 Jun 2014
By Nayantara - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book that arrived was so stunningly new seeming that I had to go back and double check that I'd ordered a used one!
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