As a chronicle of Rubinstein's life (for the last forty-five years or so),
this work would merit five stars. You can learn where Rubinstein was--and he
travelled almost incessantly-- at almost any time in this period. However,
as a work of music criticism, it does not even rate one star, except possibly
for the foreword by Leslie Howard, which in a few pages, makes the case, pro
and con (with an overall positive evaluation) for Rubinstein's compositions
far better than Taylor can do in several hundred of his narrative. Taylor
occasionally offers his own opinions, usually negative. He says for example,
that the Violin Concerto in G Major is "mediocre," but does not tell us why
he thinks so. Others, of course, have described the same work as "charming," even
I recall, in someone's review of the Naxos recording of the work. I'll listen
to a mediocre work that is charming anyday. Taylor is negative about the seven-
movement Ocean symphony (C Major). Reasonable people could disagree about that.
What Taylor will not tell you is that Tchaikovsky described the four-movement
version as "perfect." He will not tell you that Balakirev, who hated Rubinstein,
conceded almost in disbelief, it seems, that the latter's "Ivan the Terrible", was a fine work. Taylor concludes his work with a summary evaluation
of Rubinstein as a composer by Rimsky-Korsakov which most surely be one of the
most snide and hypocritical evaluations of one composer by another. Taylor suggests
Rubinstein was an atheist, he was no more so than Dostoyevsky, which a careful
reading of the "Basket of Thoughts" (Gedankenkorb or Korob myslei in the original
German version and its counterpart Russian version) should have made clear.
One could go on and on.
Catherine Drinker Bowen's "Free Artist," a biography of Anton and his brother
Nikolai, will give you a far better idea of why you should care about Anton Rubinstein, if you are not already familiar with him. It will even make a case
for his music. Taylor emphasizes the negative and omits the positive by and large.
He has not really understood why this man was called the "Michelangelo of Music."