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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and long-overdue study of Hans von Bülow's life and work, 27 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Hans Von Bülow: A Life and Times (Hardcover)
I came to this fascinating and admirably written biography of Hans von Bülow without any particular knowledge of its subject's life and work; I was familiar with his symphonic poem, `Des Sängers Fluch'* and prior to that also with his name, albeit always in connection with writings on other composers of the Romantic era, but until I read Professor Walker's work I have to confess I had no idea of the importance and the range of Bülow's activities within his long career.

This is, I think, a book that carries a broad based appeal to anyone who is interested in or a student of music during the High Romantic period. Bülow is perhaps most famous now as a conductor - his importance in the promotion of music by Wagner, Liszt and Brahms (unlikely bedfellows, perhaps, given the divisions in German music during this era but testament to Bülow's recognition of and commitment to the best of "new music", without any partisanship) is well attested in books covering this period; I was unaware, however, of the prominence of his role as a pianist too. A fair portion of the book is given accordingly to covering his exhausting and exhaustive tours of Europe and the US in that role and his mixed reactions to the contrasts in custom between Old and New Worlds are particularly interesting. Concomitant with his pianism is his significance in not just establishing a performing tradition for Beethoven's music for the instrument but also in establishing Beethoven's late piano works within the performing repertoire.

Bülow's private life is no less compelling and it is good to have the story of the emotional triangle between Bülow, his wife Cosima and Richard Wagner (for whom she was to eventually divorce Bülow) told from the perspective of Bülow for a change. The impact of this protracted betrayal was evidently crushing for Bülow and it would, I think, have been easy for a lesser writer to play up the dramatic overtones of this chain of events; Professor Walker thankfully avoids this pitfall and maintains an authorial detachment that nonetheless leaves the reader in no doubt about the far-reaching effects that the affair (for want of a better word) had on the remainder of Bülow's life.

Such matters, musical or personal, important or interesting though they are in themselves, would not make this such a compelling read were Hans von Bülow himself not such a fascinating personality - passionate, acerbic, a man of obvious integrity though one who was given to making pronouncedly undiplomatic public statements that made his working life occasionally far more difficult than it might have been for an artist more inclined to dissemble. His bons mots pepper the text and some of his aphorisms have passed into regular use within literature about music - "In the beginning was rhythm", "Talent is industry" and "There are no great teachers, only great pupils", to provide just a few examples; I found I was familiar with some of his dictums without actually knowing that Bülow was the source. His faculty for a pithy remark could be used to devastating effect, resulting in him being barred from the opera at Berlin and I particularly enjoyed his withering comment about a work by Sterndale-Bennett, declaring (as Walker tells us) "that it sounded so much like Mendelssohn that it could have been written by Julius Benedict" and thus, in one fell swoop, offending (though probably not entirely unfairly) two respected Mendelssohnian acolytes of the British musical establishment.**

As I have probably made clear, I approached this book as a "lay-reader" as it were and I can't speak on the matter of source materials, used or unused, as my fellow reviewer has; as someone with an abiding interest in music of the Romantic era, however, I found Professor Walker's biography an extremely rewarding work that has enriched my appreciation of this period in music not to mention introduced me to one of its most important figures.

Highly recommended.


* This piece is still available on Amazon, though currently only as an MP3 download: Komponisten in Niedersachsen Vol. 2. It is an appealing work in a somewhat Lisztian vein; the performance is more than adequate.

** Sir Julius Benedict (1804-1885) was a German born composer who spent most of his life living and working in Britain; he died in London.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hans von Buelow - A Life and Times, 6 Aug. 2010
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This review is from: Hans Von Bülow: A Life and Times (Hardcover)
Music lovers will doubtless be fascinated by the wealth of famous names surrounding Hans von Bülow during a period that was immersed in culture. Walker concentrates on Hans von Bülow the man, his personality, his unbelievable understanding and continuous love for Richard and Cosima Wagner, notwithstanding his own drama.

The book appears to have been written under time pressure, omitting much unpublished material, and so it is to be hoped that more detailed research on the famous conductor and pianist is soon forthcoming.

The book is dedicated to Marie von Bülow whose career as an actress was not easy to achieve while being Hans' second wife.
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Hans Von Bülow: A Life and Times
Hans Von Bülow: A Life and Times by Alan Walker (Hardcover - 5 Nov. 2009)
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