Reviews of and advance praise for SCHOENBERG: WHY HE MATTERS, published by Liveright (New York and London, August 2023)
The New York Times Book Review (John Adams; cover article), July 30, 2023: "Sachs' book… is an immensely valuable source for anyone desiring an accessible overview of this endlessly controversial and chronically misunderstood giant of 20th-century music. Too many books about Schoenberg are overly technical for the general reader, or else they assume a kind of hagiographic defensive crouch. Sachs can be refreshingly candid, sharing his feelings at times as if he were whispering confidentially in your ear during a concert intermission. He finds some of the pieces borderline hysterical or even ridiculous, and he is frank about admitting the ambivalence that many, this writer included, feel when encountering the thornier of the composer's works. But his genuine enthusiasm for those pieces that do stir him is enough to draw the reader in, and in so doing has done a great service to the cause." (The book was also a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, August 6, 2023.)
The Wall Street Journal (Tim Page), July 22, 2023: "Harvey Sachs has been among our most significant and persuasive writers about music for some 50 years, with a dozen books to his credit…. Mr. Sachs's "Schoenberg: Why He Matters" is a model of concision—a concentrated meditation instead of a panorama. It may be recommended for anybody with an interest in the work of the Viennese-American composer Arnold Schoenberg—and perhaps especially to those who have never quite been able to 'crack' his music…. [Mr. Sachs's] personal asides are welcome: They give a reader the sense that a brilliant teacher is not only leading us through the music but discovering it once more for himself…. Mr. Sachs's fine study should inspire a fresh understanding of [Schoenberg's] life and work."
The New Yorker, August 28, 2023: "Sachs blends fleet-footed biography with an accessible analysis of Schoenberg's works…. Sachs's interpretations of these works can be emotionally convincing, and, according to him, Schoenberg's music is, as Mark Twain is reputed to have said about Wagner's, 'better than it sounds.'"
The Washington Post (Michael Dirda), September 3, 2023: "In his brisk and engaging biography, 'Schoenberg: Why He Matters,' Harvey Sachs makes a compelling case for some of the most difficult and intimidating music ever written."
Harper's Magazine (Christopher Carroll), July 2023: "Sachs's book is a succinct guide to Schoenberg's life and work, one designed in part to make the composer's music accessible to a wider audience. Much of the book's appeal lies in that implicit promise to help find the beauty hidden in what can seem, to the uninitiated, a writhing mass of noise. Sachs is neither a hater nor a glassy-eyed enthusiast…. Instead, Sachs is, as he puts it, 'a writer and music historian who is Schoenberg-curious.' So he avoids the high-handedness and sanctimony one sometimes comes across in works by devotees…. He freely admits that some of Schoenberg's early works seem to him 'emotionally (and instrumentally) overblown,' that 'some of his attempts at depicting psychological or philosophical concepts in his large, atonal musical canvases seem wrongheaded.' This is not to say that he doesn't admire the music—he does. And there's real pleasure to be found in the way Sachs writes about it."
Los Angeles Review of Books (Judith Finell), August 29, 2023: "Sachs brings together the musical, historical, and personal psychological factors driving this complex and contradictory artist. In so doing, Sachs restores Schoenberg's rightful position as the crucial emancipator of traditional musical expression, sonically linking the 19th and early 20th centuries to the modern day…. Sachs meets this challenge with elegance. Schoenberg, an artist whose controversial works were often misunderstood by the music establishment of the day as ascetic, as lacking emotional power, warmth, and beauty, is considered here with fresh eyes and ears. From a humanistic and psychological perspective, Sachs clarifies how Schoenberg's music represents deeply human emotional expression despite what became a dramatic departure from its more traditional musical ancestry…. Sachs dissects Schoenberg's complex musical works in an accessible way for the lay reader, thereby encouraging an understanding of the thinking and creative process with which Schoenberg wrote. In a way, Sachs exposes us to both the left and right brains of Schoenberg, upturning the misconception of his music as aloof, cold, and emotionally absent. Sachs reaches behind the hard edges that many listeners experience to bring forth the human being who created them…. Throughout, Sachs's deep analyses of Schoenberg's major works are not performed in a musical vacuum. Rather, he contextualizes them in the specific sociopolitical environment of their day… [He] enables us to understand the humanity of a man whose music is often considered so difficult to hear, absorb, and perform that it has been set aside for more accessible repertoire…. To the end of his days, and beyond, Schoenberg has been misunderstood and underappreciated. Sachs admirably goes the distance in restoring Arnold Schoenberg's singular position in the musical universe."
Emanuel Ax: "Mr. Sachs illuminates Schoenberg's life and music with deepest understanding and clarity. Because of this book, I will look forward to listening again and again to his works - and I will forever be amazed by just one of [Sachs's] fascinating discoveries - that Jackie Robinson was for a little while a Schoenberg student. The Epilogue of Mr. Sachs's book is a wonderfully perceptive commentary on Schoenberg's place and importance in 20th century music, and the role of the listener in contemporary composition. I am so happy to have this volume, and will return to it many times."
James Conlon: "Finally, an eminently readable book on Arnold Schoenberg's life and influence, equally accessible for practicing musicians or casual classical music fans. Sachs has threaded the needle perfectly, elucidating one of the great paradoxes of classical music and posing an unanswered question: Will the composer's monumental influence on the 20th century return in the 21st?"
Leonard Slatkin: "As with the author, I too was ambivalent when it came to the works of Arnold Schoenberg. Harvey Sachs puts everything into perspective, both historically and musically, and makes the reader want to enter the fascinating mind of this remarkable composer. Written in a style that is thourogh but accesible, this book is a must read for those who wish a fuller understanding of a composer who changed the world of music."
Booklist (USA; Carolyn Mulac), June 8, 2023: "Sachs deftly weaves together biography and informed opinion to give the reader a full portrait framed in musical and historical context. . . . In a letter to a new acquaintance, Schoenberg wrote, 'You can see it isn't easy to get on with me. But don't lose heart because of that.' Sachs makes it easy and enjoyable in this thoughtful and concise work."
Literary Hub (USA), May 25, 2023: "Schoenberg: Why He Matters makes the case for Schoenberg's importance in the avant-garde canon, arguing that anyone who cares about 20th-century classical music needs to care about Arnold Schoenberg." Also (same date): One of "25 Nonfiction Books You Need to Read This Summer." Also, August 18, 2023: "One of the Best Reviewed Books of the Week"
Kirkus Reviews: "A convincing, laymen-friendly reappraisal of a great musical theorist, teacher, and composer."
TEN MASTERPIECES OF MUSIC
Published (New York and London: Liveright) October 2021
Kirkus, August 15, 2021: "An astute guide compiles a stunning repertoire of works. Esteemed music critic Sachs gets personal with this effervescent homage to some favorite works of 'life-giving and affirmative' classical music. He chose these pieces, all in different genres, because he felt he had 'something useful to say about them,' and he deftly shows how biography informed the music, each piece neatly fitting into its time and place…. This judicious compilation of biographies and analysis is a thoroughly engaging read."
Booklist (George Kendall), October 15, 2021: "Sachs…skillfully brings readers right into the social and political milieu in which the composers thrived. By pairing historical context with the composers' personal lives and characteristics, Sachs vividly frames 10 masterpieces…. Throughout, Sachs considers an important question: What makes great art stand the test of
Library Journal (Edward B. Cone), July 1, 2021: "Sachs's lively prose will draw readers in…. Heartily recommended to every serious lover of classical music."
Alfred Brendel, world renowned pianist: "Harvey Sachs has the rare gift of conveying a great deal of knowledge with a clarity and wit that make it accessible to the student and lover of music while presenting the informed musician with ample food for thought."
Tim Page, Pulitzer prize-winning music critic: "A beautiful book - personal, passionate, an expression of gratitude for a lifetime of listening to and thinking about music. It will pull in a newcomer to these great works (not all of them familiar) and heighten the understanding of musicians who have known them for many years."
Simon Morrison, music historian and professor of music at Princeton University: "A fascinating, fluidly and entertainingly written rumination on great works in the canon, but not those that usually end up on top-ten lists. Harvey Sachs speaks lovingly about the music that has most affected him, offering a subtle defense of the reductively defined 'classical' tradition through user-friendly analyses of eclectic outliers, misunderstood scores, and those that were created under frightful conditions."
Simon Williams, professor emeritus of theater and dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara: "Few authors have written more memorably on music than Harvey Sachs. In Ten Masterpieces of Music, this noted biographer and historian of classical music adeptly presents a history that will appeal to a wide range of music lovers, from beginners to connoisseurs.... Ten Masterpieces of Music is personal and universal, and will immensely enrich the reader."
TOSCANINI: MUSICIAN OF CONSCIENCE
Published (New York and London: Liveright) June 2017
Italian translation (Milan: Il Saggiatore) October 2018
US and UK paperback editions published in November 2018
This new biography of the man who was, arguably, the most influential classical performing musician of the twentieth century, replaces Sachs's 1978 biography of the Maestro. It is based on thousands of documents, recorded conversations, and other materials that were unavailable four decades ago but have since been put at the author's disposal. This book is likely to remain the definitive account of the ninety-year life and sixty-eight-year career of the great conductor - an account not only of his work and its impact but also of his turbulent personal life and his principled stand against Fascism and Nazism.
The New York Times Book Review, front page, lead article (Robert Gottlieb), July 2, 2017: "The trajectory of Toscanini's artistic path constitutes the main body of Sachs's biography, and he gives us an extremely thorough chronicle of his activities and achievements…. Sachs's account is persuasive and compelling in the important ways. He also gives us the man, with all his contradictions."
The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice / Staff Picks (top of the list) from the Book Review, July 9, 2017.
Alex Ross (music critic of The New Yorker), @alexrossmusic, June 16, 2017: "Can a 944-page biography be spellbinding? Yes, when the subject is Toscanini and the author knows his subject as well as Sachs does." June 30, 2017: "Harvey Sachs's biography of Toscanini is on the cover of Sunday's @nytimesbooks, and deservedly so."
The New York Review of Books (Tim Page), November 9, 2017: "Sachs's lifelong studies… have paid off in his gigantic and extraordinary new book. Indeed, I cannot think of another biography of a classical musician to which it can be compared: in its breadth, scope, and encyclopedic command of factual detail it reminds me of nothing so much as Robert A. Caro's The Power Broker…. Those who read Toscanini: Musician of Conscience will be rewarded… with stories about everything from the history of Italy and the rise and fall of fascism to sexual experiences and backstage opera gossip from one hundred years ago. But a master narrator is required to make them come to life, and that is what Sachs has now proven himself to be…. one of the great merits in Sachs's criticism is its lack of dogmatic insistence. He is not here to win old arguments, but rather to state his considered thoughts, generously and thoroughly, and let the reader take it from there…. 'Whatever you may think about Toscanini's interpretation of a specific work,' the Cleveland Orchestra's George Szell once observed, "that he changed the whole concept of conducting and that he rectified many, many arbitrary procedures of a generation of conductors before him, is now authentic history.' This is certain, and never before has that history been told so well."
The Economist (UK), June 24, 2017: "Harvey Sachs has written the definitive biography of this great, and colourful, character…. Drawing on an enormous range of evidence, Mr Sachs paints a vivid picture of the great conductor…. Mr Sachs also uses Toscanini's life as a window onto a wider discussion of musical and historical themes…. Mr Sachs's writing style is precise, fluent and gripping."
The Los Angeles Review of Books (Simon Williams), October 19, 2017: "…a major achievement, chronicling Toscanini's life from his school days in the Parma Conservatory to his death almost 80 years later. Sachs's lively, engrossing narrative effectively captures Toscanini's magnetic and complicated personality, displaying a sure grasp both of the musical world over which Toscanini held such sway during an epoch of unprecedented change and of the political and social order that underwent catastrophic collapse during the conductor's lifetime and was still in the process of reconstituting itself at his death in 1957…. Harvey Sachs's new biography of Toscanini stands as the preeminent work on the conductor, a superbly written and immaculately researched volume with which all future discussions of this eternally controversial figure will have to grapple."
The New Yorker (David Denby), July 10 & 17, 2017: "a detailed, sobersided, but very engaging and at times gripping chronicle of music and society."
The Wall Street Journal Books section, front page, lead article (USA; Lloyd Schwartz), August 18-19, 2017: "…compelling…. fully humanizes the Great Man…. Mr. Sachs is a lucid informer, providing all sorts of interesting details…. More important, Mr. Sachs rises to each climactic turning point, creating moving narratives…. Mr. Sachs's necessary, authoritative biography reinforces… a portrait of a complex, flawed, but noble human being and a towering artist."
The Gramophone (UK; Rob Cowan), August 2017: "without doubt the most engaging, the best written and certainly the most comprehensive Toscanini biography yet to be published, sympathetic without being in any sense hagiographic."
BBC Music Magazine (UK; Max Loppert), June 2017: "'Monumental' is surely the mot juste to describe the book's length… but equally the combination of thoroughness, clarity, psychological perspicacity and deep human feeling which distinguishes every page.… For all its massiveness the book proves unputdownable. It offers an in-depth portrait of an utterly extraordinary man simultaneous with a panoramic cultural and political history of his near-century of life and a no less wide-ranging analysis of all the areas of music and theatre over which he gained such staggeringly complete command.… Sachs's Musician of Conscience subtitle precisely indicates the underlying theme of his magisterial achievement."
The Christian Science Monitor (USA; Jonathan Rosenberg), June 29, 2017: "Toscanini's significance as a superb artist and a key figure in the international arena is brilliantly captured in Harvey Sachs's absorbing biography…, a sweeping exploration of both aspects of Toscanini's life. In meticulous detail, Sachs, a music historian, considers the work of a conductor blessed with breathtaking musical ability while he also examines the life of an artist who grappled with dictators…. Sachs also allows the reader to encounter a range of fascinating figures with whom the conductor crossed paths: Puccini, Verdi, Mahler, Horowitz, and the relatives of Richard Wagner, along with diabolical characters like Mussolini and Hitler. The story is a feast for those drawn to music, culture, and politics….."
Commentary (USA; Terry Teachout), September 2017: "Toscanini: Musician of Conscience, Harvey Sachs's new biography, goes a long way toward defining what made Toscanini unique…. Clearly and attractively written… one of the most readable biographies of a conductor ever published…. Implicit throughout Sachs's book is the idea that Toscanini the man and Toscanini the musician were, as his subtitle suggests, inseparable—that, in other words, his conscience drove him to oppose totalitarianism in much the same way that it drove him to pour his heart and soul into his work."
Classic Music (UK; Philip Borg-Wheeler), August 22, 2017: "…vastly comprehensive, balanced and indispensable…. Sachs' own dedication to this force of nature has been fulfilled in a book which ranks among the best of 2017."
Literary Review (UK; Benjamin Ivry), July 2017: "To deal with the many aspects of Toscanini's talent, a magisterial biographer is required…. In this massive new study, Sachs reveals an eye for detail and human understanding, as well as a sense of priorities.… This is a patient, generous, invaluable biography of the kind that merits literary prizes…. Writing about music with knowledge, humanity, taste and discernment has become ever rarer. This is all the more reason to celebrate Harvey Sachs's achievement, as well as Toscanini's."
Gazzetta di Mantova (Italy; Stefano Albertini), October 7, 2017: "A definitve work… that has the distinction of combining seriousness and thoroughness of research with a brilliant writing style, which makes it read like a compelling novel and which will have the merit of rekindling public interest in the greatest conductor of the 20th century and, perhaps, of all time." ("Un'opera definitiva… che ha il merito di unire alla serietà e capillarità della ricerca una scrittura brillante che la fa leggere come un romanzo avvincente e che avrà il merito di riaccendere l'interesse del pubblico per il più grande direttore d'orchestra del XX secolo e, forse, di tutti i tempi.")
Classic Voice (Italy; Mauro Balestrazzi), online in August, 2017; in print in October: "…the most complete and probably definitive portrait of the great conductor…. it is as if [Sachs] had used a magnifying glass to bring situations and relationships with other characters into focus…." ("...il ritratto più completo e probabilmente definitivo del grande direttore.... è come se [Sachs] avesse usato una lente d'ingrandimento per mettere a fuoco situazioni e rapporti con altri personaggi....")
Kirkus Review (USA; starred review, pre-publication): "Sachs creates a well-rounded portrait of this admirable artist…. Music lovers will savor every evocative word. Sweeping yet meticulous, appreciative without eschewing critical judgments – like Toscanini himself."
Publishers Weekly (USA; starred review, pre-publication): "Sachs vibrantly and vividly narrates the sprawling tales of Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini's passionate life.… Entertaining and definitive…."
The Spectator (UK; Michael Tanner), August 5, 2017: "…magnificent biography."
National Review (USA; Jay Nordlinger), August 14 & 29, 2017: "Sachs is tremendously knowledgeable, tremendously authoritative. This is clear on virtually every page. He knows reams about music, the music business, Italy, and more…. Toscanini now has a great biography, written by Harvey Sachs."
ClassicsToday.com (USA; David Hurwitz), October 2, 2017: "Sachs' new biography looks to be the most authoritative work on Toscanini that we are likely to see…. a tremendous achievement for which both fans of the conductor and music lovers in general will be eternally grateful."
The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice / Staff Picks From the Book Review / Paperback Row, December 9, 2018: "…illuminating, exhaustive…. In Sachs's telling [Toscanini] emerges as a morally driven prodigy who spoke out against fascism and hate."
Corriere della Sera (Milan, Helmut Failoni), Feburary 3, 2019: "[A] titanic effort…. Sachs had already published (in 1978) an important monographic book on the maestro, but [this] isn't the usual revised second edition…. We believe that for this book we can finally use the sometimes abused definition, 'definitive biography.'" "[Uno] sforzo titanico.... Sachs aveva già pubblicato (era il 1978) un'importante monografia sul maestro, ma [questa] non è la solita seconda edizione vista e riveduta.... Crediamo che per questo libro si possa finalmente usare la definizione, a volte abusata, di 'biografia definitiva'".
La Repubblica (Italy, Giovanni Gavazzeni), February 22, 2019: "Even those familiar with Sachs's previous works dedicated to Toscanini can only admire his ability to draw together a vast quantity of documents. And without censorship." ("Anche chi conosce le precedenti opere di Sachs dedicate a Toscanini non può non rimanere ammirato dalla sintesi operata su una mole di documenti vastissima. E senza censure.")
L'Espresso (Italy; Riccardo Lenzi), November 11, 2018: "The volume, which one reads all at once, like a novel, is an unequalled collection of documents." ("Il volume, che si legge d'un fiato come un romanzo, è una raccolta di documenti senza pari.")
Avvenire (Italy, Alessandro Beltrami), December 4, 2018: "...monumental biography.... [Sachs] follows the musician almost day by day, clarifying even the smallest facts and without glossing over the man's contradictions.... Toscanini brought opera from a form of entertainment to an art-form. It was an epochal transition, well recounted by Sachs." ("...monumentale biografia.... [Sachs] segue il musicista quasi giorno per giorno, appuntando anche i fatti più minuti e senza tacere le contraddizioni dell'uomo.... Toscanini traghetta l'opera da forma d'intrattenimento a forma d'arte. È una transizione epocale, ben raccontata da Sachs.")
Gazzetta di Parma (Italy, Gian Paolo Minardi), December 12, 2018: "The definitive biography of the great conductor…. The American scholar has written a book rich in documents and letters that reads like a novel…. it puts back together an entire, very long life through all the complex twists and turns that enveloped it…. Sachs's task… was to make a clean break with the legends and to draw attention decisively to the man Toscanini, revealed in his most direct and intimate state…." ("La biografia definitiva del grande direttore d'orchestra…. Lo studioso americano ha scritto un libro ricco di documenti e lettere che si legge come un romanzo... ricompone una intera, lunghissima vita attraverso la complessità di intrecci che l'hanno avvolta.... L'impegno di Sachs... si è mosso nel senso di decantare nettamente questa dimensione leggendaria e a richiamare in maniera decisa l'attenzione sull'uomo Toscanini, svelato nella sua tensione più diretta e più intima....")
La Stampa (Turin, Italy; Sandro Cappelletto), January 11, 2019: "Forty years after the first version, Harvey Sachs delivers this new, more complete and more fully documented biography of the musician to whom he has dedicated his scholarly work…. [with] the public and private story of the long life… of an artist who strode across his lifetime as a protagonist and who changed audiences' listening habits…." ("Quarant'anni dopo la prima edizione, Harvey Sachs consegna la nuova, più ampia e documentata, biografia del musicista al quale ha dedicato la propria attività di studioso.... [con] il racconto, pubblico e privato, della lunga vita... di un artista che ha attraversato da protagonista il proprio tempo ed ha cambiato le abitudini di ascolto del pubblico...."
Corriere del Ticino (Lugano, Switzerland; Arnaldo Benini), January 11, 2019: "...monumental biography.... Sachs recounts Toscanini's activities all over the world with an enormous richness of information about orchestras, soloists, singers, choruses, stage productions, and often with the controversies that preceded or followed them: thus we have a realistic panorama of a world unto itself." ("...monumentale biografia.... Sachs narra le prestazioni di Toscanini in tutto il mondo con enorme ricchezza di informazioni circa orchestre, solisti, cantanti, cori, allestimenti scenici e spesso con le controversie che le anticipavano o seguivano: si ha così un panorama realistico di un mondo a parte.")
Il Giornale (Milan; Mattia Rossi): "Harvey Sachs's monumental monographic work satisfies the Maestro's fans…. This last, colossal work... now has a highly anticipated Italian edition.... a goldmine." ("La monografia monumentale di Harvey Sachs sazia i patiti del Maestro.... L'ultimo colossale lavoro... trova ora un'attesissima edizione italiana.... una miniera.")
James Levine: "Harvey Sachs has devoted a considerable part of his working life to piecing together Toscanini's long, complicated, often dramatic existence, and this fascinating book is the culmination of that work. It will make an impact on every musician and every listener who cares about great music and how that music is performed."
Riccardo Muti: "Sachs examines not only the artistic aspects but also the political, social, and private aspects of the man whom many consider the greatest conductor of his time. A reading of this biography helps us to understand this inflexible man, this musician who was so severe, also with himself, this conductor who represents a legend of the musical world, past and present."
Antonio Pappano: "An astonishing story of how Toscanini became a musical giant.... The unbelievable detail in this book re-creates vividly the musical environment from the late 1800s onward."
Placido Domingo: "Arturo Toscanini was a gigantic figure in the history of musical performance.... Harvey Sachs's new biography is the most complete and involving story ever written about this amazing life."
FOR THE PAPERBACK EDITION
Daniel Barenboim: "I have been an avid biography reader since childhood but have seldom enjoyed and learnt so much as from Harvey Sachs's biography of Arturo Toscanini. His admiration notwithstanding, the book gives a very clear and objective guide through the life and work of this great musician. I would recommend it to all those who are interested in music and in moral issues. Not to speak of the necessity for each conductor to learn from this narrative."
The book received the Best History Prize in the 2018 Association of Recorded Sound Collections (USA) Awards for Excellence in the category Best Historical Research in Recorded Classical Music.
First published: 2010
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First published: 1978