Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Susan Tomes, Out of Silence - A Pianist's Yearbook

While on holiday I read a number of books, including A Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier; One Day by David Nicholls; and Nick Hornby's Juliet Naked, which I haven't finished. The outstanding read was Susan Tomes, Out of Silence, which is a diary of a year in the life of a pianist. The inspiration for the book comes from Schumann's remark that 'I am affected by everything that goes on in the world, and I think it all over in my own way'. I've been following Susan Tomes' blog Susan Tomes: Pianist & Writer and find her posts engaging, as she reflects on life and music, often touching on something quite profound but with lightness and grace.

As a pianist, her work consists of solo performances, chamber music - most notably with the Florestan Trio with whom she has made numerous recordings on the Harmoni Mundi label - and concertos with orchestras.

The book isn't a day-by-day diary, but various short chapters compiled into each month. This isn't a page-turner but a contemplative read, more andantino than allegro. It has particular interest for the musician but isn't exclusive, and reflections are wide-ranging and include tennis, diving, football, and gardening.

A few highlights. On the relation of music to time, 'Music replaces clock time with musical time, a completely other way of guiding our thoughts and feelings through an experience with its own shape, its own build-up of tension and its own resolution. Our favourite songs seem timeless in more ways than one.'

She compares players 'who thrive on the physical sensation of playing, and on the feeling of being plugged into an enjoyable community effort which links everyone through music' with musicians 'who instinctively feel that music is not only a lovely noise but also a portal to something else, something that lies behind the right notes played in the right order. They understand music as symbolic of thoughts and feelings, a vehicle for expressing how the world strikes you.'

Early on in the book she has a fascinating section on 'Music for the right time of the day'. In the context of a holiday in Southern Italy, this felt particularly pertinent. Some music just didn't seem right to listen to in the morning, and strangely I couldn't bring myself to listen to Mahler for the whole two weeks. And then some music seemed particularly appropriate, while some felt universal.

In short, this is a lovely, graceful, enriching book, and one to return to.

1 comment:

Kathleen Dixon said...

What a lovely review. I come from a family of professional musicians (though I'm not one myself) and am going to recommend this book to them.