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DAVID THOMPSON is motivated by
Barbara Nissman's book
'Bartók and the Piano'


A definitive study of Bartók's contribution to piano literature has been needed for a shamefully long time. The question that now arises, therefore, is, has Barbara Nissman provided it in this comprehensive new survey? The answer to that question very much depends on what the individual reader would require such a study to contain.

Those seeking a weighty, challenging academic exegesis of the genre must continue to wait. In fairness, however, Ms Nissman makes no pretensions to storm the academic heavens in search of a proud place on the shelves of a university library. Her prose style is fresh, enthusiastic and compulsively readable. It is a long time since I read a musical study at a single sitting and then returned for more, but such was the case with this new book. So is this, therefore, the ideal book for the general reader wanting to explore this important repertoire in a way that is readily understood? Again, no, because the text is liberally peppered with hundreds of often very complex musical quotations, so fluency in score-reading and some pianistic facility are prerequisites to appreciation of what the author has to say.

So what does the author have to offer us? Quite simply, the most important qualifications of all: she has been there, done that. She is an accomplished pianist who has studied Bartók's entire output for the instrument, and recorded it. She is also, clearly, an enthusiast and has very definite ideas regarding performance, which she shares with us. But it seems to me that those who will benefit the most from reading this book are advanced pianists wishing to study this repertoire, and this, surely limits the appeal and potential readership of the book.

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Copyright © 18 May 2003 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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