Michael Steinberg: 1928-2009

Michael Steinberg's Books

by Rex Levang, Minnesota Public Radio
July 29, 2009

I didn't know Michael Steinberg, unless a quick introduction or two over the years counts, so my connection with him is through his books.

There are four of them: three listener's guides--devoted to the symphony, the concerto and large choral works--and a collection of essays, "For the Love of Music."

It's tough to pick a brief quote from them. If you choose a passage rich in detail, it suggests that his writing is mainly for scholars--which it's not. If you choose a passage analyzing the flow of the music, it suggests that it's detached from ordinary life. If you choose one with one of his characteristic touches of humor, it suggests that the writing is merely charming. Wrong again.

But to pick an example almost at random: it's very typical that his piece on Schumann's Symphony No. 2 includes both appreciation and detailed analysis:

What follows is one of the most tenderly poetic moments in the whole symphonic literature. It turns out that the oboe had listened carefully, as we perhaps did not, to the way the four chords of the opening gesture turned into six.

...and an eye for the quirky fact:

The dedication is to King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway, the one who is on the sardine and anchovy tins.

Readers will return to the books again and again, at least if experience at a radio station is any guide. I don't know how many times someone here, working on a script, has tried to find the right detail or the right summation and winds up asking, "What does Michael Steinberg have to say?"

Books by Michael Steinberg

The Symphony: A Listener's Guide. Oxford University Press, 1995

The Concerto: A Listener's Guide. Oxford University Press, 1998

Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide. Oxford University Press, 2005

For the Love of Music: Invitations to Listening (with Larry Rothe). Oxford University Press, 2006

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