Slonimsky's Book of Musical Anecdotes, by Nicolas...

Editor's Choice

August 11, 2002|By Michael Pakenham

Slonimsky's Book of Musical Anecdotes, by Nicolas Slonimsky (Rutledge, 305 pages, $19.95).

Perhaps the most accomplished author and editor of musical reference books in the 20th century, Slonimsky edited five editions of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Music before his death in 1995. His Lexicon of Musical Invective is a delightful compilation of harsh reviews. Now, posthumously, comes his collection of improbable, outrageous and simply delicious stories he gleaned -- from newspapers, books, interviews and direct observation -- over a long and storied career. Some of the entries are fairly elaborate -- four pages on songs of World War II, ten on Musical Showmen. But many are almost quip-short: "Ugly Jazz: When in August 1946 the National Association of Teachers of Speech was asked to name the ten ugliest words in the English language, 'jazz' figured among them. The remaining nine were: phlegmatic, crunch, flatulent, cacophony, treachery, sap, plutocrat, gripe, plump." And, more prettily, the highest soprano note ever sustained was by an American, Ellen Beach Yaw, who managed the E an octave above the E over high C.

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