I have finally learned the virtue and benefit of swallowing works of art whole. When I was a young man, I was perplexed to watch someone read straight through a large book of poetry. I emulated Dylan Thomas’s notion of only reading poems I like. He remarks that this means he must read many to find them, nevertheless it was only relatively recently that I began ingesting whole volumes of works of poets and composers at a time.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I moved from volume IX to X of Longo’s edition of Scarlatti’s 555 Essercizi or Keyboard Sonatas. I purchased this 11 volume set (the final volume is called a “Supplement”) used from my old friend and former teacher Craig Cramer. Ever since then I have been working my way through them, reading them pretty carefully. My plan at this point is to immediately begin again when I finish volume XI since I find them delightful and challenging both to play and understand despite the dated editing.
Somewhere in his copious writing, I think Ned Rorem said that performers who only perfect music for performance end up limited in the contact they have with the huge amount of great music that is out there. Better to spend one’s time reading through tons of music. I think his comment influenced me, since I’m no great virtuoso but do love music and love playing it.
I have recently finished reading through all of Bach’s Clavierübung III for organ. Even though I have performed some of these pieces, I wanted to make sure I had read through every piece at least once this year.
I added Buxtehude to this list as well. I own many volumes of different editions of his works. It would be interesting to read through them all. Yesterday reading through a collection of his chorale preludes I was happily surprised to see how many of them I have performed over the years since I tend to date the performance for future reference.
I also have been approaching poetry this way, reading through the complete works of people like Anne Sexton and William Carlos Williams. My current project is Dylan Thomas. I began his collected poems in the middle since I have read the beginning poems so many times.
I also have a tendency to read all the novels of authors. This is something I have done for most of my adult life. The authors include C. P. Snow and Anthony Burgess. James Joyce has been hard to swallow whole. But a delight to keep trying. I am happily surprised when i turn a page in Finnegans Wake and see my notes from a previous attempt. I’m pretty sure I have read Ulysses all the way through, but it is such a great work that I find myself returning to it over and over.
So there you have it. I am lucky that though I have few friends at this stage of life that like to discuss the books and music that interest me, I am able to continue to enjoy great minds with first hand experience of their works. Life is good.