Like many blogs, Aisle Be Seeing You reflects the tastes, shortcomings and discoveries of its author. With your permission, gentle reader, I would like to introduce you to a recent discovery (the tastes and shortcomings are, surely, already on display). Among my summer reading selections is Perfect Pitch, the 1988 autobiography of the composer, conductor, musician, music critic, lexicographer and author Nicolas Slonimsky. I recommend it highly.
Slonimsky crossed paths with an astonishing number and variety of people from the music world and beyond, and is just the writer to do justice to the resulting anecdotes. He delivers stories of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's widow (at a dinner party), Serge Koussevitsky, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Eugene Ormandy, George Eastman (of Eastman Kodak fame), Leonard Bernstein, Mike Wallace (as host of a TV game show), Edgard Varese and Frank Zappa (Slonimsky performed with Zappa in 1981 and named his cat Grody-to-the-Max, a nod to Moon Unit Zappa's Valley Girl lexicon), among many others.
Many know Slonimsky today for his work editing Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (which is named for Theodore Baker, its original editor, whose work was complimented, then eclipsed, by
Slonimsky over decades) or for his Lexicon of Musical Invective, which chronicles horrible reviews of famous musical works (more fun than it sounds). I had used Baker's for some time before I read its delightful (there's no other word for it) forward, written by Slonimsky. That discovery has lead me to Perfect Pitch.
If I haven't convinced you yet, here's a wee snippet from the book jacket:
"It was discovered early in my life that I possessed the precious gift of perfect pitch, which enabled me to name immediately and without fail any note played on the piano or other musical instruments. My maternal aunt, Isabelle Vengerova, later to become a famous piano teacher, took me under her wing, and on 6 November 1900, according to the old Russian calendar, gave me my first piano lesson. I was exhibited to admiring relatives and friends for whose pleasure I rendered the popular tune, 'Little Bird, What did you do? I drank vodka, So did you.'"