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Enthusiasm and purple prose

Form and Feeling
Kishore Chatterjee
Birla Academy of Art and Culture
Rs 250

This book attempts to guide anybody who's willing to take the first steps into the waters of western music appreciation.

Kishore Chatterjee is familiar to readers of The Statesman, for which he writes a weekly music column. He has been writing on music for over 30 years and considers the popularisation of the musicians he loves -- Handel, Beethoven, Mozart and others -- his life's mission.

Chatterjee's understanding and language are both non-technical. This makes the book attractive to people with a genuine interest in music but with no knowledge of its specialist language. More advanced listeners may find Chatterjee simplistic and often given to purple prose and mixed metaphors ("Life for Mahler can sometimes be a bed of flowers like the 'Third' symphony but it is his switch from light to darkness that makes him so fascinating").

The book tries to answer many basic yet niggling doubts about styles and forms. Although strictly speaking 'classical music' in the Western context means the music of a particular period of about 100 years, it is understood in common parlance to mean all serious (ah, problems of terminology again) music. Chatterjee prefers the common meaning of the term, and has subtitled his book The World of Western Classical Music.

Form and Feeling also focuses on the lives of the great composers and Chatterjee relates biographical details to situate many of their compositions. He draws profusely from literature: an entire chapter talks about the music in Shakespeare's plays and how the bard inspired musicians like Verdi and Tchaikovsky. The essay on Keats again is a personal, rather than scholarly, view of the musicality in the poet.

Chatterjee was smitten by the beauty of western music while he was at a boarding school. "I write this book for home listening," he says in his warm chapter on records and record collecting. Here he talks about Mrs Waters, a knowledgeable record shop owner in Calcutta, who guided him along in his appreciation.

His friendship with Satyajit Ray also enriched his understanding. Mozart and Beethoven were Ray's favourites. When Chatterjee asked Ray why he hadn't yet bought a "snazzy hi-fi" music system, Ray smiled and said, "I have always cared about music, not so much about sound". That remark, says Chatterjee, taught him to value music more than sound.

Drawings and pictures liven up the book. In fact, Chatterjee is also an art critic, cartoonist and painter with three books in Bengali to his credit.

Arnab Chowdhury
S R Ramakrishna

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