A mesmerizing figure in concert, Charles Munch was celebrated for his electrifying public performances. He was a pioneer in many arenas of classical music--establishing Berlioz in the canon, perfecting the orchestral work of Debussy and Ravel, and leading the world to Roussel, Honegger, and Dutilleux. A pivotal figure, his accomplishments put him on a par with Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein.
In Charles Munch, D. Kern Holoman provides the first full biography of this giant of twentieth-century music, tracing his dramatic survival in occupied Paris, his triumphant arrival at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and his later years, when he was a leading cultural figure in the United States, a man known and admired by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. He turned to conducting only in middle age, after two decades as a violinist and concertmaster, a background which gave him special insight into the relationship between conductor and orchestra. At the podium, his bond with his musicians unleashed something in them and in himself. "A certain magic took wing that amounts to the very essence of music in concert," the author writes, as if "public performance loosed the facets of character and artistry and poetry otherwise muffled by his timidity and simple disinclination to say much." In concert, Munch was arresting, even seductive, sweeping his baton in an enormous arch from above his head down to his knee. Yet as Holoman shows, he remained a lonely, even sad figure, a widower with no children, a man who fled admirers and avoided reporters.
With groundbreaking research and sensitive, lyrical writing, Charles Munch penetrates the enigma to capture this elusive musical titan.
"A fascinating read. Holoman's passion for and knowledge of his subject is quite compelling.
In contemporary discussions of the great conductors of that era, Munch tends to be relatively overlooked. Holoman makes a persuasive historical case for Munch's importance, both to musical life in France and to the evolution of the Boston Symphony. Along the way, he also provides a detailed look at what life was like for conductors (and orchestras) in the middle part of the twentieth century." --Aaron Sherber, Music Director and Conductor, Martha Graham Dance Company
"A joy to read: well-conceived, well-executed, well-written. Holoman's combination of musical and literary skill brings twentieth-century culture to life throughout, on both sides of the Atlantic. 'Ah, qu'il etait beau!' and he still is, in Holoman's vivid biography." --Thomas Kelly, Harvard University
"Charles Munch--the musical icon. When you played a concert with Charles Munch or attended one of his performances as a listener, it was not just a concert. It was an event. He never used the same palette twice. As a player, you had to give 110% of yourself, or be left out of the music. This book is an excellent portrayal of this musical phenomenon!" --Vic Firth
"The qualities that marked D. Kern Holoman's biography of Berlioz and his epic The Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire--the grand sweep combined with the minute attention to detail, the narrative flair, the breadth of human sympathy, the evocation of the musician's existence, which, as himself a conductor and organiser of concerts, he understands so well--shine out in this new book. Charles Munch's life, spanning three continents and two world wars, raises fascinating issues-personal, social, political, as well as musical. Reading it, we learn both about the teeming, intricate world of mid-twentieth-century music and about the struggles and achievements of one of its best-loved and most committed practitioners. Holoman has a remarkable story to tell and he tells it superbly." --David Cairns
"Among its other virtues, D. Kern Holoman's warmly sympathetic new biography sheds necessary light on an already forgotten chapter from the history of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Few readers of this book will be prepared to discover what was expected of a Boston Symphony music director as of 1949, when Charles Munch took over from Serge Koussevitzky--Munch was to stay put in Boston; guest conductors were a rarity. And there was new music on virtually every subscription concert. A lot has changed since then." --Joseph Horowitz, author of Classical Music in America: A History
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Oxford University Press, Incorporated
December 01, 2011
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