Beethoven Concertos and Overtures by Roger Fiske [+ Mahler Symphonies and Songs by Philip Barford]
Dr Fiske's brisk, and businesslike guide packs in plenty of relevant fact and covers a lot of ground. Beethoven himself is seen as a kind of traveler; hoping this, planning that, borrowing here, calculating there, bringing off many a successful coup. Mr Barford's Mahler is more the pilgrim type, whose concerns are mainly mystical and spiritual - as we are constantly reminded, often three or four times a page. Under the burden of these psychic tensions (pretensions, non-Mahlerians may say) the prose style stumbles now and then, as when the image of Jacob's ladder is given a particular slant by Schoenberg; but it can also attain fair heights.
Certainly each of these guides offers a good return for its price. Indeed, each is first-class in its own main line; the one more analytical, the other more descriptive. Both reach the same destination (after all, analysis is just a kind of description); so which is the high road and which the low is very much a matter of personal perspective and inclination. But one wonders why there should be two ways about it, both are following the same general directions. I’d like to see them switch points and start again.
The Musical Times, Jan. 1969 © the estate of eric sams