BOOKS

Paul Roberts' new book will be published in May 2022. For further information and pre-ordering click here.


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Reading Franz Liszt: Revealing the Poetry Behind the Music

A vivid exploration of Liszt's greatest piano pieces and the literature that inspired them—from Petrarch’s love poetry to Dante's Divine Comedy, from Goethe's Faust  to the Byron's Childe Harold. Paul Roberts writes:

"This book has arisen from a life-time’s fascination for literature and language that has paralleled my career as a pianist and piano teacher. The seed, a long time ago, was a brief conversation I had with an elderly and much celebrated piano teacher when I had just started out. I introduced myself. I cannot remember quite how the topic came about, but within a few minutes we were talking about Liszt’s great triptych of piano pieces known as the Petrarch Sonnets, inspired by the love poetry of the 14th-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. “Oh!” I enthused, “those poems …!” She entered her studio. “We don’t need them,” she said, and closed the door. I was deflated. And dumbfounded.

I trust that my lifetime still has a long way to go; but I feel I have lived long enough now to have something to say about the essential connections between literature and music, indeed about the need for these poems. After many decades I have formulated, at last, an answer to my colleague. This book is my answer."

 


Reflections: The Piano Music of Maurice Ravel

The richness and colour of his involvement makes this book an endless source of reference and delight in terms of both scholarship and poetry. A mine of information, it is difficult to imagine a finer or more glowing tribute. Bryce Morrison, Gramophone

Reflections is Paul Roberts’s third book, published in 2012. The book is a vivid and lively account of the genesis of Ravel’s piano music in relation to the imaginative influences in his life, with chapters on the influence of Liszt and Debussy, on the writers whom Ravel admired, and on his wide group of friends, including the poet Leon Paul Fargue and the pianist Ricardo Viñes.

Paul Roberts writes in the Introduction: ‘The piano music of Maurice Ravel is among the most thrilling, the most colourful, the most subtle, and for pianists the most challenging, of the repertoire. This book is about this music, how we might relate to it as listeners and performers, what it sounds like – if ever that is possible to put into words – what it feels like under our fingers and what we might do with it. But this book is also, inescapably, about the man who created the music. To write about one’s own experience of the piano music, to explore the impulses behind the great works in the hope that clues may be found to a deeper understanding for practitioners and listeners alike, is to find oneself engaged in a form of biography.’

 


Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy

A complete picture of Debussy’s poetic world . . . one of the few indispensable books on music that I know. Richard Goode, New York, 2014

This absorbing study, Images ​​​​​, first published in 1997 and since reprinted in paper-back, relates the piano music of Debussy to the cultural background of Paris at the dawn of the twentieth century. It has become a seminal text on the subject, admired by scholars, teachers, and concert pianists all over the world.

Images has a wide canvas of reference, with an appeal that goes far beyond its starting point of piano music and pianism.

Chapter headings include ‘Impressionist or Symbolist?’, ‘Japanese Prints’, ‘Music and Painting’, ‘The Javanese Gamelan’, ‘Humour and Childhood’, ‘Debussy and Baudelaire’.

I applaud this generously illustrated book, which is a significant contribution to our understanding of the literary and artistic influences on Debussy’s piano works. This is a task that few pianists would be up to. Charles Timbrell


Debussy: a biography 

I’ve just finished reading his beautiful book; it’s like a good novel that I just couldn’t put down.
Harold Gray, Portland Piano International 

‘I had long been intrigued by the relationship between this composer’s life and his music,’ Paul Roberts relates in this Biography. ‘In my childhood I had singled out his portrait from a row of composers’ heads above the walnut upright piano in my teacher’s studio. I was impressed by the domed brow and beard, and the arrestingly sensual eyes, which I found both frightening and kind. The large head and the pointed black beard made the shape of a triangle, which in my child’s mind I associated with the strange sound, and the alien shape, of the name written underneath – Claude Debussy. So the sound of the name preceded, for me, the sound of the music. Then came the haunting piano piece, 'The Girl with the Flaxen Hair', with its sensuous sonorities and frissons of archaic romance. How could such music come from one who was considered, I soon learnt, rude and unpleasant? I needed to trace such rumours, which I refused to take at face value, to their source.’

Paul Roberts has aimed to win new insights into the music of which, as a concert pianist, he’s a distinguished interpreter. He has succeeded, distilling a lifetime’s reading, listening and thinking to create an intimate portrait that takes us nearer to the heart of that music than any biography before. Michael Church, Independent, London


His beautiful and fluent use of language to describe music is at the level of the highest poetry and his sheer virtuoso piano playing and rich knowledge of music and teaching experience put together make him a distinguished existence in the world of classical music.
– Noriko Ogawa, concert pianist, Japan and UK
Paul Roberts’ book, 'Reflections', a sequel to his wonderful 'Images', is a veritable master class on Ravel’s mysterious sound world.
– Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine
It has been a fascinating journey reading your book, and I must say it’s not only a book about Ravel, but rather about the sources and states which are required in order to understand the transcendence of this music.
– Patrick Jovell interview, Piano Street, Sweden