Wednesday 24 September 2014

Bach's Mass in B minor and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 Eroica, the first two eBooks a new series called Masterpieces of Music, from Erudition in partnership with Harmonia Mundi, are a joy to use bringing great fun to learning more about the works of the great composers

Despite the increasing popularity of downloads for classical recordings I have, until now, not seen any real advance in the technology used for eBooks. It’s true that there are a large number of traditional books that are merely available in their original format as eBooks but where is the real innovation using such technology.

Eruditions publishes eBooks covering a wide range of subjects but of particular interest for classical music lovers is a new range entitled Masterpieces of Music. These eBook guides are produced in partnership with the record company Harmonia Mundi and combine the latest scholarship with multimedia content and interactive functionality in a way that will enhance the listener’s appreciation and understanding of some of the world greatest pieces of classical music.

The publications are available in a range of formats suitable for viewing via different devices and platforms i.e. a web-based version for laptops and tablets, Apple iBooks and Amazon Kindle. 

The first two publications in this series are Bach's Mass in B minor and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 Eroica.

The author of these two eBooks is Matthew Rye who studied music at Magdalen College, Oxford, and has spent his career in music journalism as a writer, editor and critic. He has written numerous programme and CD booklet notes, was a reviewer for the Daily Telegraph for thirteen years and the BBC Music Magazine for over 15 years, and has also written for Independent, Sunday Times, Musical Times, The Wagner Journal and other publications. He contributed to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd edition), The Rough Guide to Classical Music, The Blackwell History of Music in Britain and was general editor of 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die (Cassell Illustrated, 2007). He is currently reviews editor of The Strad.

There are aspects of a conventional book with a facsimile colour front cover followed by an Introduction to the series, Information about the author, and a Table of contents that enabled one to easily access a particular section of the book. This is followed by a user’s guide including an online helpline. The publishers have gone to great lengths to make this eBook intuitive but, as an additional guide, there is a section explaining the Features of this publication including audio playback, links to supplementary articles, enhanced timelines and walkthrough features as well as the interactive score.

The first eBook in this series that I looked at was Bach’s B minor Mass.

147 pages
Right from the Introduction Matthew Rye provokes thoughts that are very pertinent to this great work such as ‘Why did the composer, a stalwart Lutheran, create a work for the Roman Catholic liturgy?’ Scattered throughout are entertaining and interesting featured quotes from individuals such as Michael Torke, Sir Thomas Beecham, Bach himself and his contemporaries.

There is a Profile of the composer with links that take the reader to maps showing the location of the cities mentioned.  The Composer Timeline has links and a map showing Bach’s travels together with a link to an online Interactive Timeline that adds detail, maps and photos by way of the user touching a relevant entry on the timeline.

The Story Behind the Mass is in five sections, an Introduction (that explains the B minor Mass origins in a Sanctus for Christmas, 1724), Mass Appeal: A note of Terminology, Protestantism and Catholicism in Saxony in Bach’s time (that gives the probable reason for Bach writing a Catholic Mass – the Elector of Saxony was a staunch Catholic), No Laughing Matter – the Parody Mass and a Work Timeline. Terminology is well covered by links to the Glossary though they don’t take one directly to the specific entry. The Work Timeline includes photographs that, on my Kindle Fire HD were of excellent definition. There is a link that takes the reader to an online interactive Bach Mass Timeline with the same features as the general interactive Timeline.

Walk Through gives a brief guide to the sections of the Mass with online audio excerpts from the relevant section. The performers aren’t credited as far as I could ascertain but, given that this is a joint venture with Harmonia Mundi, I presume the excerpts to be from Philippe Herreweghe’s recording with the Collegium Vocale Gent and La Chapelle Royale.

There then follows a detailed analysis of each section of the Mass with musical examples in short score and online musical audio examples played on an organ. The main sections of the Mass have links to the interactive online orchestral and choral excerpts. Due to the online access to these audio excerpts, they cannot be listened to whilst following the short score but, given that the excerpts are only four or five bars long, this is hardly a problem.

One of the useful aspects of the way the excepts are often done is that, for example, a fugal section of the Kyrie is set out in short score then an organ excerpt of each line is played before hearing the top line, second line and bass played together. Throughout the analysis of the Mass, the text is shown in Latin and English.  The online Enhanced Interactive Score of Kyrie I allows the user to link audio extracts to the score.

The section entitled Resources includes the Glossary, Interactive Timelines and such other features as the Credo Exposition in Detail and the Interactive Musical Score – Kyrie I and II in detail that are accessible throughout the book via links. However, it also includes Supplementary Articles on Form and Structure, Ancient and Modern and Symbols musical and spiritual as well as Further information about tempo (inc. German terminology), Further Reading (inc. web resources) and Further Listening showing a number of B minor Mass recordings that can be bought by touching the link.

Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 ‘Eroica’ follows a similar format.
125 pages
Background places the Eroica in its historical context with more featured quotes from individuals such as Ferdinand Ries, Mozart, Toscanini, Beethoven and contemporary critics. There is a Composer Profile and a Timeline of Beethoven’s Life which is followed, as with the Bach B minor Mass eBook, with a link to an online enhanced Interactive Timeline. Once more the definition of the illustrations is excellent.

The Story Behind the Eroica places the third symphony in its context, the so called Heiligenstadt Testament, where Beethoven poured out his intense feelings concerning not only his deafness but how he felt misunderstood, his revolutionary leanings and initial admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte as well as first performances of the Eroica and their reception. With Shock of the new, Matthew Rye, looks in more detail at how Beethoven achieved such an advance in musical composition. There are links to Supplementary Articles on Beethoven and Napoleon, Beethoven and Prometheus, Beethoven’s developmental tricks and Thematic unity.

Beethoven’s Orchestra looks at the instruments, size and layout of Beethoven’s orchestra. There is a Work Timeline and an online enhanced Interactive Timeline that works in the same manner as the B minor Mass eBook.

Walk Through takes us straight into a detailed analysis of the Eroica with orchestral excerpts and piano excerpts to accompany single stave or short score musical examples. Here again I am guessing that the orchestral excerpts are from Andrew Manze’s Harmonia Mundi recording with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra.

The Enhanced Interactive Score of the Development Section is particularly impressive in the way that audio extracts can be linked to the score with additional written explanation. Also impressive is the way that the structure and development of the first movement is explained in real depth with excellent diagrams.

Resources includes Further listening with selected recordings which, again, can be bought on line by clicking a link, Further reading (that I’m glad to see includes my treasured Beethoven: the Music and the Life by Lewis Lockwood) and Web Resources. Supplementary Articles places together the articles mentioned above that can be accessed by links.

There is an Index of Musical examples which brings together all of the orchestral excerpts and a Glossary and Appendix to which the various links throughout the eBook have allowed access.

There are so many little features that can be accessed that I hope that I have included them all in this review.

These two eBooks bode extremely well for the whole series. There is nothing dry or overly academic about Rye’s analysis of the works. These books are suitable for the ordinary music lover as well as music students and, indeed, anyone who wishes to gain an extra depth of knowledge of these works of genius.

Above all they are a joy to use and bring great fun to learning more about these wonderful works. 

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