Renewing a love of music

Special to The Times

A Life in Music; Daniel Barenboim; Arcade Publishing: 246 pp., $25.95


In 1991, the internationally renowned conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim published a book about his life as a musician appropriately entitled “A Life in Music.” Published four years after the tragic death of his first wife, the superbly gifted cellist Jacqueline du Pre, the memoir exemplified his belief in the wisdom of separating an artist’s public and private lives.

This new edition, appearing in the wake of the film “Hilary and Jackie” (based on the book “A Genius in the Family” by Du Pre’s siblings Hilary and Piers), shows Barenboim holding fast to his credo: “Obviously, there are connections between what is public and what is private. Nonetheless, I feel that these two sides of one’s life should be kept apart.”


Barenboim provides valuable new material very much in keeping with the book’s original aims and tenor. In this new edition, one finds new chapters on his work as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin, his experiences conducting Wagner at Bayreuth, his thoughts on the perplexities facing Israel, his efforts to bring young Israeli and Arab artists together to make music and a chapter called “Musical Afterthoughts,” which serves as the book’s new conclusion.

Although Barenboim does not discuss his personal life, he does share his reflections on the nonmusical, but very public, world of politics. As an Israeli citizen who moved there as a 10-year-old in 1952, when his family emigrated from Argentina, Barenboim recalls the hopeful, altruistic atmosphere of those early days, along with the tensions of living in a country whose very survival has often been in doubt.

He remembers rushing from his work in Europe to be in Israel on the eve of the 1967 war: “At the time ... the outcome was certainly not clear ... the odds were against Israel.” Although critical of his country’s hard-liners, he was shocked by the turn of European public opinion he discerned: “Until the day the war started, public opinion

Most of this book, however, is about Barenboim’s relationship to music, which turns out to be a fairly big -- and multifaceted -- subject in itself. He discusses his experiences with orchestras and musicians, including his friends and fellow students Zubin Mehta and Claudio Abbado, as well as such legendary greats as Artur Rubinstein, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Otto Klemperer, George Szell and, of course, his late wife, Jacqueline: “Of all the great musicians I have met ... I have never encountered anyone for whom music was such a natural form of expression as it was for Jacqueline. With most musicians you feel that they are human beings who happen to play music. With her, you had the feeling that here was a musician who also happened to be a human being.”


Not only are his discussions of technical matters clear enough for the nonprofessional music lover to follow with ease, they also convey a strong sense of the thought and work that go into a performance. “Music,” Barenboim declares, “is an essential part of life for me. In some way, it gives me constant consolation, it enables me particularly to relate to death.... The relationship between life and death is the same as the relationship between sound and silence -- the silence before the music starts and after it ends.”

Music (unlike the visual arts) is an art that cannot be realized until it is performed in time: “Music starts from nothing and ends in nothing, and in this sense it resembles the life of a person, an animal or a plant.... There is a certain inevitability about music. Once it is set in motion, it follows its own natural course: It lasts for as long as it takes to play the notes of which it is composed.” In their concluding notes to this book, Barenboim’s editors assure us that the author himself actually wrote it without benefit of ghostwriters.

Indeed, “A Life in Music” bears the hallmarks of a book written by a busy man without much time to polish his writing, tighten his arguments or even in some cases do more than sketch the bare bones of a story. But Barenboim’s blend of common sense, enthusiasm and expertise makes this an informative and rewarding reading experience for anyone interested in music.