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Formerly pianist with the now-defunct quartet Domus and the Florestan Trio, Susan Tomes is also the author of the books Beyond the Notes (2004), A Musician’s Alphabet (2006) and Out of Silence (2010). Unlike other pianists, whose blogs can too often be egoistic whinges about the rigours of being worshipped on tour, Tomes writes with enough literary panache to blend into the tradition of the British essay. Her writing is somewhat akin to GK Chesterton’s A Piece of Chalk or What I Found In My Pocket. Tomes’ chapter ‘Temps Perdu’ discusses the eras before pianists played in public from memory and the niceties of using page-turners: ‘There can be a gruesome fascination in watching a hapless page-turner, and another kind of fascination if the page-turner is more interesting to look at, for whatever reason, than the pianist.’ The chapter ‘Bullfrogs’ mulls over the perils of audience coughs, like ‘bullfrogs calling to one another at night from different parts of the swamp’, and distinguishes between ‘necessary’ audience coughs and the ‘uninhibited bark of a cough ringing out from the stalls like a gunshot. If you’re deep in trying to create a beautifully quiet musical atmosphere, such a cough is like being slapped on the ear. It can nearly make you fall off the piano stool.’ The book’s somewhat esoteric title refers to an ancient Greek attempt to ‘incubate dreams’, which Tomes likens to spending a lifetime absorbed with piano masterworks. Piano lovers may not dream of Sleeping in Temples, but it is a captivating reverie of a book.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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