The Crimson Bookshelf
The Man With the Baton, by David Ewen. Thomas Crowell Company. $3.50.
THE SUBJECT of the men who conduct and their orchestras is both intriguing and dangerous. The fascinations surrounding a Toscanini or a Koussevitzky are well known; but there is always the fear that attention may be diverted from the music itself to mere personalities. Mr. Ewen has quite evidently endeavored to avoid this pit-fall by mirroring the famous conductors in their musical interpretations rather than through biographical facts alone or individual comparisons. The latter are not neglected, to be sure, for enough of the personal history is given to shed light on the backgrounds of the men themselves and on their peculiarities, but they are not over-stressed.
The author has thus reached a happy medium in his treatment of conductors, and it is to be regretted that his discussion of the composition of an orchestra was not carried out on such a satisfactory basis. The analysis of the modern orchestra is rather inadequate in itself, but the real weakness lies in the complete omission of any reference to the history of the present-day orchestra, a topic which is certainly most fitting for a volume such as this in which the great conductors of the past and present are so well described.
Mr. Ewen has, however, done a really excellent piece of work in so far as he is concerned with the "man with the baton" and not with the men under him. An excellent chapter on, baton exhibitionism does much to "debunk" some popular fallacies as well as to expose certain audience-minded conductors and their tricks to catch popular support. That Leopold Stokowski's Polish accent is a fake, that one conductor wears a corset at every concert to improve his figure, and that a French conductor changes batons in mid-symphonic stream all makes very entertaining if not instructive reading. The book concludes with a fairly complete biographical guide for reference.