Louder Than Bombs: A Life with Music, War, and Peace

Univ. of Chicago. Mar. 2020. 496p. ISBN 9780226715407. pap. $20. MUSIC
Previously published in the UK as When Words Fail, this works opens with an account of a performance of Joseph Haydn’s music at the National Theatre in Sarajevo in 1993, during the Bosnian War, with bombs falling so close that at one point, the vibrations knocked over the violist’s music stand. And yet the trio played on. With a reporter’s keen eye for detail and a memoirist’s rich depth of experience, war correspondent Vulliamy (The War Is Dead, Long Live the War) asks: How can people play music through the worst calamities? Sourcing an encyclopedic knowledge of, and lifelong passion for, music, the author explores a range of examples. Not all of these are the sort of head-to-head conflict we’d term war; the interview with B.B. King, for instance, details the artist’s persistence in the face of poverty and racism. Vulliamy is not a music writer, and it shows; his insights into music are unexceptional. But as one who has seen the worst and heard the best, he offers a hopeful if not unreservedly optimistic meditation on how the latter gets us through the former.
VERDICT This intriguing, at times poignant, contemplation will resonate with music fans of all stripes.

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