Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More

Oxford Univ. Feb. 2020. 464p. ISBN 9780374252540. $30. MUSIC
Named one of “Twenty Living Polymaths” by the Economist, pianist Hough, the first classical performer to be awarded a MacArthur fellowship, muses on a myriad matters, musical and otherwise. Despite the title, these 200-plus essays are anything but rough; they are polished bits of prose, some previously published, others developed from notes made on the road, all skillfully composed and a joy to read. Hough takes us backstage, onstage, and into the studio, wryly noting that he has “written about music and the life of a musician (not always the same thing).” He expounds on composers, including Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Frédéric Chopin; people he’s known and places he’s visited; and religion (Hough is a convert to Catholicism) and social issues.
VERDICT Hough writes with wit, grace, and a singular point of view. His book offers rare insight into the mind of one of the leading performers of classical music.
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