A coup is in the air in Pyongyang


James Church: Hidden Moon
ISBN 978-0-312-38766-2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A thriller with a North Korean police inspector at the center of the plot. A bank robbery in Pyongyang, that officially never happened, a corpse that disappears, an investigation that some want to succeed and others would like to see fail. A power struggle shakes the autocratic leadership, a coup is in the air – and the valiant inspector O tries to clear the minefield without stepping on something that will blow up in his face. Another exciting spy novel by James Church, apparently a former intelligence operative.

Inspector O’s devotion as a police officer, his calmness in the midst of dramatic events makes me think of a work of the Japanese composer Tore Takemitsu called “In an Autumn Garden”:

Walk with me through the Garden of Peace

Liszt – Pathfinder in the post-Romantic era


Michael Stegemann: Franz Liszt – Genie im Abseits. ISBN 978-3-492-05429-4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ What a man! What a book! This biography presents the life and works of the composer Franz Liszt in many fascinating details and highlights the avantgardistic ideas he had about music. The number of enemies he made and the (flimsy) aesthetic arguments his enemies put forward to discredit Liszt’s music is a solid testimony of the composer’s forsight about the post-Romantic development of music. Arguments one hears again a century and a half later about the Neue Musik, classical compositions of the 20th and 21st century. Most interesting is also the description of Liszt’s ambivalent relationship to his son-in-law, Richard Wagner, and the fact that he supported many young composers and pianists with sound advice, with money and with opportunities to perform and thus forge a reputation of their own. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in music history!

A symphonic poem written by Franz Liszt that I truly love despite the ambivalent feelings it triggers is Les Préludes:

How  a Romantic composer got hijacked by the Nazis

Birth and death of an illusion


Valérie Igounet, Vincent Jarousseau: L’illusion nationale
ISBN 978-2-35204-597-7 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️  A timely and interesting project: Two French journalists have interviewed over two years voters of the extremist party Front National (FN) and their opponents in three towns where the FN has won local elections. Supporters of Brexit, of Donald Trump and of the FN share many things: a feeling of insecurity, the fear to be a forgotten generation and to be despised by the ruling politicians, a vulnerability to populism. Marine Le Pen, the FN candidate, may have lost the presidential elections, but the issues uncovered in the book are real and need a solution, which the FN, selling merely a dream, cannot deliver and never will.

The Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich   gained throught his career a lot of experience in coping with changing personal and social circumstances. Some of his wisdom can be found in his Symphony No. 11:

Managing change – a matter of life and death

Dealing with Liszt’s genius and his critics


Jacques Drillon: Liszt transcripteur – Schubert et l’infini.
ISBN 978-2742-5463-6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A book for music enthusiasts only, very focused, well researched and extremely well written about Liszt’s excellence in transforming orchestral or chamber music into pieces for the piano and Schubert’s many unfinished works. Grillon is not afraid of stepping on the toes of world-class musicians, music critics and musicologists where they deserve it. He is French, after all!

One of Franz Liszt’s masterworks is the piano cycle “Années de Pélerinage:

Pilgrimage to Switzerland and Italy

Franz Schubert wrote a magnificent quartet called “Death and the Maiden”:

Composing while death is knocking on the door

A brilliant fool’s story of survival

Angel Wagenstein: Isaac’s Torah ISBN: 978-1-59051-245-6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Isaac Blumenfeld survives two world wars, the Holocaust and Stalin’s camps mainly by acting like a fool. A grim and witty novel about a fate that stands for the fate of many Eastern European Jews, peppered with black humour and far-reaching theological and philosophical reflections. Superb story-telling – you will laugh and cry and hopefully think about the lessons of the past for the present and the future. For this is one of the leitmotivs of the novel: Becoming an accomplice to crime by looking away when populism has its way. מזל טוב to the Bulgarian author.

Dmitry Shostakovich has written a very impressive symphony named after the massacre in Babi Yar (Ukraine), one of the settings of Wagenstein’s novel:

Mass murder and a lesson in morality