NEW YORK: ALFRED A. knopf, 2011
A Natural History of the Piano
The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians—from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between
"Mr. Isacoff… follows the piano into the honkytonk, the drawing room, the middle-class home and the jazz club, tracking the evolution of the physical instrument itself as well as the composers and performers who made the piano an emblem of cultural variety and a laboratory for musical form…. [His] discussion of jazz piano reflects an intense affection for the music and its practitioners."
— wall street journal
"The cumulative result is like listening to a fascinating raconteur who informs and entertains and really knows his stuff.... Passion and unstoppable enthusiasm are palpable throughout this beautifully written and illustrated book."
— Eugenia Zukerman, Washington Post
"He delivers the rarest of treats: a substantial book about music that's actually easy to read.... The book's strongest passages are those in which Isacoff, an award-winning music journalist, dwells on the instrument itself, relating several fascinating tales about its invention, metamorphosis and extra-musical developments.... As a primer on the piano and music history... it executes the job with distinction."
— Zachary Lewis, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Here is [the piano's] history, from Cristofori to Yamaha, from Mozart to Thelonious Monk, written by a pianist and historian with a lively touch and a reach that spans octaves of science, culture and politics…. This is a generous, welcoming book, full of oddities and insights."
— Dallas Morning News
"Tickling 400 years of piano lore into about 300 pages may seem to risk disharmony. But in A Natural History of the Piano… Stuart Isacoff proves as fleet-fingered as any virtuoso."
— Chronicle of Higher Education
"This is a thoroughly researched and entertaining one-stop biography of an instrument we all love."
— Jazz Times
"Written for the layman as well as for the professional, and both will find pleasure in its pages.... It contains a wealth of information, lavish illustrations, thought-proving comments, and most of all, it is a pleasure to read."
— CLAVIER COMPANION
"This beautifully presented survey of all things keyboard… is accurately and articulately mapped out by a writer who is hugely knowledgeable and, vitally, passionate about his subject."
— International Piano (International Piano CHOICE selection)
The title only serves as a mere hint at the breadth of information covered in the book; the work bears a distinct parallel to Isacoff's own considerable and multifaceted career as a pianist, critic, teacher, award-winning write, and editor.... The book is a great read... Any reader will part with A Natural History of the Piano having a renewed appreciation for the complexity and magic of the piano, its music and development, as well as an array of musically sophisticated dinner party anecdotes."
— MUSIC REFERENCE SERVICES QUARTERLY
"Wise, warm, witty and always erudite, Isacoff's engaging style brings out a lifetime of love for the instrument and those who make music with it…. This is a treat for all pianists and pianophiles alike, one that leaves behind a rare glow of warmth."
— Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine (BBC Music Magazine Book Choice)
"A volume to inspire and delight."
— The Independent (UK), Books of the Year, 2012
"This book is both vastly entertaining and wonderfully informative…. Comprehensive and quite brilliant."
— Classical Music (UK), Editor's Choice
"This book will delight and enthrall pianists and pianophiles everywhere."
— The Cross-Eyed Pianist (UK)
"Isacoff's prose easily builds bridges and blurs boundaries between classical and jazz, as he traces Oscar Peterson's scary pianistic command back to his studies with Paul de Marky (a pupil of Liszt) or links the powerful, motoric pianism of middle-period Beethoven, early Jerry Lee Lewis and every-period Cecil Taylor in one fell swoop."
— Jed Distler, Gramophone (UK)
"A remarkable book…. Stuart Isacoff has achieved something significant in presenting a rich history of the piano in such an engaging form. His observations are rooted not only in historical learning but in the quality of his musical ear, which should encourage musicians and audiences to think afresh about the instrument, its repertoire, and the nature of performance."
— Bulliver Ralston, LITERARY REVIEW (UK)
"Pianists of all levels, music history buffs, and academics will appreciate Isacoff's insights and clever way with words; this is an enjoyable and informative book."
— Library Journal
"This is a big slice of heaven for piano lovers."
— Booklist (Starred Review)
"The author's ability to convey his formidable erudition in the most engaging terms, coupled with his infectious enthusiasm for music of all kinds, make this a charming and highly readable potpourri. Informative fun for every variety of music lover."
— Kirkus Reviews
"As he displays the kind of easy familiarity with the history and substance of piano music that the rest of us struggle for decades to achieve, the story becomes highly charged with experience and curiosity…. It's almost like listening to the music as you read Isacoff's relaxed, compelling prose."
— Huffington post
"Isacoff is an exuberant witness who finds and shares infectious pleasure in everything about the piano."
— LA Times
"Isacoff's very inclusive approach is lightened by the style of the book, which will appeal even to those with short attention spans."
— Seattle Times
"Mr. Isacoff moves easily from discussing his favorite jazz artist, Oscar Peterson, to Mozart to Horowitz…. The reader happily rambles along through his piano potpourri."
— The Washington Times
"As he swings a wide net from the cultivated to the vernacular, he creates an enjoyable read."
— Sunday Star-Ledger
"This book, so layered with anecdote that it reads like a novel or a good biography, explores the story of the piano: its players, composers, and inventors, teachers and students, patrons, critics and promoters… I hated to see this book end."
— Hudson Valley News
— The New York Post
"In Stuart Isacoff's A Natural History of the Piano, never before have I learned and enjoyed so much about the instrument and its most distinctive practitioners—transcending so many categories of music. Whether the subject is jazz or classical music, the writing is unfailingly engaging and revealing."
— Nat Hentoff
"Supremely informative as well as fascinating and entertaining — highly recommended."
— Vladimir Ashkenazy
"Anybody who cares about the piano — past, present and future — will find this book irresistible reading. I always learn so much from Stuart Isacoff and have a good time in the process."
— Tim Page
"Stuart Isacoff's great meditation on all piano-related matters is a delight, both informative and entertaining. To borrow the author's categories, I find the writing both melodic and combustible."
— Dick Hyman
"Stuart Isacoff's "A Natural History of the Piano" is a dazzling structural juxtaposition from Mozart, Liszt and Horowitz to Joplin, Tatum and Jerry Lee Lewis, written with verve and sensitivity." Piano lovers will eat it up!
— David Dubal, author, The Art of the Piano
"Irresistible! Stuart Isacoff charts the three-century evolution of the world's most popular instrument with insight, love, and wit, garnished with the wisdom of today's foremost masters of classical and jazz."
— Sedgwick Clark, Editor, Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts
"I loved this book. Isacoff tells the story of the piano through every conceivable device and viewpoint: profiles of the jazz and classical masters of the instrument, technical details, social history, anecdotal sidebars, interviews and unexpected digressions. And he never forgets that piano lore includes the highest of high culture as well as the pop-est of pop. It's a terrifically enjoyable read."
— Sara Fishko, NPR'S Fishko Files
"Every page of this book is filled with the poetry of Isacoff's writing.... how [he] weaves what he has discovered into a gripping and entertaining narrative is sheer magic."
— Frank Brady, author of The New York Times bestseller Endgame