Laurence Vittes | From the May-June 2021 issue of Strings magazine
Oxford University Press’ newest title in its Notes for Performers series offers historical and analytical information on 35 pieces for the viola, from Bach to Weber. The author is David M. Bynog, head of acquisitions at Fondren Library, Rice University, a violist himself who has edited more than 40 compositions. He knows the music inside-out and is the ideal guide for viola explorers.
In addition to the usual suspects, like the Walton Concerto and Harold in Italy, Bynog has included major works that are not yet regularly heard on the programs of major orchestras, like Bartók’s Concerto and Martinů’s Rhapsody-Concerto. Three works were written in the last 50 years (Penderecki, Shostakovich, and Toru Takemitsu), two by women (Rebecca Clarke and Lillian Fuchs).
Each entry begins with the details of the work followed by a one- or two-paragraph capsule consisting of a pertinent, often eye-opening quotation from the composer or a perceptive observer, a biographical sketch, and the analysis. The persuasive capsules will be invaluable to program-note writers and casual music lovers, while the scope of the music provides an insight into the world of the viola.
Bynog himself didn’t take the common route of switching to the viola from the violin. “I knew I had made the right choice when my teacher told me that it had its own clef. I had learned how to read the treble and bass clefs, so the idea of getting my own special clef seemed awesome,” he says.
Bynog’s Guide is available hardbound, as a paperback, and, at a more affordable price, on Kindle. (The Kindle version is identical to the excellent print edition except that the dynamics and certain music symbols are a bit fuzzier.)