A man of untiring energy and humor, Nicolas Slonimsky has led a long and accomplished musical life, and today in his nineties he is a vital presence in American music. In 1985, an extensive New Yorker profile described him as "a man of countless daffy stunts and almost as many authentic achievements." Indeed, Slonimsky pursued four distinct careers, each with its own degree of success: as a pianist, as a composer, as an pioneering conductor who championed modern American composers, among them Ives, Varese and Cowell, who long afterwards came to be acknowledged as giants of the new century. It was in his fourth career, as a musical lexicographer, that he achieved world-wide recognition, particularly as editor of the highly respected Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, a reference work renowned for its highly imaginative, lively, and gem-like entries.
He is also a master raconteur. In Perfect Pitch, his fast-paced and often hilarious autobiography, he recounts in fascinating detail a life that spans the whole of 20th-century music, ranging from his childhood in St. Petersburg, where he studied piano with his illustrious aunt, Isabelle Vengerova, to his years as secretary and "piano pounder" to Serge Koussevitzky, to his present career as musical lexicographer. He describes the extraordinary accomplishments of members of his family; Russia before, during, and after the Revolution; his successful appearances as conductor in Paris, Berlin, and New York, and his fall from grace at the Hollywood Bowl; the whimsical pleasures of lexicographical detective work; unexpected fame and fortune as a game show contestant; and much, much more. Along the way, the reader meets famous personalities as seen through Slonimsky's eye, names such as Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Eugene Ormandy, Leonard Bernstein, John Cage, and Frank Zappa. Also included is the correspondence from Henry Cowell in prison, providing a stirring commentary on the persecution of this remarkable American musician.
Crowded with illuminating anecdotes, Perfect Pitch captures a life packed with odd and arcane developments, related in a style full of wit, spice, and irreverence.