A Musician Before His Time

Constantin Silvestri


A biography by John Gritten with a Foreword by Yehudi Menuhin, 70 illustrations, 304 pp including a discography. First published 1998 in London by Kitzinger. 20. ISBN 1900496-12-7. Available through book shops, online from http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1900496127/musiclink07, by mail order or special offer.

For the first time the fascinating life story is told of a musician who has been compared to Von Karajan and Barbirolli. Silvestri's conducting electrified East European audiences in the Fifties and worldwide in the Sixties and his superb recordings by EMI and the BBC are continually being reissued - the latest are two versions of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony coupled with Liszt's Tasso and Respighi's Pines of Rome. The Gramophone commented:

After listening to conducting like this, you might ask why the Romanian Silvestri didn't occupy  a more elevated position in the musical hierarchy and public consciousness. This is without question one of the greatest ever recordings ... Something of a minor miracle ... The Silvestri phenomenon ... (February 1999.)

The manuscript of A Musician Before His Time was used in the production of  BBC Radio 3's Vintage Years two-hour programme on Silvestri.

From exclusive access to his personal letters and research in Bucharest, the author reveals Silvestri's pre-war struggles in Romania against ill-health and intrigue, his loves, set-backs, triumphs and frustration at political interference. As a composer of some 40 orchestral, chamber and vocal works he was considered avant-garde.

Interviewed in Bucharest, Paris and in the UK, over 40 of Silvestri's contemporaries give their impressions of him: composers, conductors and soloists of the calibre of Daniel Barenboim, lda Haendel, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Peter Frankl, Peter Katin, Sir Charles Groves, Marius Constant, Iosif Conta and Anatol Vieru; in France, Michele Boegner, Livia Rev, Edgar Cosma and Eric Heidseck.

Silvestri became a British citizen shortly before his soaring reputation was cut short by cancer at 55. In the words of the eminent specialist who tended him: 'The world has lost a great musician.'

John Gritten has revealed a complex and dynamic person ... The book is written in a readable, journalistic style, clearly aimed at the general music-lover rather than the specialist - yet even the latter will find valuable information here. 

International Record Review.

Aside from purely factual discoveries, the strength of Gritten's book - the first substantial writing about the conductor in English - is its selection of quoted descriptions as to what Silvestri's music-making actually sounded like (all too rare in many conductor biographies). . . .His book is more appreciation than biography - a labour of love. This story is well worth telling and reading.

BBC Music Magazine

John Gritten's painstakingly researched and generously illustrated book must be welcomed, especially as a reminder of Silvestri's achievements wih the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra . . . Absolutely indispensable to anyone who admired this brilliantly individual musician.

 Classical Music

In John Gritten, Silvestri has found a sympathetic, fluent advocate who brings out the colour and warmth of the conductor's personality as well as providing valuable insights into Silvestri's qualities as a musician...Gritten's book is at its best in discussing the personal and musical details of Silvestri's years in Bournemouth...Connoisseurs of conductors will find much of interest in this absorbing book.

Journal of the Conductors Guild, USA. 

The author of A Musician Before His Time has meticulously teased out the line of development of this many-sided artist in his early years as a daring composer, a brilliant extempore recitalist and a conductor of extraordinary ability. He writes with great sympathy about the years of illness and self doubt during which the budding composer burnt some of his early manuscripts and even had thoughts of suicide. . . One can only wonder how this truly amazing story has lain dormant for 30 years . . .This well researched and documented biography of a man whom many called a genius is a good read from beginning to end, with many wonderful anecdotes and 70 illustrations, several produced for the first time.

Information Romania

A marvellously comprehensive, lovingly compiled and well-researched portrait of Silvestri ... Gritten's intelligent book shows that the love of Silvestri bestowed on the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is still being returned.

Piano Journal

In an early phase of his 46 years in journalism (including being an Official Naval Reporter in WW2; reporting, feature-writing and news editing on national dailies, and an international news magazine managing editor), he was impressed by Silvestri's conducting of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, in the Royal Festival Hall in 1957, one of the maestro's two London debut concerts.

His interest in Silvestri's homeland, Romania, developed during many visits.

John Gritten


Anda Anastasescu | London Schubert Players | The Constantin Slivestri International Foundation

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