by Jonathan Biss

Jonathan Biss’ book should be read alongside Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia (2007). The latter uses science to understand why music is so vital to humans, whereas Coda takes more of a nurture (versus nature) approach to explain why it means so much to its author. A musician and writer, Biss is able to captivate with not only the music he refers to (sending this reviewer online to listen to unfamiliar works), but also the way he explains the effect of, say, Beethoven’s Op. 111 or the triptych of sonatas Schubert wrote in the last months of his short life (he died of syphilis in 1828 at the age of 31). Comparing Biss’ description of a piece of music to the work itself is a fun exercise in appreciating it through the ears of the author, limiting though that may be. This Kindle Single is Biss’ internal monologue made public. After 36 years of playing the piano, he tells of the time when, as a child, he “heard a death” – one final heartbeat – in a piano sonata, and asks: “Are the people who react most strongly to music those of us who are least able to say the things we need to say?”