Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The perfect ethical, and musical, Christmas present

If you want to give an ethical present this Christmas why not give 'An Unfinished Destiny', the biography of the brilliant harpsichordist Scott Ross whose complete Scarlatti Sonata recordings were my choice as the best thirty-four CDs of 2005?

No nasty corporate publishers or booksellers are involved with this wonderful book. But before buying it you need to read the small print. You will not find the book in your local Borders
or Waterstones, and it isn't on any of the Amazon databases. There is only one way to get a copy. Send 15 Euros in banknotes wrapped in black paper by post to the author (right) who lives in Montpellier in France (lucky man). You may have to wait for your copy, although mine came in four days - which is a lot faster than Amazon. Its absence from the inventories of Borders and Amazon is guaranteed by the lack of a standard ISBN identifier.

The book is available in French and English. This is genuine 'print on demand', but the process is reasuringly technolgy-lite. Both language versions are hand produced in batches of around twenty volumes by photo-copying the 215 pages, sticking in the numerous good quality photographs, cutting them on a guillotine (very French), then folding and hand sewing them into a finished volume. In the past fifteen years around 350 copies of the French version, and 20 of the English version, have been produced this way. So you are getting a genuine hand-crafted limited edition for your £10.20 ($18.02).

Author Michel Proulx (that is a self-portrait above) is as charismatic as his book. His credentials are fine, as an accomplished harpsichord maker he built an instrument for Scott Ross himself. But his CV includes working as a Club Méditerranée animateur, and a lorry driver and a meat delivery man from 1989 to 1991, as well as serving an apprenticeship in violin making, and taking a Master's at the Université Paul Valery in Montpellier. He is also something of an authority on Zen Bhudism.

If all this makes you think the book is going to be a bit cuckoo, you are wrong. This is an authoritative and well researched book, and because it is the only biography of Scott Ross (below), it is by definition the best. Sure, sometimes the English version needs translating - into English, the editing is a little short of Harper Collins standards, and Michel Proulx's way with words falls a little short of Norman Lebrecht's (but I guess his views on Mozart are a bit more acceptable). But don't let any of that put you off, this biography is valuable precisely because it is miles away from the standard record company biogs that are the only real source of information on Ross. There is a bibliography, list of sources, lexicon, and details of Ross' instruments. But what makes this eccentric little book so appealing is the way it takes the reader into the mind of a great, and tragically departed, musician. It is fascinating, for example, to read that Scott Ross was a follower of the 18th century French philosopher and man of letters, Denis Diderot (whose famous quotes include 'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step'), and that his approach to performance was influenced by Diderot's Paradox sur le Comédien (Paradoxes of the Actor).

'An Unfinished Destiny - Scott Ross, Master of the Harpshichord' is not only a wonderful ethical Christmas present. It is also a valuable addition to the resources about this important musician who, in his complete Scarlati Sonatas, left one of the greatest recorded legacies of the 20th century. And it will only cost you 15 Euros - wrapped in black paper of course.

Ordering details for 'An Unfinished Destiny - Scott Ross, Master of the Harpshichord' are available from author Michel Roulx's web site which is unsurprisingly somewhat unconventional.
Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Image credits: Self portrait and Scott Ross -
Michel Proulx
Scarlatti Sonatas -
Warner Classics
Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. If bandwidth is a problem with your permission I will host your image.
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to If you only buy thirty-four CDs this year buy these!

3 comments:

Emily said...

that harpsichord book sounds fantastic. Sadly, I can't really get Euros that easily (darn American banks charge an arm and a leg to exchange money), so I'll just have to lust freely for a while.

Pliable said...

Readers in the US & Canada have expressed interest in the Scott Ross biography, but have been deterred by the difficulty/cost of exchanging dollars into Euros.

I have contacted Michel Proulx who has confirmed he will accept payment of US$ 18 or Canadian $ 20 in bills/notes - wrapped in black paper of course!

Alternatively there is a source of the books in Canada who will accept a bank money order in US or Canadian dollars, for most details email p dot chapus at videotron dot ca

yudo said...

Hummm

I feel I have to correct a few mistakes.
The portrait is not self. It was done by an architect with whom I worked in 1973. The picture is not exactly up to date.

I confirm that I can take US banknotes. If necessary, I can also receive cheques payable on a Canadian bank.

And as for 'guillotine', we, in France, use the term "massicot". The guillotine is an invention that was developed in Italy in the 16th century, in order to avoid the horrors that occured at the beheading of Mary Stuart, because the executioner was not very efficient.
King Louis the XVI perfected it by adding the slanted blade. It ensured a swift death, albeit impressive. Compare with the electric chair or the lethal injection, or plain hanging... Of course, no execution is preferable. As anyone may read in the Lord of the Rings (among other places) "It is useless to meet revenge with revenge. It won't heal nothing".