THE first book I have ever seen which presents the case of the amateur chamber musician is friends and Fiddlers (Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.00) by Catherine Drinker Bowen. It is a bright, often witty, account of a family and friends whose diet and delight are in that foreign country designed by Beethoven and Brahms and bounded by the Horn Trio and the string sextet. Mrs. Bowen says that she is writing out of gratitude: ‘I want to write about music because I am grateful’; and her book is indeed ‘something more personal than a crusade, something nearer to the greedy heart.’ But books of this sort are the hardest to criticize: I feel that I am looking at the writers more than at the page. This is something about themselves that they want to say. It is about music this time, and a very special and difficult quarter of music: the caviare of music, and the author is addressing herself to the general.
I wonder how far the general will get with it. Mrs. Bowen’s pleasure, and her friends’ pleasure, in music issue from the wells of hard work, not from genius. But her circle of cello husbands and viola wives (her own good phrase), of ladies who in their automobiles practise singing a fourth at every right-hand turn and a fifth at every left, of children who count andantes with their stomachs, and orphans who appear suddenly saying, ‘ I got a vylin, I want to learn it,’ is still sadly beyond the simpler circles which the tangents of our common lives seem miserably to touch. The best I can do is to offer the word of a poor part singer that Mrs. Bowen’s ease is valid, and that a reading of her serious yet lighthearted essay will give the unbeliever a new approach to confraternal music. Most valid of all is her sane and practical view of the child about to enter the dragon cave of the music teacher. ‘ If there were some way they could discover music for themselves, and not be pulled to it, sulking under the harness!‘ Her suggestions are simple and sound. Indeed, Mrs. Bowen, whose extradomestic life is one to he honestly envied, has written her book with the ‘perfect peripheral vision’ of a gentleman she describes, who said: ‘ Looking straight at you like this, I can see everything on both sides of me, all the way back to my ears.’ What the radio has brought to the home is partly music, but mostly radio; Mrs. Bowen does n’t quite give it its due. But what we need, of course, is music from the fingers and the larynx. ’A quartet in every port’ has been her way of saying it — but read her delightful book.