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"Beethoven's was a tempestuous, interesting life"

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Age is just a number for Bandra resident, nonagenarian Homi Dastoor who has just released his labour of love — Musical Journeys, which is a tribute to the all-time greats of Western Classical music

For 90-year-old Homi Dastoor, learning a new skill is never a challenge. Especially if one goes by the fact that after his retirement from Bombay House, he decided to learn to play the violin at 75, from 25-year-old tutor Kenneth D’Souza of the Bombay Philharmonic Orchestra.

Homi Dastoor. Pic courtesy/Sooni Taraporevala
Homi Dastoor. Pic courtesy/Sooni Taraporevala

Dastoor's Musical Journeys: A personal introduction to Western Classical Composers, echoes his endearing love affair with Western Classical music in every sense of the term. It begins on the right note, with a glowing foreword by maestro and legend Zubin Mehta.

Beethoven toiled sitting at his piano for long hours
Beethoven toiled sitting at his piano for long hours

The book is a treasure trove of information for the curious mind, keen on understanding the lives and contributions of musicians who shaped Western Classical music. A collector’s item, the lucid and easy-to-negotiate book, courtesy Kermin Colaco of Carma Design, is packed with interesting photographs and interspersed with facts to ensure that both learners and collectors alike will warm up to it.

 The cover of the book
The cover of the book

This apart, the personal touches that Dastoor mentions in his introduction, be it his first music acquisition, Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A Major, K 219 played by Heifetz, Mehli Mehta’s influence on him or his zest to never stop learning, will touch the reader and also reveal his untiring intensity.

Excerpts from an interview with Dastoor, with help from his daughter, author Meher Marfatia, who also published this mini encyclopaedia.

 Samson and Delilah composed by Saint Saens
Samson and Delilah composed by Saint Saens

Q. How long did this book take to fructify, from start to end?
A. My handwritten notes from 70 years ago were still in quite a tidy state! So considering the length and sweep of the book it wasn’t too long a stretch of writing. After 70 years of listening to this music, it took me two years from start to finish. From 2012, when I accepted my children’s suggestion to share with readers young and old my encounters with classical music. I began when I was 88 and today, I have just celebrated my 90th birthday.

 Bach lost his eyesight working late into the night
Bach lost his eyesight working late into the night

Q. Who were your favourite go-to people when you needed to cross-reference or check on facts and other rare trivia that finds its way in this book?
A. My precious old books, dating back to the 40s and 50s, have been exhaustive reference sources. Mine is a qualitative rather than quantitative collection. Though, yes, the person I have relied on to a large extent is my nephew Farrokh Vajifdar who lives in London.

 Johann Strauss with Johannes Brahms. Pics courtesy/ Musical Journeys 49/50 books
Johann Strauss with Johannes Brahms. Pics courtesy/ Musical Journeys 49/50 books

He went to England after completing his Senior Cambridge studies. But while he was here it was my pleasure to introduce him to the joys of Western Classical music — which became his lasting passion and now he has updated as well as added considerably to my text. For which I am truly thankful.

Q. What were some of the most enjoyable parts of this book? Which musical great surprised you the most?
A. I think I enjoyed researching and writing about each composer’s place in music history. There was such colour, great drama marking all their lives. Much of it was tragic too, of course. Look at how Beethoven, in turning deaf, was cruelly denied the faculty he really needed for his artistry. I find his a most tempestuous, interesting life.

Not only was each composer influenced by those before him, but also some of them left a stamp with their unique ideas on music. Like Berlioz who put down his views in his treatise on orchestration, instrumentation. I was also happy to examine the way they impacted each other.

Take the effect Paganini had on Liszt. Paganini’s virtuoso playing at his first concert in 1831 overwhelmed Liszt to the extent that he set himself the goal of becoming the “Paganini of the Piano”! He even went on a self-imposed sabbatical to realise this single-minded aim.

Q. What was going through your mind as you reached the end of writing this book?
A. I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction that I had carried out my children’s wishes. All the long hours I had spent in going through those copiously filled notebooks from 1942-43 became proof of labour well done.
Musical Journeys: A Personal Introduction to Western Classical Composers by Homi Dastoor, 49/50 Books. Rs 1,000. Available at leading bookstores, on crossword.in and amazon.in

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