The Wrong Turning

The Wrong Turning:
Encounters with Ghosts

Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: Notting Hill Editions
ISBN-10: 1912559307
Publication date: 5 Oct 2021

A curated selection of chilling ghost stories from world literature, introduced and edited by broadcaster Stephen Johnson. What these tales of the supernatural have in common is the theme of taking a ‘wrong turning’ in which the protagonists are made to face their darkest fears. In the spirit of a fireside storyteller, each tale has an afterword by Stephen Johnson, to suggest what the story might really be telling us. Read more…

The Eighth: Mahler and the World in 1910

The Eighth: Mahler and the World in 1910

ISBN: 9780571234943 (0571234941)
Edition Type: Hardback
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Pages: 320
Publication date: 5th Mar 2020

The Eighth Symphony was going to be different from anything Mahler had ever done before. The intensely personal dramas of his earlier symphonies were a thing of the past – or rather, they were now to be seen as preludes to this new, culminating symphonic statement: he was quite sure it was the greatest thing he had ever written. Stephen Johnson recounts its far-reaching effect on composers, conductors and writers of the time – Berg and Schoenberg and the teenage Korngold, Bruno Walter and Klemperer, and the writers Stefan Zweig and Thomas Mann.
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How Shostakovich Changed My Mind

How Shostakovich Changed My Mind

Hardcover: 152 pages
Publisher: Notting Hill Editions
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1910749451
ISBN-13: 978-1910749456
Publication date: 1 April 2018

Audio Reference Clips

BBC music broadcaster Stephen Johnson explores the power of Shostakovich’s music during Stalin’s reign of terror, and writes of the extraordinary healing effect of music on sufferers of mental illness. Johnson looks at neurological, psychotherapeutic and philosophical findings, and reflects on his own experience, where he believes Shostakovich’s music helped him survive the trials and assaults of bipolar disorder.’There’s something about hearing your most painful emotions transformed into something beautiful…’ The old Russian who uttered those words spoke for countless fellow survivors of Stalin’s reign of terror. And the ‘something beautiful’ he had in mind was the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. Read more…

Discover Music of the Classical Era

Discover Music of the Classical Era

Paperback: 164 pages
Publisher: Naxos Books
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1843792354
ISBN-13: 978-1843792352
Publication date: 1 April 2008

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Visually and aurally engaging (with illustrations on CD), this book introduces music composed in the period from the middle of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth, and shows how events and ideas of this extraordinarily turbulent period find reflection in its music.
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Wagner: His Life and Music

Wagner: His Life and Music

Paperback: 256 pages, 2-colour inside, 20 illustrations
Author: Stephen Johnson
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-84379-200-0
Publication date: April 2007

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Well over a century after Wagner’s death, the man and his music are as controversial as ever. Praised for his profound insights into the workings of the human heart, he has also been condemned as a proto-fascist and an arrogant bore. His vast four-part operatic Ring cycle has been elevated as one of the greatest achievements of western culture and dismissed as an unparalleled example of creative megalomania.

This book makes no attempt to gloss over the darker sides of Wagner’s character, personally or artistically, but argues that the finer aspects of his vision transcend its flaws. It tells the story of an extraordinary life, and charts Wagner’s development, from unpromising beginnings, into the creator of some of the most brilliantly innovatory and seductively beautiful music ever composed. The book also contains 2 CDs of music spanning Wagner’s career along with information on free access to a dedicated website with hours of extra music and other bonus material.
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Mahler: His Life and Music

Mahler: His Life and Music

Language: English 224 pages, 2-colour inside, 20 illustrations
Author: Stephen Johnson
ISBN: 1-84379-114-5
Publication date: April 2006

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For Gustav Mahler, there was nothing abstract or escapist about music. ‘The symphony must be like the world,’ he insisted. ‘It must embrace everything.’ He lived up to that ideal spectacularly, creating works of such emotional range and imaginative power that each feels like a world in itself. Uniquely, Mahler made himself the prism through which that wealth of experience is refracted.

This book follows Mahler’s development as man and composer, and sets out the experiences – the personal joys and sorrows as well as the broader cultural forces – that formed him, and made him one of the most widely loved and admired composers in the whole classical repertoire.
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Bruckner Remembered

Bruckner Remembered

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Language English
ISBN-10: 0571170951
ISBN-13: 978-0571170951
Publication date: 16 Mar 1998

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Over a century after his death, Bruckner the man remains an enigma. Popular anecdotes represent him as a visionary simpleton, his life dominated exclusively by music and religion. And yet this same bizarre figure is widely held to have produced some of the most original and sophisticated music written in the second half of the nineteenth century. The reminiscences collected here allow insights into a much more complicated, sometimes tormented mind. Dark obsessions are revealed, and there are hints of acute sexual frustration, as well as indications that Bruckner’s faith was not unclouded by doubt. Students and colleagues describe how Bruckner composed and record some of the extra-musical ideas behind the music. The composer’s battles with the would-be ‘improvers’ of his scores are illustrated, and there are tantalising accounts of Bruckner’s organ improvisations, which gained him international recognition even when his major works were misunderstood or simply ignored.

Alongside these are memories of a Bruckner who, despite his striking eccentricities, could be excellent company: high-spirited, humorous – even witty: a good dancer and a natural children’s entertainer. Inevitably, there are several stories about Bruckner’s disastrous infatuations with teenage girls, some funny, others sad – loneliness was evidently an abiding problem for Bruckner. But this was also a man who could inspire deep feelings of loyalty, even devotion, in those who knew him. Taken together, these accounts offer the first fully rounded portrait in the English language of this popular but misunderstood composer.


Ludwig Van Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Paperback: 108 pages
Publisher: Pavilion Books (15 May 1997)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1862050015
ISBN-13: 978-1862050013

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Written with enthusiasm and accessible prose, the Classic FM Lifelines series will become the Everyman of musical biographies.



The Telegraph 
Was Mahler killed by his own symphony?

2 March 2020
His ‘Eighth’ offers an inclusive, idealistic world vision, but it may have taken a fatal toll on the composer. In 1910, right at the end of his life, Gustav Mahler finally made his breakthrough as a composer. Until then, music-lovers across the western world saw him as a great conductor who also composed.
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BBC Proms Guide 
Vaughan Williams - Two-Way Vision

Anniversaries are rarely better timed than this one. No twentieth century British composer stands more in need of reassessment than Ralph Vaughan Williams. You might wonder why a composer whose position at the top of the Classic FM ‘Hall of Fame’ list is beginning to look like a permanent fixture should be a candidate for urgent revaluation. It’s not as though the work that regularly emerges as the nation’s favourite, The Lark Ascending, is anything less than top-drawer VW.
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The Guardian
Per Nørgård - Night Vision

13 July 2004

Per Nørgård is unique. No-one who knows the 68 year-old Danish composer and his bizarrely wonderful music is likely to disagree with that. There are people who, as Thomas Hardy put it, carry their own atmosphere around them like a planet. Nørgård is one of them. To spend three-quarters with an hour with him (as I did early in April) is to be transported from the mundane reality of a fashionable London cafe to a world where normal laws hardly seem relevant.
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BBC Music Magazine
What Happened When the Wall Came Down?

September 2002

There’s a telling little scene in George Schultz's famous Peanuts cartoon strip. Linus and his sister Lucy are sitting together, reading. Linus looks up from his book and says: ‘Did you know that in the old days people thought the world was flat, and if you sailed too far you’d fall off the edge and be eaten by monsters?’ Both children laugh helplessly. Then Lucy frowns, and asks: ‘What do we think now?’
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Opera Explained Wagner: The Ring of the Nibelung

Opera Explained
Wagner: The Ring of the Nibelung

Naxos  8.558184-85 (2 CDs)
Released October 2007

Wagner’s Ring cycle is the most ambitious work in the history of music: four operas that combine to tell a single epic story. Based in legend, it has become a legend in its own right: a supreme challenge for conductors, singers, opera producers, and indeed for audiences.

But for all its grandeur and complexity, The Ringis far more accessible than many music lovers think. In this two-CD guide Stephen Johnson explains the basics of the plot, profiles the leading characters, and shows how Wagner’s revolutionary music adds fascinating layers of meaning and psychological insight, as well as providing some of the most stirring and intoxicating moments in the entire operatic repertoire.

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