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Pianist Finds the Keys to New Kindle Format

12.20.11
Jonathan Biss
WQXR

By Jocelyn Bonadio

Reading the blog of your favorite living composer or instrumentalist is quickly becoming an indispensable part of classical music fandom. The exchange of thoughts, news and aesthetic views can build loyalty and connect fans and musicians in a vital way. Enter the Kindle.

Perhaps. A relatively new outlet for online publishing, the Kindle Single, is not only being identified as a significant trend in journalism for 2012, but was recently adopted with much promise by the pianist Jonathan Biss.

Longer than a newspaper article but much shorter than a book, Kindle Singles are typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words, and sold on Amazon.com for less than $5, sometimes as little as 99 cents. Biss’s Kindle Single Beethoven’s Shadow was released last Friday, on the 241st anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, and is currently one of the top ten best-selling Singles, alongside works by authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Amy Tan.

Beethoven's Shadow is a series of reflections by the pianist on the task of taking on a recording cycle of Beethoven's complete piano sonatas. He discusses his own relationship to the composer and some of the Beethoven pianists who have come before him. The Single is (not coincidentally) timed to precede the release of the first installment of Biss's recording cycle, out January 9 on the Onyx Classics label.

Since 2007, Biss has made periodic updates to a blog on his Web site. Last year, he chronicled his preparation for his debut recital at Carnegie Hall through semi-regular posts. His decision to take on the nine-year project of recording all the Beethoven sonatas warranted a larger written component.

Biss joins a number of musicians whose online writings are often intended to be educational, or at the very least to spark discussion about the creative process. Composer Nico Muhly wrote earlier this fall about the difficultly for composers of getting a recording made, for instance. Pianist Brad Mehldau offers a free "PDF book" of all of his writings (including a six-part series entitled “Creativity in Beethoven and Coltrane”) on his Web site. In 2008, John Adams penned his own autobiography, Hallelujah Junction, and continues to write extensively on his blog.