One Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra

One Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra
James Mayhew
Otter-Barry Books

You can tell a story with words, you can tell a story with pictures and you can tell a story with music; you might perhaps use them all. In tandem with his book creating, that is the way of life for James Mayhew.

The six stories in this book are tales that were the inspiration for some of the best known classical music in the world and each one is illustrated and told with James’s consummate skill and artistry.

What better way to introduce Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice music than to share the story of the broom that the young apprentice brought to life and in so doing caused a flood? Or maybe youngsters would enjoy doing battle with a host of hungry trolls, they of the scary eyes and crooked teeth conjured up In The Hall of the Mountain King.

How about visiting Tuonela, the realm of the dead underworld in Finnish mythology and there encountering The Swan of Tuonela, the sacred bird that swims on the black river? I found myself searching out Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s rendition of Sibelius’ symphonic poem after reading the story and being so moved by the mother’s search for her son.

A wonderful precursor to hearing Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee is to get to know the tale of the prince who morphs into a bumblebee to find his true love.

Switzerland’s most famous folk hero William Tell, the brave archer who risked his life to stand against an evil tyrant for the sake of his fellow Swiss countryfolk, may well be familiar to readers: Rossini based his opera on a play by German poet Friedrich von Schiller and that story too is retold herein. It’s almost impossible to keep still if you hear the finale to The William Tell Overture.

Another famous Rimsky-Korsakov masterpiece, Scheherazade was inspired by the remaining tale, wherein we meet Sinbad the Sailor who was swept from a ship by the flick of a terrible sea monster’s tail when working aboard. Just one of the stories told to the Sultan by the titular Scheherazade..

I love so many things about this book, not least being the clever way in which snippets of musical notation form part of the stunning illustrations on every spread.

(Backmatter includes a paragraph about each work and its composer as well as recommended sources of recordings of the music.)

This is a book that surely deserves a place on family bookshelves and in classroom collections.

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