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Joan Peyser (1930–2011)

Author of Bernstein: A Biography

Includes the names: Joan Peyser; Introduction Jacques Barzun

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Joan Peyser was born Joan Goldstein to a Jewish-American family in New York City. When she was a child, her father changed her surname and her brother’s to Gilbert to protect them from anti-Semitism. Joan began studying music at age 5, and played a piano recital at Town Hall when she was 13. She went to the High School of Music and Art, where she also studied the viola. She attended Smith College for two years, then transferred to Barnard College to complete her bachelor’s degree in music. She then earned a master’s degree at Columbia University in 1956. In 1949, she married Herbert S. Peyser, later a psychiatrist, with whom she had three children. She began writing about music while still a student, publishing articles in Opera News and other publications. In 1966, an article in the Columbia University Forum led to a book contract for The New Music: The Sense Behind the Sound (1970). It was followeded by Boulez: Composer, Conductor, Enigma (1976). In 1999, she combined the two books into a single volume, To Boulez and Beyond: Music in Europe Since The Rite of Spring. She also wrote biographies of Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin. Ms. Peyser was the editor of The Musical Quarterly from 1977 to 1984. Among her many prizes were six Deems Taylor Awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for excellence in writing on music.
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