Perfect Pitch, Third Revised Edition

An Autobiography

By Nicolas Slonimsky
Edited by Electra Slonimsky Yourke

Subjects: Music, Performing Arts, Autobigraphy, General Interest
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438491639, 480 pages, March 2023
Paperback : 9781438491646, 480 pages, March 2023

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Electra Slonimsky Yourke
A Note about This Edition

I. Perfect Pitch

1. St. Petersburg

2. My Grandfather Invented the Telegraph

3. Joyless Youth, Joyful Revolution

4. Exodus

5. Paris

6. Rochester

7. Koussevitzkiana

8. Boston Beginnings

9. Three Places in New England

10. Time Out

11. Disaster in Hollywood

12. Puella

13. Lofty Baton to Lowly Pen

14. Jailed Friend

15. Exotic Journeys

16. Interpolation: Grossmutterakkord

17. Back in the Family Fold

18. America Loves Russia

19. I, Diaskeuast!

20. Fame and Fortune

21. The Future of My Past

22. California, Here I Come

23. The Age of Absurdity

II. Oral History and Other Writings

Oral History

Edgard Varèse
1. Conversation with Nicolas Slonimsky on Edgard Varèse
2. Analysis of Ionisation

Heitor Villa-Lobos
1. A Visit
2. The Flamboyant Chanticleer

Cultural Explosion in the U.S.S.R.

Lexicographis Secundus Post Herculem Labor


The autobiography of one of the 20th century’s most innovative and wittiest composers/performers/authors who witnessed the birth of modern music.


Perfect Pitch tells the compelling story of Nicolas Slonimsky. A boy prodigy as a pianist, Slonimsky fled pre-Communist Russia, reaching Paris at the height of another revolution—one in music and the arts. His early association with conductor Serge Koussevitzky brought him into contact with many of the era's greatest talents, including Igor Stravinsky and Serge Prokofiev. Emigrating to Boston in 1925, he embarked on a writing career, authoring key works still in print decades after their first publication, including Music Since 1900, a chronological history; Lexicon of Musical Invective, which proved definitively that new works are rarely understood in their time; and Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, which inspired generations of composers and performers, including jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. Known for his sharp wit, Slonimsky appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and was befriended by Frank Zappa. Perfect Pitch captures a life that was rich with discovery and invention and spanned a century of revolutions and explorations. This new edition is enhanced with several previously unpublished photographs, an extensive oral history, and several original essays, some reprinted for the first time.

Nicolas Slonimsky (1894–1995) was a Russian-born United-States-based writer, lexicographer, pianist, composer, conductor, and champion of contemporary music. His many books include Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns; and Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven's Time.


From the Original Reviews

"A rewarding, compelling and very funny read." — New York Times

"If you combine the Encyclopedia Britannica with a history of music written by Oscar Wilde, you will have something resembling the extraordinary Slonimsky memoirs." — Leonard Bernstein

"Rare is the book that can be praised both for its wisdom and for raucous humor. This is such a book." — Washington Post