Music and Chess: Achilleas Zographos, Russell Enterprises, Inc 2017 224pp
Reviewed by: Patriarch Fan
I’ve often heard people make connections between chess and math. From phrases such as “the geometry of the chessboard,” to the brute force calculations of millions of positions per second by the strongest computers and engines, there is a clear connection between the cold logic of chess and the absolute logic of math.
Less talked about, though no less true, is the relation between music and chess. There have been many who were high level practitioners of both. Vassily Smyslov was not only world chess champion, but also an operatic baritone. His colleague Mark Taimanov was a strong Grandmaster who played in the Candidates Matches for the world chess championship while also being a professional level piano player. Many others, such as GM Igor Ivanov studied both chess and music at an extremely high level.
In fact, it was Ivanov’s love and knowledge of classical music which inspired GM Jesse Kraai to use a Vivaldi piece for the trailer for his book Lisa, a Chess Novel which can be seen here.
It was the interconnection between his two loves which inspired Achilleas to write this book. A classically trained pianist with advanced degrees, Achilleas is also a certified FIDE trainer with a peak rating of 2205 and has been teaching both chess and music in Greece for nearly 20 years.
Before I get in to the meat of the review, I would like to point out my one and only actual complaint about this book. There are many times when either an article or a piece of music is referred to, whether in the text or the footnotes and the URL is given for the article or musical piece. In an electronic format that would be perfect, but when reading a paper copy of the book it’s unwieldy, and in my opinion likely will cause many readers to not experience the full effect that Mr. Zographos intended.
It would be a nice feature if there was a website listed where the reader could go and easily cross reference the links they desire and simply click on them from that website. That is literally the only complaint that I have about this book.
As for the content, it is nicely done. Textually, the book does have quite a scholarly slant, but that came as no surprise based on the premise. Sure, it’s nothing like reading a pulp novel, but I would assume that anyone picking up the book wouldn’t be expecting light and airy content.
A spectacular feature is the many pictures which appear in the book. While some are typical black and white reproductions, there are several full color photos and art prints. The art runs the gamut from Victorian to modern and include many nice selections which I had not seen before.
While the function of the book is to compare and contrast chess and music, the way in which Mr. Zographos does so is quite compelling.
For example, a picture similar to this is shown:
The author notes how this indicates a melody where the middle note is higher, which is graphically represented in a manner such as this:
He then notes that such movement can be depicted on a chess board as follows:
Among the chess content in the book are several games, fragments, studies, and diagrammed positions. Typically they are presented in a way that relates them with musical content using harmonics, imagination, complexity, etc.
However, it’s quite important to note that players of any rating will be able to enjoy this book. The explanations given are not complex or difficult to understand as long as you know how the pieces move and the most basic elements of strategy and tactics.
If you are a fan of both chess and music, or if you are a fan of one who would like to learn more about the other, then I highly recommend this book.
Best Chess to You,