Our crit­ics cast their eyes over this month’s se­lec­tion of books on clas­si­cal mu­sic

BBC Music Magazine - - Books -

Carter David Schiff

Ox­ford Univer­sity Press 978-01-90259-15-0; 266pp (hb) £22.99 The se­cond edi­tion of David Schiff’s pre­vi­ous book on El­liott Carter came out in 1998, and took us up to his large-scale Sym­pho­nia, com­pleted the pre­vi­ous year. Carter was in his mid-eight­ies, but he went on writ­ing mu­sic faster than Schiff could write about it un­til he was well past his 100th birth­day, so the por­tion of this new book that deals with what Schiff calls ‘late late Carter’ is par­tic­u­larly wel­come. ★e is uniquely placed to write about the com­poser, hav­ing known him for sev­eral decades, and he presents his cre­den­tials at length in a chap­ter that might bet­ter have been con­densed into a fore­word; but the bulk of the book is full of in­sight, pre­sented in an el­e­gant and witty style. Schiff is par­tic­u­larly elo­quent on the mod­ernist mas­ter­pieces of the 1950s and ’60s, with their in­tri­cate play on no­tions of psy­cho­log­i­cal time ver­sus real time, and of ac­cel­er­a­tion and de­cel­er­a­tion. The book is ad­dressed to the gen­eral reader, and does with­out mu­sic ex­am­ples, but its mu­si­cal analy­ses are of­ten quite de­tailed. An in­dis­pens­able vol­ume for any ad­mirer of this fas­ci­nat­ing Amer­i­can pi­o­neer. Misha Donat ★★★★★

Han­del in Lon­don:

The Mak­ing of a Ge­nius

Jane Glover

Macmil­lan 978-15-09882-06-9;

416pp (hb) £25.00

This is a per­fectly de­cent ac­count of ★an­del’s creative life in

Lon­don. Jane Glover pro­vides a no-non­sense chrono­log­i­cal ac­count of ★an­del’s op­eras and or­a­to­rios from Ri­naldo to Jeph­tha, and she uses her con­tem­po­rary sources ef­fi­ciently – the waspish di­aries of Lord ★er­vey, let­ters from Charles Jen­nens who pre­pared the texts for Saul and Mes­siah amongst other or­a­to­rios, and the busy mem­oirs of a woman var­i­ously de­scribed as Mrs Pen­darves and Mary De­lany.

Yet the early Ge­or­gian pe­riod stub­bornly re­fuses to come to life, and sev­eral ques­tions are left unan­swered. What was the ide­ol­ogy that un­der­pinned pa­tron­age, in par­tic­u­lar that of the ★anove­rian Royal Fam­ily? Why did Lon­don tastes turn from Ital­ian Opera to Ora­to­rio? And what are the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial themes that un­der­pin ★an­del’s sec­u­lar and sa­cred works for the stage?

As you would ex­pect from a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian, Glover is at her best when ex­plor­ing ★an­del’s scores, and there’s a fine and seem­ingly per­sonal ac­count of Saul. Some­times her style is a lit­tle over­ripe – so a friend­ship is ‘vi­brant’, and the South Sea Bub­ble is de­scribed as a ‘seething caul­dron of fi­nan­cial trauma’. Nev­er­the­less this is an agree­able ad­di­tion to the bur­geon­ing ★an­del lit­er­a­ture. Christo­pher Cook ★★★★ In­vent­ing the Opera House

Eu­gene J John­son

Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press 978-11-08421-74-4; 346pp (hb) £39.99 In this de­tailed sur­vey, Eu­gene J John­son de­scribes the cir­cum­stances that led to the cre­ation of per­ma­nent the­atres in Italy and the ‘novel so­cial ar­chi­tec­tural sit­u­a­tions’ that came with their ar­rival. The de­sire for op­er­atic spec­ta­cle arose from cer­e­monies, ban­quets and pro­ces­sions that were associated with 15th-cen­tury feast days. Car­ni­val en­cour­aged the rise of com­me­dia dell’arte, and makeshift stage plat­forms gave way to ded­i­cated build­ings. John­son out­lines the ap­petite for the new pas­time, with ex­am­ples of au­di­ence mem­bers queue­ing from 10am for a 7pm per­for­mance (not un­like mod­ern day Prom­mers). Of­ten, these early build­ings were un­safe – sev­eral tragedies are cited. By the 17th cen­tury, the aris­toc­racy moved their en­tourages from court to the opera house as Gi­a­como Torelli’s mov­ing sets de­lighted the grow­ing au­di­ence.

John­son’s dense aca­demic prose is sprin­kled with pho­to­graphs and il­lus­tra­tions of Ital­ian the­atres, as well as ar­chi­tec­tural plans and dig­i­tal re­con­struc­tions of stage in­te­ri­ors. The con­tent is technical through­out, but there’s just enough colour to hold the gen­eral reader’s in­ter­est. Claire Jack­son ★★★ Singing in the

Age of Anx­i­ety

Laura Tun­bridge

Univer­sity of Chicago Press 978-02-26563-57-2; 256pp (hb) £41.00 This beau­ti­fully writ­ten book con­sid­ers an in­trigu­ing junc­ture in mu­sic history, ex­plor­ing what be­fell German art song in Lon­don and

New York dur­ing the in­ter­war years. From the on­set of World War I, German cultural ‘ex­ports’ across the Al­lied na­tions were deemed in­creas­ingly con­tentious

(in Amer­ica, sauer­kraut was re­la­belled ‘lib­erty cab­bage’) and the per­for­mance of German mu­sic was pro­hib­ited. Yet, as German singers and pi­anists re­turned to the ‘transat­lantic cir­cuit’ in the 1920s, they brought with them their scores by Schu­bert, Schu­mann and Wolf – reper­toire so re­cently dubbed the ‘mu­sic of the en­emy’. And rather sur­pris­ingly, as Tun­bridge metic­u­lously ex­plains, in­stead of dwin­dling from earshot, this mu­sic found en­thu­si­as­tic new au­di­ences in New York and Lon­don. In turn, the spe­cific per­for­mance prac­tices we now as­so­ciate with lieder crys­tallised dur­ing this pe­riod, due in part to the flow­er­ing of recitals on cruise ships and in lux­ury ho­tels, and de­vel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies in record­ing and ra­dio broad­cast­ing. Tun­bridge brings ex­em­plary schol­ar­ship and a warmly-ac­ces­si­ble prose style to the book, mak­ing this a fas­ci­nat­ing, hope­ful study of how the ‘mu­si­cal refugee’ of Lieder found un­ex­pected shel­ter dur­ing anxious times. Kate Wake­l­ing ★★★★

Catch­ing up with Carter: the leg­endary Amer­i­can kept com­pos­ing aged 100

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