My Rating for this Book: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

The Memoirs
by Hector Berlioz

Documented in his own hand, Hector Berlioz accounts for all of the tragedies and triumphs encountered during his meteoric rise in the Romantic era, where history gained him a stronghold (albeit a somewhat controversial one).

Included in this memoir (which reads like an autobiography), Berlioz regales the reader with an almost step-by-step replay of the delicate courtship dance in which he finds himself and his irreverent idée fixe, one Harriet Smithson - an at once both anguished and mesmerizing whirlwind romance that ultimately culminates in Berlioz' masterpiece, "La Symphonie Fantastique."

Written with verve, passion, audacity and wit in real time, and with musings on contemporary idols and composers (Berlioz opines on one Richard Wagner and Gioachino Rossini, among others), the reader ultimately finds him or herself with a psychological blueprint of the composers' master works, and a deeper understanding and appreciation for his vast repertoire.

My Rating for this Book: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

Goethe's Faust
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
translated by Walter Kaufmann

When it comes to foreign language Classical Literature, it is de rigueur to favor translations published by the linguists of yesteryear.

I unabashedly place Walter Kauffman’s 'new' translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (originally published in 1962) into the realm of greatest renditions ever of this 207 year old German masterpiece.

Of course it helps that I consider Goethe’s telling of the fable of Faust (in particular part one) to be the greatest literary work ever written, but that is immaterial when it comes down to sheer cause and effect. Kauffman’s translation of The Prelude in The Theatre literally took my breath away, as I gasped and sighed in a state of reverie as the three protagonists of the theatre engaged in a philosophical tête-à-tête that would have made Dante and Virgil weep at its delicately nuanced beauty.

In Kaufmann’s Faust, the original rhyme and meter of Goethe is followed with absolutely exquisite results. It is easy to see why so many legendary composers used as their resource Goethe’s fable (far more than was granted to renditions by other famous playwrights like Marlowe), for musical interpretation. 

From the likes of Arrigo Boito, Charles Gounod, Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz (just to name a few), Goethe's version of Faust seemed to be the perfect backdrop for showcasing the conflict between good and evil, and the contrast between gluttony and humility.  After reading Kauffman's translation, I again watched Gounod and Boito's adaptations and found both (Faust and Mefistofele, respectively) operas and other related renderings of Goethe's magnum opus to be even more moving than I had previously appreciated once digesting a re-birth of the classic German legend by such a gifted linguist as Kauffman.

I have read many translations of Goethe’s masterpiece both in verse and later in prose, but none so much as make the book itself and subsequent versions and re-tellings of this tale more poignant, more coherent as does Kauffman's rendering. As a result, Operas, ballet and stageplays based on Goethe’s Faust become more enthralling; and lugubrious arias like L'altra Notte in Fondo al Mare all the more soulfully penetrating after its reading. 

Kaufmann’s Faust truly does make this cautionary tale against excess come alive.

The dramatic and deeply heart-wrenching "L'altra Notte in Fondo al Mare," as sung by Soprano
Maria Callas, whose chesty register was perfectly suited for the emotionally maimed role of
Margherita in Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele.

My Rating for this Book: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

by Lauren E. Rico

You will never hear the Cello Suites in quite the same way again:

"Here, in the darkness, it’s almost as if the cello and I are a single entity. I supplement the instrument’s delicate panels of wood, and tough lengths of gut string with my own flesh, blood, and breath. I inhale every phrase, and my entire body moves in a circular pattern, cello lovingly embraced between my knees. It takes me to places I don’t usually allow myself to go, places buried deep in the back of my mind. My mother lives here, in this place where the music brings me. She’s a young woman, not much older than I am now. I can see her pretty, fair face. She has freckles like me, and a head full of coppery curls. I imagine her leaning over me and tucking me in. She brushes the hair from my forehead and tells me to have sweet dreams. But they are not sweet at all. As my bow slices across the strings, I hear her and my father yelling through the night. I dig into the Bach harder, recalling the crash of objects hurled and the smack of a hand on someone’s face. Whose? I don’t know. My fingers move frantically now, recklessly. The music could break apart and shatter in an instant. But it doesn’t. It slows and begins the lament. The crying. Her tears. There it is. He slapped her, this time. The cello is a wordless voice, heaving and sighing with the weight of her sorrow. The bow carries my fear with it as it swings to each string in turn. They are so volatile. They cannot hold our fragile life together. It just spirals out of control, picking up speed again, until it reaches a fever pitch.
   Without warning, my hand slips across the D string, lurching forward and sending my bow flying across the room. It hits the floor with a sickening ‘thwack,’ returning me instantly to the tiny, pitch - black room in which I have lost myself once again.”

Bach’s famously haunting Prelude, much akin to its namesake, foretells of the cornucopia of raw emotions to come in author and SiriusXM radio host Lauren Rico’s debut novel “Reverie:” a soul-wrenching blend of hope, despair, passion, vitriol, tragedy and ultimately triumph over seemingly unshakable obstacles that sees our heroine Julia James free herself from the harrowing and confining shackles of abuse.

Reverie’s is a dialogue all too common in modern society – James’ tragic story reads like a discourse on the mental and physical ramifications of years of generational abuse and shines a bright spotlight onto the torturous practice of “gas lighting:” a many-tiered form of emotional exploitation that sees its victim subjected to a systematic and lengthy process of forced memory distortion by a trusted and loved assailant, ultimately leading to the ‘patient’ (or in this instance, the ‘case subject’) questioning his or her own memory – and, in the ultimate coup de grâce for the abuser – leaving the victim questioning his or her own perception of abuse.

Told in present time (with allusions to the protagonist’s past), Reverie takes us painstakingly through the private lives of budding master musicians, revealing the grit behind the "pomp," and the reality behind the "circumstance" of the perceived perfectionism commonly associated with classical music and with that of its practitioners, blending seamlessly the steadfast dedication and passion of rising within elite musical ranks and within social and intimately personal ones – revealing most expertly the fragility of man at his most vulnerable, and the unshakeable ability for the human soul to continue to seek love and triumph over any obstacle.

James' story is a story for the mind, an exultation for the soul, and a powerful testament to mental health. A remarkable debut from an equally musically inclined author: Reverie is officially Rico’s first opus, and this review is simply raving!

My Rating for this Book: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

W.A. Mozart
by Hermann Abert, Cliff Eisen editor
translated by Stewart Spencer

There are works that persist through the passage of time... that permeate the dusty sheath that both binds and separates the past from the present. Works that, when filtered through a retrospective lens, continue to maintain the very essence of a divine-like creation, like the building blocks of an intricately complex monument - a world wonder that has existed though the ages. One that sparks generations of inquiry by those drawn to its magnificence, to its penetrating and majestic force..inspiring countless scholars to remark upon its persisting existence.

Marvels such as these command the historian and layman alike to persist in discovering its secrets to longevity, ever eager to teach subsequent generations. The Egyptians have the pyramids. The British have Stonehenge. Germany – and now the English-speaking world - have Hermann Abert’s W.A. Mozart, reworked from Otto Jahn’s classic mid-19th century masterpiece in 1921, and ushered into the relative present by the modern musical sphere’s pre-eminent Mozart scholar Dr. Cliff Eisen and translator Stewart Spencer. Abert’s Mozart is the very genesis from which nearly all modern biographies on this fascinating composer have drawn their inspiration – the massive tome (1515 pages long) is referenced as source material even in the textbooks designed for educating students, found in both the university classroom and prestigious conservatoires alike. (Tchaikovsky even references Otto Jahn's original German edition in a private written exchange with his loyal confidante and benefactress Baroness Nadezhda von Meck in a correspondence dated March 28, 1878).

How then, does one review the very progenitor of nearly every Mozart biography published since the early twentieth century?

On starts by reminding the reader that, although nearly a century old, W.A. Mozart remains, for the most part, as relevant and critically acclaimed for its content today as it had 95 years ago, when it was widely lauded as the single most important work on the composer – nay, to any composer who preceded the enigmatic/genius musician.

Be warned, however, the 2007 version (published by Yale University Press) is not for the faint of heart historian/musician. This mammoth undertaking, (with an excess of over one million words, and weighing in at just over six-and-a-half pounds), makes up for its rather unconventional proportions in its wealth of definitive research and scholarship backed by centuries of expert perspective and authentic documentation. It will, however, take the reader much time to ingest all of its contents. The old adage 'good things come to those who wait' applies.

In the 86 years that passed between Abert’s release in the German tongue in 1921 and Eisen’s edit / Spencer’s translation into English in the present century, many important discoveries have come to light concerning Herr Mozart - once hidden treasures unearthed from dusty archives across the European continent, advances in science and in medicine and its education have offered fresh perspectives on diseases and on the early mortalities that plagued generations past (and had taken preternaturally the lives of so many of our favorite composers), indeed altering the history, and therefore the scholarship of our not-so distant ancestors. At the time of W.A Mozart’s English language version, an exhaustive effort had been made by Eisen to include these fresh findings into intricately detailed annotations found at the foot of nearly every page.

Remarkably, W.A. Mozart, scholarly tome though it is, remains accessible to even the layman who may be discovering the composer or opera/classical music for the first time. Of course, the more recent discoveries of the past decade are not included here, (for instance the ‘discovery’ of the long-rumored existence of a Mozart-Salieri collaboration in 2015, the so-called solo cantata "Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia, K.477a"). These discoveries and fresh perspectives will soon be made available in Eisen's new biography on Mozart, written in contribution to
Deutsche Grammophon, Decca Classics and the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation’s all-inclusive 200 CD box-set, entitled "W.A. Mozart 225: The Complete Edition" scheduled for release before the closing of the year. Even then, upon 225’s release in late October 2016 - just as in 2007 - both updates exist as mere appendages on the vast body of work that was Abert’s original biography. W.A. Mozart is the very soul of which all subsequent works are housed.

This crucial biography has long been, and continues to be indispensable for any serious scholar of classical music.

Five Stars. 

Herr Mozart's beautiful Contessa, Perdono from the final act of Le Nozze di Figaro. Rodney Gilfry and Hillevi Martinpelto
perform under the baton of Sir John Elliot Gardiner:

 My Rating for this Book: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph
by Jan Swafford

"A meticulously researched and up-to-date account of the life and times of Herr Beethoven. So often, when reading about Ludwig, precedence is given to the composer's struggles with his temperament - a likely by-product of the onset of auditory paracusia experienced by Beethoven whilst still in his productive years - and, equally as often, too much emphasis is placed on the contrast between this inner turmoil and the (oddly) productive aftermath thrust upon the composer as he and his fans/dissenters dealt with his complete loss of hearing later in life.

Don't let the title of Swafford's latest opus fool you: the "Anguish" of which this scholarly biographer regales begins with the subject's birth, ushering the reader through pubescence, adulthood and final repose - detailing not only this most troublesome period of Beethoven's life, but also of the many "triumphs" and "anguishes" experienced within the composers personal and professional spheres - and of the hopes, dreams, successes and failings of the society in which Beethoven lived: this 'background' information reads like a discourse on 18th century social triumph and unrest, and is as thrilling as Beethoven's life itself.

Part biography, part history/political science, and part musical dissection, this biographical tome will undoubtedly serve as the definitive Beethoven biography for years to come."

Enjoy below one of my personal favorite renditions of Beethoven's famous "Moonlight Sonata"
(Piano Sonata no. 14), as performed by Dame Moura Lympany:


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O my darling books…how dear to me are they all! For have I not chosen them one by one, gathered them in with the sweat of my brow? I do love you all! It seems as if, by long and sweet companionship, you had become part of myself.
Rose | Unraveling Musical Myths

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