Sunday, October 21, 2007

Books on Great Composers

Jonathan Keates reviews The Wagner Clan by Jonathan Carr on Telegraph

A man whose greatest work was a four-part family drama in which almost everybody manages to disgrace themselves, a tetralogy ending in total annihilation, became the cause, after death, of his own tribe's internecine feuding. Their shameless mixture of greed, hypocrisy and vindictiveness, as portrayed in Jonathan Carr's The Wagner Clan, reads like an extended vulgarisation of the 'Ring' cycle, with perhaps rather too many Loges and Alberichs and not enough in the way of a Siegfried or a Brunnhilde.

The destructiveness and opportunism are there, together with the seesaw of hubris and nemesis. If by the end Valhalla, on its green Bavarian hill, has not quite gone up in smoke, there is more than a hint of Götterdämmerung in the author's picture of a once-glorious Bayreuth reduced, in the early years of the 21st century, to a provincial backwater.

Charles Rosen reviews W.A. Mozart by Hermann Abert, translated from the German by Stewart Spencer on New York Book Reviews

Abert managed to set down practically everything of interest about Mozart's life that was known in 1919, and he added a complete overview of Mozart's works, very many of them discussed in great detail and related to a masterly account of the music world in Mozart's time and the different musical traditions of the age. Over the years the project of translating Abert often came up, but until now, no one had the courage, the good sense, or the resources to carry it out. The 1,500-page monument has finally been issued in an excellent translation by Stewart Spencer (even Mozart's letters in rhyme when quoted by Abert appear like reasonable English doggerel), and it has turned out to be not only the most satisfactory but also the most readable and entertaining work on Mozart available in English.

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