Books by Ronald Taylor

Released: Jan. 1, 1998

An ambitious—and successful—attempt to grapple with a problematic city. Few cities in Europe can compete with Berlin in laying a claim to history. Taylor (emeritus professor of German at the University of Sussex, England) has written biographies of Richard Wagner, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, and Kurt Weill, as well as histories of medieval and modern Germany. Here, a lifetime of study is distilled. The book—like the city itself—makes demands, but the reader will be rewarded for perseverance. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the author takes us to 1990 and the formal dissolution of the East German state. As Taylor readily admits, he begins with a conventional conception of what constitutes ``culture'' (literature, philosophy, painting and sculpture, theater, music, and the decorative arts). Some may criticize the lack of attention paid to popular culture, although most scholars would now recognize that the division we draw today between ``high'' and ``low'' (or more properly ``popular'') culture was blurred for most of European history. To his credit, Taylor recognizes that contemporary cultural history overlaps with traditional intellectual history and the more modern forms of social history. Of particular interest are the last three chapters on Weimar, Nazi, and postwar Berlin: Otto Dix and George Grosz shockingly revealed the decay behind a glittering, bourgeois Berlin in the 1920s; the bombast and false heroism of the Nazi regime is contrasted with the quiet dignity and poignant literature of the ``inner emigration''; and postwar Berlin is divided between a commitment to socialist realism and the attraction of artistic freedom found in the West. Taylor's postscript touches on the problem of a unified Berlin in a unified country: He is cautiously optimistic. Beautifully produced and profusely illustrated (the color reproductions are particularly good), a look at a city whose long history has much to teach us. Read full book review >
KURT WEILL by Ronald Taylor
Released: Nov. 18, 1992

Another composer's life from Taylor (Robert Schumann, 1982, etc.), whose clichÇ-ridden prose delivers a leaden account of the fascinating Kurt Weill (1900-50). Taylor takes advantage of recently uncovered Weill family memorabilia and juvenilia, as well as of the outburst of scholarly interest in both the life and music of Weill that has occurred during the past 15 years. The author is at his best in creating the various sociohistorical contexts of Weill's lifetime. His first chapter exploring Weill's Jewish family life as the son of a cantor provides a convenient reference point by which he measures Weill's student years during WW I; the associations with Brecht and Lotte Lenya in decadent postwar Berlin that culminated in the Dreigroschenoper and Mahogany; and the composer's later life in America. There, having divorced Lenya just before leaving Hitlerian Europe, Weill would remarry her, and would adapt his musical style to American tastes to create Lady in the Dark, Street Scene, and Lost in the Stars. Unfortunately, Taylor's musical comments are pedestrian and often needlessly complicate simple concepts: ``Such a procedure expresses the simple psychological reality that the interpolation of moments of diatonic consonance relaxes the tension inherent in dissonant, chromatic styles and allows the listener a passing glimpse of the familiar musical world in which he has grown up and which he accepts as by nature his own.'' Factually precise but uninspired: a biography that synthesizes much recent scholarship but offers little in the way of psychological or musical insight. (Illustrations.) Read full book review >