by Ned Rorem ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 1996
A charmless collection of 37 prose pieces (including essays, reviews, dialogues, even obituaries) by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and writer (Knowing When to Stop: A Memoir, 1994, etc.). Some are too short to have much impact: A piece on Ravel and Debussy is only five paragraphs long, consisting of program notes for a song recital. Others have more heft, including an essay exploring Debussy's influence on BartÂ¢k and Stravinsky, and a celebration of W.H. Auden. Ultimately, though, these pieces are mainly about Rorem. One learns that ""as a kid I not only loved Josephine Baker, I wanted to be her when I grew up."" And that he feels at times as if ""Culture no longer existed, and that Learning, hand in hand with nuanced creativity, was hiding underground."" (This reflection follows his observation that the New York Times Book Review and Vogue don't call anymore.) Rorem's two appreciations of Cocteau, clearly a great influence in his life, seem wildly exaggerated in their praise and terribly selective in their recitation of Cocteau's personal history. No mention is made of Cocteau's flagrant sucking up to the Nazis during the occupation of France; as a result, Rorem's description of Cocteau's postwar despair, attributed to a fickle public, seems a somewhat misleading gloss. His tributes to the departed often seem rather flat. Dawn Powell, in her recently published diaries, tells us more about Elizabeth Ames, the longtime director of Yaddo, in one precise page than Rorem does in six. There are, of course, some rewards in all the chatter: a fine limerick penned by Rorem's father after attending an incomprehensible lecture by Arnold Schoenberg; a portrait of a young Pierre Boulez serving as a rehearsal pianist in a runthrough of Samuel Barber's violin concerto, attended by the caustic Barber; the recollections of Dr. Lox, who attended both BartÂ¢k and Stravinsky on their deathbeds. Overall, though, a petty scolding of those of whom Rorem disapproves, and a roaring tribute to himself.
Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996
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