A splendid and admirably concise biography of a tragically short-lived genius.
The first biography of Franz Schubert (1797–1828) did not appear until nearly 40 years after his death, `an inconceivable lapse of time for any other leading nineteenth-century composer,` notes critic and academic Gibbs (Music/SUNY Buffalo). In the interim, all kinds of myths arose about Schubert, many persisting to this day—the gist of them being that Schubert, dismissed by the Viennese cultural elite, lived a lonely life of wrenching poverty and died in obscurity. Gibbs, in quiet but elegantly persuasive prose, refutes these notions with convincing evidence to the contrary, consisting largely of contemporary music reviews as well as letters by Schubert's many friends. Most of these friends were well placed in Viennese society and vigorously championed his music, often effectively. Because of their efforts, by the time of Schubert's early demise, he was quite well known and respected in musical circles and was posed for a brilliant career. Gibbs quotes critics of respected musical journals holding up Schubert's late large works (i.e., string quartets and piano sonatas) against those of the recently deceased Beethoven. He also clears up the much discussed mystery of the lost `Gastein` Symphony by arguing that it was never lost at all, but is one and the same as the Ninth (“Great”) Symphony. Gibbs also gives strong evidence that Schubert, irrespective of earlier biographers' accounts, was acutely aware of his gifts and aggressively promoted his own cause until unexpectedly cut down, probably a result of his health being damaged by an earlier bout with syphilis. Gibbs also deals with claims made in the last decade by musicologist Maynard Solomon and others concerning Schubert's homosexuality: he does not deny it but notes that the evidence for the speculation is extremely skimpy. The meager basis of the rumors (gushing pronouncements of love in letters to and from his male friends) is, in Gibbs’s view, simply a misunderstanding of the 19th-century European male's expression of friendship.
This slender volume, crammed with good research, should be the paradigm for the contemporary biography.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)