BAYREUTH

A HISTORY OF THE WAGNER FESTIVAL

A smart, splendid account of the world's most famous—and quirkiest—serious music festival. Less than a century elapsed between the age of Mozart, when musicians were the servants of great princes, and the age of Wagner, who made royalty his servants and idolaters. The crowning act in this unparalleled social role reversal was the erection in the early 1870s of a temple in which to stage the Meister's lengthy music dramas, particularly the four-opera, 19-hour Ring cycle and the ``sacred festival play'' Parsifal. It was (and still is) a peculiar, wooden barnlike structure on a hill in a drab, sleepy, and otherwise undistinguished provincial German town. Yet for 118 years, the Festspielhaus has hypnotized the world's musical and social aristocracy, who brave the August heat, the uncomfortable seats, and the cramped accommodations to sit in hushed reverence for hours of music—afraid to cough or stir for fear of their neighbors' icy glances. It's all very German, and Spotts, an associate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard, does not slight the story's darker side: Bayreuth's symbolic significance as a shrine for German nationalism and, ultimately, fascism and anti- semitism. Richard Wagner died before the festival was a decade old; its management passed to his widow, Cosima, and later to his children and grandchildren. Unsurprisingly, given his own craziness, Wagner spawned a sizeable population of difficult characters and a few genuinely talented artists, in particular his grandson Wolfgang, a superb director who dragged Bayreuth into a new age of theatrical innovation after it had been tarred by the racist brush of the older generation. Spotts decribes them all perceptively and is also good on the unusual acoustics of the theater itself, with its famous hooded orchestra pit. An important, elegantly written, deeply engrossing cultural history of this unique (and uniquely strange) cultural institution.

Pub Date: June 15, 1994

ISBN: 0-300-05777-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1994

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

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)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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