An entertaining ramble through a golden age of violin-playing and violin-faking.



A rollicking historical study that tackles the murky careers of antique violins and the raucous culture of 19th-century virtuosos.

Gaul, a violinist and trustee of the National Music Museum in South Dakota, explores the provenance of two 18th-century Cremonese instruments: the “Messiah” Stradivarius, owned by Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum; and a violin made by luthier Giuseppi Guarneri, now displayed in Genoa’s town hall. The latter was once owned by legendary virtuoso Niccoló Paganini, who dubbed it Il Cannone for its powerful sound. Both violins are of questionable authenticity because of their passage through the workshop of Parisian luthier and violin dealer Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, who was known for making near-perfect copies of Cremonese originals. Vuillaume did repairs on Il Cannone for Paganini in 1833, bought the Messiah himself in 1855, and copied both. Gaul investigates the possibility that a copy was passed off as the original and even exceeded it in quality. The author also dives deeply into old-school violin-making details, from the design of bows to specific techniques to make brand-new violins look very old. Along the way, he steeps readers in the antics of superstar romantic violinists, especially the larger-than-life Paganini; he spotlights the maestro’s astonishing performances, his tempestuous love affairs, his disturbing syphilis symptoms, and his devilish reputation. The book is a meandering jaunt, full of far-flung digressions on such topics as Napoleon Bonaparte’s mistress and the era’s anxiety that female piano players attracted immoral men; these sometimes lose the thread of the overarching mystery but are wonderfully intriguing in their own rights. Gaul relates all of this in elegant, evocative prose: “When it is ill—when it is being pried open with a knife—it makes sickening cracking sounds as its bones are separated,” he writes of Vuillaume’s disassembly of Il Cannone. “Paganini was exquisitely sensitive to sound, and it was a torment to hear his own violin put under the knife.” Lovers of classical music and forensic detective stories will eat it up.

An entertaining ramble through a golden age of violin-playing and violin-faking.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-03-910819-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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An overdue upending of art historical discourse.


An indispensable primer on the history of art, with an exclusive focus on women.

Prominent 19th-century art critic John Ruskin once proclaimed, “the woman’s intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision,” and traces of this misguided and malignant sentiment can still be found over a century later in art institutions around the world. A 2019 study found that “in the collections of eighteen major US art museums, 87 percent of artworks were by men, and 85 percent by white artists.” There’s a lot to be mad about, but London-based art historian Hessel nimbly pivots that energy into a constructive, revelatory project. This book is not a mere rebuttal to the aforementioned discrimination; deftly researched, the text reveals an alternate history of centuries of artistic movements. With palpable excitement, the author shifts the focus from widely known male participants to the unsung female players of the time. Art aficionados will delight in Hessel’s sleight of hand and marvel at her wide, inclusive reach. Spanning from Baroque art to the present day, she effortlessly removes “the clamour of men” and, in a series of short biographical profiles, shapes a historical arc that still feels grounded even without a familiar male presence. Art history must “reset,” Hessel writes, and she positions her book as an important first step in that reconfiguration. While the author progresses mostly movement by movement, her broader tangents are particularly profound. One of many highlights is a generous overview of queer artists of the Weimar era. Hessel is occasionally uneven with how much content she allots each artist, and some perfunctory profiles feel like the result of trying to highlight as many names as possible. Nonetheless, even the shortest gloss provides enough intrigue to be a successful introduction to an artist who might otherwise be forgotten.

An overdue upending of art historical discourse.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9780393881868

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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