W.S. GILBERT

A CLASSIC VICTORIAN AND HIS THEATRE

Stedman, editor of a collection of Gilbert's non-G&S works (Gilbert Before Sullivan, 1967), now offers a solid, stylish, well- researched critical biography—which effectively emphasizes the Victorian-theater context of Gilbert's writings but fails to pay proper attention to his genius as a lyricist. Unlike most Gilbert biographers, Stedman gives as much weight to his straight plays and non-Sullivan collaborations as to the Savoy operas. She examines his early journalism, his farces, burlesques, pantomimes, and ``fairy plays,'' offering sturdy background information on each of these particularly Victorian genres. Stedman emphasizes Gilbert's role as a socio-political satirist, his mockery of double standards (sexual, class-based), his odd blend of iconoclasm and conservatism, and his determination to upgrade the level of late-19th-century theater writing and performance. While wryly recounting Gilbert's unhappy first romance (before a long happy marriage) and his many feuds and lawsuits, she firmly rejects the familiar portrait of a misogynistic curmudgeon. Stedman's treatment of the Gilbert & Sullivan classics, however, is seriously lopsided. Avoiding the oft-told anecdotes, she persuasively relates the themes and plots of Pinafore, Mikado, etc., to earlier works by Gilbert and others; provides welcome detail on less familiar works like Utopia, Ltd.; and sketches in the stormy Gilbert/Sullivan/Carte dynamic neatly enough. However, she shows relatively little interest in the art of Gilbert's lyric- writing—which is largely responsible (along with Sullivan's music) for the G&S phenomenon and which became a major inspiration (unmentioned here) for Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, and other musical theater pioneers. Not the definitive biography, then, and certainly not for casual G&S fans—but the most authoritative effort of its kind thus far, and, particularly considering the often-academic content, crisply readable. (16 pages b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-19-816174-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1996

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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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