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A musical challenge to our view of the past

Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart

In Musical Exoticism (Cambridge 2011) Ralph P. Locke undertook an extensive appraisal of the portrayal of the ‘Other’ in works dating from 1700 to the present day, an enquiry that embraced a wide range of genres from Baroque opera to Algerian rap, and which was at once musical, cultural, historical, political and ethical.

Coughing and Clapping: Investigating Audience Experience

Is it okay to tweet during a concert, if it allows those who couldn’t attend to engage with the performance and the music? Or is it really just distracting, on top of all the coughing?

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

Book Review: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 – 1918

Opera in the British Isles might seem a rather sparse subject in the period 1875 to 1918. Notoriously described as the land without music, even the revival of the native tradition of composers did not include a strong vein of opera.

Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger

Heldentenor Jay Hunter Morris tells us about the lean times when the phone did not ring, as well as those thrilling moments when companies entrusted him with the most important roles in opera.

Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform

Commonly viewed as a ‘second-rate’ composer — a European radical persecuted by the Nazis whose trans-Atlantic emigration represented a sell-out to an inferior American popular culture —

Opera from Cambridge University Press

Although part of a series entitled Cambridge Introductions to Music, Robert Cannon’s wide-ranging, imaginative and thought-provoking survey of opera is certainly not a ‘beginners’ guide’.

James Melton: The Tenor of His Times

Those of us of a certain age have fond memories of James Melton, who entertained our parents starting in the 1930s and the rest of us in the 1940s and beyond on recordings, the radio, and films.

Essays on Italo Montemezzi - D'Annunzio: Nave

An important new book on Italo Montemezzi sheds light on his opera Nave. The author/editor is David Chandler whose books on Alfredo Catalani have done so much to restore interest in the genre.

Alfredo Catalani — A new perspective on later Italian opera

Assumptions about later Italian opera are dominated by Puccini, but Alfredo Catalani, born in the same town and almost at the same time, was highly regarded by their contemporaries. Two new books on Catalani could change our perceptions.

The Sopranos — Dissecting opera’s fervent fans

I was feeling cowed by Herr Engels. The four of us had retired from the Stravinsky performance to a Billy Wilder-themed bar in Berlin, the least horrible late-night option in the high end mediocrity of Potsdamer Platz.

Opera Remade, 1700-1750

This substantial book is one of the latest in the Ashgate series of collected essays in opera studies and draws together articles from a disparate group of scholarly journals and collected volumes, some recent, some now difficult to locate.

Operatic Advice and Counsel…A Welcome New Reference Book

Vincent Giroud’s valuable new French Opera, a Short History, is in hand and very welcome it is.

Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey

The noted operatic impresario and stage director, Lotfi Mansouri, with the professional help of writer Donald Arthur, has issued his memoirs under the title Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey.

Cosima Wagner — The Lady of Bayreuth

Originally published in German as Herrin des Hügels, das Leben der Cosima Wagner (Siedler, 2007), this new book by Oliver Hilmes is an engaging portrait of one of the most important women in music during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Operatic Italian

Robert Stuart Thomson’s Italian language learning text, Operatic Italian, promises to become an invaluable textbook for aspiring operatic singers, voice teachers, coaches and conductors.

Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections

Ralph Locke’s recent book on Musical Exoticism is both an historical survey of aspects of the exotic in Western musical culture and a discussion of paradigms of the exotic and their relevance for musicological understanding.

Magic Flutes & Enchanted Forests: The Supernatural in Eighteenth-Century Musical Theater

Readers may recognize the author of this book, David J. Buch, a specialist on the origins of the libretto to Mozart’s Magic Flute.

Opera from the Greek

Perhaps it will be enough to tell you that I wasn’t halfway through this book before I searched the web for a copy of Professor Ewans’s study of Wagner and Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and ordered it forthwith: It has to be good.



David Hurwitz: Getting the Most Out of Mozart: The Vocal Works
06 Jul 2005

HURWITZ: Getting the Most Out of Mozart: The Vocal Works

The investment of money, not to mention time, to listen carefully to a complete opera can be intimidating for some uninitiated listeners. After all, operas can be quite long and — with all that strange singing in a foreign language — could be incomprehensible, and therefore less than enjoyable. Opera still carries the cachet in our culture of being the pastime of the wealthy, the educated, and the elite. References to opera in popular culture, such as ads or music videos, signify a different world of privilege and exclusion.

David Hurwitz: Getting the Most Out of Mozart: The Vocal Works

Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, 2005, 232 pp.

ISBN 1-57467-106-5


David Hurwitz, a prolific music critic and the executive editor of ClassicsToday, attempts to bridge the gap between the opera novice and Mozart’s most popular vocal works with his volume, Getting the Most out of Mozart: The Vocal Works. Hurwitz’s goal with this volume, as well as his books on Mozart’s instrumental works, Mahler’s symphonies, and Dvořák’s music, is to offer the listener a “useful” and “practical” guide to particular pieces (see for example, the March 2005 interview with Hurwitz in Go Brooklyn: Furthermore, Hurwitz insists in several articles that the death knell that has been sounding for classical music is premature and miss-placed (see his articles at “Finding Greatness in Strange Places” [], or “Fine Whine from Stormin’ Norman” []).
While some parts of this volume on Mozart’s opera are very appealing, several aspects of the book undermine Hurwitz’s own stated goal of making music accessible. Hurwitz’s book contains mostly descriptive information about each of the operas. He succinctly recounts information about the plot and each of the main characters for seven of Mozart’s mature operas. For better or for worse, Hurwitz wastes few words on their historical contexts and almost none on cultural circumstances surrounding 18th-century opera. There are six pages of color photographs from various Metropolitan Opera productions that display costumes and sets of several of the operas discussed.

The CD that accompanies the volume is a convenient feature containing several of the pieces Hurwitz describes with clear directions in the text about when to listen to each track. The pieces are drawn largely from Sir Charles Mackerras’ recordings on the Telarc label. Mackerras is a scholar of 17th- and 18th-century repertoire, and so has directed performances of very high quality. Unfortunately, the tracks are drawn directly from the original digital recordings, so there are some awkward starts and stops to some of the tracks, where in the originals there are smooth transitions between the numbers. The movements of the Requiem are taken from two recordings — Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and Martin Pearlman directing Boston Baroque. These, too, are taken directly from previous Telarc releases.

Hurwitz’s prose is very casual and occasionally flippant about the potential symbolic layers of meaning in the works, which may serve to put some readers at ease with the subject matter. Unfortunately, his irreverence is combined with the references to operas that may seem obscure, if not entirely inscrutable, to the opera novice. Hurwitz’s frequent references to the plots, lengths, and characters of Wagner’s operas reinforces his status as an insider and could have the effect of making the reader acutely aware of her lack of knowledge. Furthermore, for a reader who may not know who Wagner was, when he lived, or anything about his operas or musical philosophy, comparisons between Mozart and Wagner are not very useful.

Moreover, the name of the series — Unlocking the Masters — also reinscribes 19th-century attitudes about canonicity and genius that are intricately connected with and inseparable from notions of gender, class, and race. Since the 1970s the use of the word “master” has been thoroughly problematized in light of feminist and post-colonialist scholarship. Hurwitz’s insistence on “mastery” and “greatness” is consistent with his dismissals of music scholarship in Getting the Most Out of Mozart.

As with his book on Mahler (see the article in Go Brooklyn cited above), Hurwitz’s goal is description, not analysis or biography. Unfortunately, I think that there is a lot more to Mozart than whether or not the clarinets are playing in a given aria. Hurwitz “dumbs down” Mozart far more than is necessary, reducing the operas to statistics about the length of “continuous music,” and orchestration. At the same time, more could be said about historical context and the role of opera in the 18th century. Surely, some historical context would not be beyond the reader’s grasp, and it might help to pique her interest.

Hurwitz’s attempt to make Mozart accessible to the uninitiated listener is admirable and will certainly reach some readers. However, his attempt to make Mozart less obscure without acknowledging the forces at work in our culture and in Mozart’s culture seems misguided. Hurwitz’s “insider” attitude — whether real or perceived — is counter to his goals.

Megan B. Jenkins
CUNY — The Graduate Center

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