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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.



31 Aug 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Elgar

Perhaps some Opera Today readers may wonder why a book on Sir Edward Elgar merits reviewing on this particular site. The composer never came near to completing an opera. In fact, only toward the end of his career did he...

The Cambridge Companion to Elgar

Daniel Grimley and Julian Rushton (eds.)

ISBN-10: 0521533635 | ISBN-13: 9780521533638


Perhaps some Opera Today readers may wonder why a book on Sir Edward Elgar merits reviewing on this particular site. The composer never came near to completing an opera. In fact, only toward the end of his career did he seriously contemplate composing one. A suite from the incomplete A Spanish Lady sometimes gets an airing on classical music radio stations: light, tuneful, but hardly dramatic music.

It would be nice to report that the full story of that endeavor appears in The Cambridge Companion to Elgar, a collection of essays by esteemed musical scholars on various topics related to the great man’s life and music. Unfortunately, the text of over 220 pages only contains three brief passing references to A Spanish Lady. That in itself serves as ample evidence of the inconsequentiality of opera as a form for Elgar’s own efforts. However, opera did have a great impact on him as inspiration.

Religious-themed oratorios were the height of both esteem and popularity for British composers as Elgar came to maturity, vocal spectaculars in some ways not unlike the wide-screen Biblical cinematic extravaganzas of the 1950s. Elgar began to make his name with such pieces as The Apostles and especially The Dream of Gerontius. The greater complexity of mood and psychology of Elgar’s music (at least as compared to the work of near- contemporaries such as Parry or Stanford) probably owes not a little to Wagner, as Bryon Adams argues in his essay. Elgar made the requisite Bayreuth pilgrimage, and more than once, with Parsifal becoming a particular passion. Adams’s essay delves into psycho-sexual territory that may alarm some readers; the intimations of homoerotic content in Gerontius certainly took your reviewer aback. Nonetheless, the seriousness of the essay and its analysis shouldn’t be doubted.

Other vocal music of Elgar gets coverage in Robin Holloway’s “The early choral works.” The British love for choral singing gave Elgar a rich field to explore, although not much of that work is well-known. In fact, today too few may know of Land of Hope and Glory, the vocal version of Elgar’s “greatest hit,” if one will, the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. The Companion, therefore, does a great service in making clear that vocal music played a large role in Elgar’s musical life, even if opera never quite did.

Of course, purchasers of Jacqueline du Pre’s classic recording of the cello concerto have probably also encountered its CD disc-mate, Janet Baker’s performance of Sea Pictures. Sadly, the Companion has no in depth discussion of that piece. In the context of an anthology of essays, only the largest pieces – the symphonies, for example – receive ample analysis. However, Holloway’s essay does Elgar a major service by spending time on The Black Knight, a wonderfully melodic and dramatic work which deserves to be heard more often. With its dark, melodramatic story, The Black Knight might be the best glimpse into what an Elgar opera might have been like.

Some readers may find the analysis in some essays, such as Julian Rushton’s, hard to follow, with its reliance on musical examples in score form. Most of the essays, however, are written in a way that balances insight and intelligence with communication, making the book a somewhat dense but always fascinating read.

Perhaps the two most illuminating essays come near the end. Timothy Day’s “Elgar and recording” almost serves as a brief biographical note, at least of the composer’s later years, as Elgar delighted in the consumer end of the fledging recording business – the gramophone players and discs – and found some frustration in the recording studio. Similarly, Jenny Doctor’s “Broadcasting’s ally: Elgar and the BBC” offers many fascinating anecdotes both about the composer and the early years of that venerable institution.

Elgar’s reputation has waxed and waned, and no doubt the man would want more than to be remembered as the composer of a march appropriated for countless graduation ceremonies. The Cambridge Companion to Elgar offers ample evidence that there is simply too much richness in Elgar’s output for his reputation ever to be threatened with extinction. For those limited to a love of opera, then, the book may not offer much, but for all other serious music lovers, this is an engaging and fascinating volume.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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