Best Christmas gift books 2008

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  • Art | Classical | Kids | Teens | Comedy | Dance | Film | Music | Theatre | Stocking fillers

    Classical


    The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2009
    Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton and Paul Czajkowski
    Penguin £30
    Once again Penguin has pulled out the stops and produced an impressive updated tome boasting thousands of available CD (and some DVD) recordings, all reviewed by experts to save you time and money. Easy to navigate, the evaluation system awards one to four stars, plus a key for most recommended and a rosette for a critic’s personal favourite. With concise critiques of the performances and sound quality, embellished by nuggets about the works themselves, this is as much a reference book as an interesting read – as well as a caveat emptor guide for discerning collectors.

    The Triumph of Music
    Tim Blanning
    Allen Lane £25
    In this triumph of engaging and informative writing, Tim Blanning examines the rise of music and its practitioners from the humble métier of liveried servants who amused rulers and glorified their authority, to the millionaire profession of adulated superstars, some of whom (okay, mostly Bono) travel the world advising political and religious leaders.

    Subtitled ‘Composers, Musicians and Their Audiences, 1700 to the Present’, this entertaining account begins with the 2002 Golden Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace, which began with guitarist Brian May standing on the roof and playing ‘God Save the Queen’. For most of the audience it was perhaps May’s rock group Queen that was being worshipped and glorified rather than Her Madge. For Blanning this represents an apotheosis of the performer; in contrast with other jubilees, in centuries past, this was a celebration of music both secular and unreflective of the ruler.

    So how did it come to be so? It seems that it has been a gradual process advanced in spurts by exceptional individuals in the early nineteenth century. Take the deaths of Mozart and Beethoven, for instance. The former was buried in an unmarked grave in 1791, unattended by mourners, having been booted up the arse by his employer some years earlier. The latter was laid to rest in 1827 by nine priests, as thousands jostled on a Viennese day of mourning. Beethoven had long ago ceased to write to please his patrons but expressed his own feelings in his music. For a modern listener this is perfectly normal, but back then it established a new precedent. He was followed in the 1830s and 40s by Paganini and Liszt giving solo recitals and becoming ‘pop stars’. By 1876, Wagner was deigning to greet the German Emperor, who had come especially to hear the inaugural performance of the complete Ring Cycle – at Wagner’s own opera house at Bayreuth. Fast forward to 1997 and Tony Blair is fêting Oasis’s Noel Gallagher and others at No 10. As Blanning clearly demonstrates, this is the outcome of an unstoppable campaign of music triumphing over political rulers, as harmonic sound has triumphed as the prevailing primary force that moves the spirit, influences the young and is the undisputed highest art form of celebration. Technology has played its part too, of course, from the development of louder instruments to the commercial availabilityof pianos, the gramophone, radio, CDs and personal stereos. Music is omnipresent now and the means of its production available to all; yet the adulation of its protagonists shows no sign of waning.

    Wagner: Beyond Good and Evil
    John Deathridge
    University of California Press £23.95
    There has been more written about Wagner than perhaps any other composer, such has been the fascination with this complex, self-agrandising and colourful character. John Deathridge, a professor of music and long-time scholar of the German megalomaniac, has turned his attention here to analysing Wagner’s work rather than a simple historical account of his life.

    Clearly a fan, Deathridge presents an in-depth though disappointingly academic round-up of 150 years of Wagner analyses, examining each opera in turn. The result is a book chock full of footnotes and oblique interpretations from many philosophical, political and other standpoints – the Freudian analysis by Otto Frank, for instance, determining that the arrival of Lohengrin on a swan was in fact ‘his birth out of the waters of mother’s womb’.

    At the end one is well informed as to the background of the dramatic work and the interest it has engendered ever since, but Wagner the man remains an enigma.

    One of Friedrich Nietszche’s many aphorisms declared that matters of the heart were beyond good and evil. With an absence of any judgement on Wagner himself, one can only assume that, in this case, matters of art are also beyond such censure.

    Art | Classical | Kids | Teens | Comedy | Dance | Film | Music | Theatre | Stocking fillers

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So how did it come to be so? It seems that it has been a gradual process advanced in spurts by exceptional individuals in the early nineteenth century. Take the deaths of Mozart and Beethoven, for instance. The former was buried in an unmarked grave in 1791, unattended by mourners, having been booted up the arse by his employer some years earlier. The latter was laid to rest in 1827 by nine priests, as thousands jostled on a Viennese day of mourning. Beethoven had long ago ceased to write to please his patrons but expressed his own feelings in his music. For a modern listener this is perfectly normal, but back then it established a new precedent. He was followed in the 1830s and 40s by Paganini and Liszt giving solo recitals and becoming ‘pop stars’. By 1876, Wagner was deigning to greet the German Emperor, who had come especially to hear the inaugural performance of the complete Ring Cycle – at Wagner’s own opera house at Bayreuth. Fast forward to 1997 and Tony Blair is fêting Oasis’s Noel Gallagher and others at No 10. As Blanning clearly demonstrates, this is the outcome of an unstoppable campaign of music triumphing over political rulers, as harmonic sound has triumphed as the prevailing primary force that moves the spirit, influences the young and is the undisputed highest art form of celebration. Technology has played its part too, of course, from the development of louder instruments to the commercial availabilityof pianos, the gramophone, radio, CDs and personal stereos. Music is omnipresent now and the means of its production available to all; yet the adulation of its protagonists shows no sign of waning.There has been more written about Wagner than perhaps any other composer, such has been the fascination with this complex, self-agrandising and colourful character. John Deathridge, a professor of music and long-time scholar of the German megalomaniac, has turned his attention here to analysing Wagner’s work rather than a simple historical account of his life. Clearly a fan, Deathridge presents an in-depth though disappointingly academic round-up of 150 years of Wagner analyses, examining each opera in turn. The result is a book chock full of footnotes and oblique interpretations from many philosophical, political and other standpoints – the Freudian analysis by Otto Frank, for instance, determining that the arrival of Lohengrin on a swan was in fact ‘his birth out of the waters of mother’s womb’.At the end one is well informed as to the background of the dramatic work and the interest it has engendered ever since, but Wagner the man remains an enigma.One of Friedrich Nietszche’s many aphorisms declared that matters of the heart were beyond good and evil. With an absence of any judgement on Wagner himself, one can only assume that, in this case, matters of art are also beyond such censure. | | | | | | | | |

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