Books: Music - Myths, monsters, memories
Saturday 05 December 1998
A plethora of myths are despatched in Ruth Halliwell's The Mozart Family (Oxford, pounds 30), most notably that of Leopold's beastliness to his son. What other biographers persist in seeing as vindictive possessiveness, she shows to be proper parental care: young Wolfgang, falling for a succession of nubile girls, needed saving from himself. This magisterial book reflects everything known about how the Mozarts lived. Alan Walker has now completed his definitive three-volume biography of Liszt (Franz Liszt: the final years; Faber, pounds 45). Here we follow the triangular relationship between Liszt's daughter Cosima, her husband Hans von Bulow, and her lover Richard Wagner. Walker deploys formidable scholarship against the backdrop of history, but musically he gets right up close.
Among modern composer-biographies, Daniel Jaffe's Prokofiev (Phaidon, pounds 14.95) stands out as exemplary. No one could have been more resourceful than this prolific pianist-composer, but Stalin's system first broke his family, and finally his spirit. "My soul hurts," said Prokofiev when he realised the game was up, dying 50 minutes before his tormentor, and from the same type of cerebral haemorrhage.
One of the year's most eagerly awaited biographies - Elizabeth Wilson's Jacqueline du Pre (Weidenfeld, pounds 20) - was a thundering disappointment, being essentially Daniel Barenboim's ghost-written account, but Richard Osborne's Herbert von Karajan (Chatto, pounds 30) has been well worth the wait. After patiently stalking his prey for two decades, Osborne has produced an even-handed portrait of this charismatic egomaniac.
Kevin Bazzana's Glenn Gould: the performer in the work (Oxford, pounds 25) brings philosophical rigour to this cult pianist's oeuvre. And what about Bill Evans, admired by Gould and in effect the jazz world's answer to him? Read all about his slow suicide by drugs - and his musical achievement - in Peter Pettinger's Bill Evans: how my heart sings (Yale, pounds 19.95).
This year has brought two remarkable memoirs by composers' wives. My Life With Janacek (Faber, pounds 25) paints a highly unflattering portrait of this much-loved composer, who specialised in the sensitive depiction of oppressed women. Zdenka Janackova dictated her autobiography as therapy for the pain inflicted by her adulterous husband. She was a pure spirit: the contrast with Alma Mahler-Werfel - pursued by Klimt and Kokoschka, married to Mahler and Franz Werfel - could not be more stark. As her Diaries 1898-1902 (Faber, pounds 25) show, this fame-obsessed female would have felt entirely at home in the Groucho Club.
"Wept for a long time on the bedroom floor..." I can't see why anyone - apart from its ghastly dramatis personae - should want to buy Mary Allen's lachrymose Covent Garden saga A House Divided (Simon & Schuster, pounds 17.99). But Michael Raeburn's The Chronicle of Opera (Thames & Hudson, pounds 24.95) is an intelligent (and gloriously illustrated) account of opera's rise and rise, while Stephen Pettitt's Opera: a crash course (Simon & Schuster, pounds 9.99) wears its learning with wacky conviviality.
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
Seinfeld is laughing all the way to the bank: TV show generates $3.1bn in repeat fees since final episode
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Blade Runner sequel: Harrison Ford confirmed to return with Denis Villeneuve directing
All fiction follows one of six basic storylines, according to new research
House of Cards season 3 premiere, review: Has Frank Underwood gone soft?
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia