Podcast #94 is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Sterling Murray about his biography of the classical composer Antonio Rosetti (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!
Antonio Rosetti may not be the household name today that his contemporary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is, but he nonetheless ranks as one of the more popular composers of the classical era. Born in Bohemia, at a young age he found employment as a musician at the court of the south German prince of Oettingen-Wallerstein. There he wrote a steady stream of compositions which soon gained him renown, while a five-month trip to Paris in 1781-2 both boosted his profile further and introduced him to musical ideas that he adopted to produce even finer works. After rising to the position of Kapellmeister, he moved north to the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, where he continued composing until his premature death in 1792.
Though Rosetti left an impressive body of work relatively little is known about his life. For much of what is known we have Sterling Murray to thank for decades of labor in archives throughout Europe. He has written an exemplary biography of the man, one that fills in many of the gaps by reconstructing life at the Oettingen-Wallerstein court. As a result, he gives readers what is not just the best account of Rosetti's life we are likely to have but a look at the experience of the 18th century musician, one that Murray follows with a comprehensive style study of his compositions in various forms, from symphonies to vocal works. It is an impressive achievement, one that should be read not just by students of Rosetti but anyone interested in early modern European music history or the world of the 18th century European court.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a somewhat bland modern re-rewording of the shenanigans of the Norse Gods and Goddesses, the creation, and end of the World, that can be found in the Poetic and Prose Eddas. If you don't know much about the Norse Gods and Goddesses, this is a decent, easy to read introduction. If you know the basics, then you will find nothing new in this book. This book also does not include any of the Norse myths/legends like Sigurd and the Dragon.
A lovely, diverse collection of Anglo-Saxon writings translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland, including Beowulf, a collection of Heroic Poems, Elegies, Church writings, Laws, portions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Poems of Exploration, some riddles from the Exeter Book and other odds-and-ends. The translations are clear and accessible and each section is preceded by a commentary which puts the Anglo-Saxon texts into context. This collection provides a picture of the people who migrated to the British Isles as pagans and became Christians within a few centuries.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is a retelling parts of the Odyssey myth from the perspective of Odysseus's wife, Penelope. The author's aim is to answer two questions she had while reading the Odyssey: what led to the handing of Penelope's 12 maids and what was Penelope really up to?
This book reminds me of the prescribed fiction we had to "dissect" in school - a teachers wet dream with all those "how do you feel about xyz" or "what did the author think" questions. In short, I found the book boring and the interludes with the chanting maids chorus and other commentary annoying. Penelope's story would have made an ok, if somewhat insipid, alternative retelling on it's own. The characters are flat and I found no reason to care about Penelope or her associates at all. The Odyssey manages to make its readers care with less information and page time. The commentaries would have made a mediocre, and not too well researched college essay on the subject.. Together, they were just annoying. As for providing a new perspective, this is only valid if you know nothing about Greek history or mythological tales.
Thank Dionysus that the book was so short!