Benjamin Britten -- A Life in the Twentieth Century by Paul Kildea, Allen Lane--Imprint of Penguin Books '13, $45, 665 pages, ASIN #1846142326. Index, picture credits, notes, four groupings of b&w glossy images.
Not only has author Paul Kildea performed many of the Benjamin Britten works he writes about but is an accomplished writer with other previous books to his credit, including two concerning Britten himself. In his latest, the "Prologue: The Art of Dissent" gives the reader the rich flavor of a distinguished composer, caught between the worlds of art and war:
"In early summer 1940, a little over a week after the final evacuations from the French port of Dunkirk, German troops prepared to march into a shaken Paris. One of the few foreign war correspondents still in the capital on 13 June, the eve of the occupation, described it as a 'city of the dead.' The government had fled to Bordeaux, the army somewhere south; shops, hotels and restaurants were shuttered, newspaper presses silent, the Champs-Elysees deserted but for a smattering of Americans searching vainly for passage.
"News of this improbable French ghost town and imminent occupation transfixed London. An unsteady mixture of celebration and trepidation had existed in Britain since the German invasion of France and the Low Countries a month earlier, replacing the monotonous uncertainty of the phoney war. Churchill picked up on the mood a few days later, in arguably the most iconic speech of his career, when he told the House of Commons that, were the British Empire and Commonwealth to last a thousand years, the defeat of Hitler would still be remembered as 'their finest hour.'
"But a day before the occupation it was the turn of Conservative MP Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas. He rose in his seat, this veteran of Ypres and younger brother of a fallen soldier, and asked the House 'whether British citizens of military age, such as Mr. W.H. Auden and Mr. Christopher Isherwood, who have gone to the United States and expressed their determination not to return to this country until war is over, will be summoned back for registration and calling up, in view of the fact that they are seeking refuge abroad?"
Conductor/writer Paul Kildea has performed many of the Britten works he writes about, in opera houses and concert halls from Sydney to Hamburg. He has written extensively on the relationship between music and culture in the 20th century and lives in Berlin.
The Bee Gees -- The Biography by David N. Meyer, Da Capo '13, $27.50, 389 pages, ASIN #0306820250. Index, selected bibliography, notes, grouping of b&w glossy images.
There are but a few truly unique composers and performers of 20th century popular music. In his latest book, David N. Meyer -- in the "first and only narrative" of the Bee Gees, which sold 250 million records during a 40 year career, the author traces the evolution and dominance of a group that not only dominated the Top Ten charts worldwide for 18 months with Saturday Night Fever but "became hit songwriters and producers for other artists including Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, and Kenny Rogers."
In his probing study of this iconic group, Meyer "describes the history of all four Gibb brothers: the eldest, Barry, who was the band's strongest songwriter; Robin, who had the most unique voice; Maurice, whose musical skills allowed the band to frequently change instrumentation without bringing in outsiders; and Andy, the first artist ever to have his three releases hit #1, who also suffered from a fatal cocaine addiction that took his life at 30."
David N. Meyer is the author of 20,000 Roads -- the acclaimed, definitive biography of country rocker Gram Parsons. He has written for Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, Wired, and the Rocket.
Wallace Stevens and the Demands of Modernity, Toward a Phenomenology of Value by Charles Altieri, Cornell UP '13 paperback. Index, bibliography, notes, unillustrated.
In his Preface, author Charles Altieri discusses the process of writing the latest of his many books:
"This book came as a surprise to me. I had written various essays on Wallace Stevens but could never figure out what held them together. It turns out that nothing I was doing held them together -- except the fact that I was fascinated by the power of Stevens' imagination, especially its dialectical desire to assess where his poetry positioned him and how it might more deeply engage the forces that were driving it. That fascinaton had to be temporal, if not fully historical. So I came to think that this tracking of dialectical movement had to lead the way toward a more comprehensive framework for understanding Stevens's relation to modernity than just a series of essays.
"But for a considerable time I worried that I was not up to the task. I could do a decent job of reading poems and even distinctive stylistic features of individual collections, but I did not trust any conceptual frame I thought I could develop. Then I read Peter Nichols's praise of the copulative verb in his terrific book on George Oppen. Persuasive as Nichols is on Oppen's relation to Martin Heidegger's and to George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's relation to the copulative, I could not value as he did the naming relation that the copulative celebrates."
Author Charles Altieri is Stageberg Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and is author of many books.