Thursday, May 01, 2008

Opera and the Morbidity of Music

In spite of the title of this retrospective collection of essays, Opera and the Morbidity of Music by Joseph Kerman, the author presents a forceful and eloquent argument that opera and classical music in general is neither morbid nor moribund. He is successful through nuanced and informed writing and the use of a structure in which a group of musical themes is highlighted much like those of a Bach fugue. Kerman quotes Charles Rosen, " It is never the theme that is the central interest but the way the theme is embedded in the polyphonic structure" (p. 81). Thus the essays take on this aspect of music and in doing so become more than their individual essayist parts. There is an ebb and flow to the collection that charmed this reader with references to musical memories and suggestions for future listening and reading. The breadth of the essays spans centuries of music and multiplicities of musical form while frequently narrowing the focus to specific composers. Over the course of thirty essays covering both the familiar (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner) and the unfamiliar (Byrd, Monteverdi and program notes), the life of music is reviewed from baroque to the present. The whole is lively and intelligent, both informative and accessible for the general reader.

Opera and the Morbidity of Music by Joseph Kerman. New York Review Books, 2008.

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