Master Musicians: Tallis

Kerry McCarthy

Oxford University Press USA: Master Musicians series
Hardback, 288 pages, 235x156x31mm, ISBN13: 9780190635213

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) survived the complex Tudor period in England, adapting to the various musical and liturgical demands of the period’s religious toing and froing. For one so influential on English music, it is unfortunate that very little is known about his life, something that is immediately apparent from reading Kerry McCarthy’s book. Based on surviving documents from his life, she is obliged to weave a web of historical and observational information around the bare facts of Tallis’s life.

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Master Musicians: Bach

David Schulenberg
Oxford University Press
: Master Musicians series
Hardback, 448 pages, 235x156x23mm, ISBN13: 9780190936303

Bach must be one of the most written about of all composers, so the addition of another outline of his life and music needs to have something extra to offer. Bach scholarship continues to discover new works and new evidence and ideas about his life and music. Since Malcolm Boyd’s original 1983 Master Musicians Bach volume and its three revisions, understanding of Bach and his music’s historical and cultural context has shifted substantially, reflecting new biographical information and insights. So David Schulenberg’s contribution to the Master Musicians series is very welcome.

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The Real Traviata

The Real Traviata: The Song of Marie Duplessis
René Weis
Oxford University Press
Softback. 400 pages, 216x142mm, ISBN 978-0198828297

“A young woman of exquisite demeanour . . . chaste oval features, gorgeous dark eyes, a nose of the most exquisite and delicate curve” was how Marie Duplessis (1824-1847) was described in an obituary after her death aged just 23. The writer went on to describe her “beautifully turned feet” and “soft skin, the texture of camellias”. Such gushing homilies might be considered a trifle over-enthusiastic, but Marie Duplessis’s ultimate legacy to history was becoming the inspiration for Alexandre Dumas the younger’s novel La Dame aux Camélias and later Verdi’s La traviata, based on an 1852 play of that book. The Real Traviata, first published in 2015 and now available in paperback, tells the story of this remarkable young woman. Continue reading

Holy Treasure and Sacred Song

Holy Treasure and Sacred Song
Relics Cults and their Liturgies in Medieval 
Benjamin Brand
Oxford University Press
USA, New York, 2014
Hardback. xxii+296pp. ISBN 978-0-19-935135-0

Holy Treasure and Sacred SongThe medieval cult of saintly relics has left us with some glorious examples of art, architecture, literature and music. But the studies of historians generally focus on one of first three of these aspects in isolation. This book aims to redress the balance by focussing on the musical aspects but within the context of the rich story of politics, power and influence, the complex history of monasticism and liturgy, and the artistic outpouring that the devotion to relics generated. It covers the period from around the mid-eighth century to the thirteenth in Tuscany. It is an extension of a Yale PhD thesis by musicologist Benjamin Brand.

The first three chapters reveal the world of the medieval bishops as ‘lords and builders’, later to become defenders of the holy treasures that their predecessors had amassed in their cathedrals against Scandinavian and Magyar invasions Continue reading