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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Increasingly compelling collection of articles and pieces
The beginning of this book left me strangely flat. The first piece, a lecture Bostridge gave on the connections between witchcraft, magic and music, I found a bit disappointing. This was a surprise, as I'd been attracted to read Bostridge's book because of his intriguing background as a former academic - and not just any academic, a student of Keith Thomas no less...
Published on 7 Nov. 2011 by emma who reads a lot

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19 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Polymath's Notebook
The modest title of this book gives no indication of the vast learning, wisdom and critical perception of the author, so that at the beginning it's very easy for the reader to believe that Bostridge really does know everything. Later on, however, it becomes clear that he doesn't. The first essay, 'Music and Magic' is an erudite twenty-four page introduction to ...er...
Published on 27 Mar. 2012 by Good book


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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Increasingly compelling collection of articles and pieces, 7 Nov. 2011
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emma who reads a lot (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Singer's Notebook (Hardcover)
The beginning of this book left me strangely flat. The first piece, a lecture Bostridge gave on the connections between witchcraft, magic and music, I found a bit disappointing. This was a surprise, as I'd been attracted to read Bostridge's book because of his intriguing background as a former academic - and not just any academic, a student of Keith Thomas no less (Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (Penguin History)).

However, I continued to read, and enjoyed every bit of the book more and more. In the end I concluded that for me, the personal and speculative bits (which come first) are less seductive. When Bostridge writes on particular singers, writers and pieces, though, for me the book comes completely alive. I found myself listening again to Schubert sung by Fischer-Dieskau, thinking about song lyrics, pondering Bob Dylan, and then online late at night ordering three CDs by Henze, a composer I'd never even listened to.

There is a focus to Bostridge's expertise and interests; you will read a lot about lieder for obvious reasons. But his carefully argued judgements on much of the recent important literature in his field are just so enjoyable to read that I found myself staying up late to read even when I was tired. And he has sent me back to Charles RosenThe Romantic Generation (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures), who he regards almost as a god, with great joy.

Fantastic read for anyone with the slightest interest in thinking about serious music.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rest is Magic, 9 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: A Singer's Notebook (Hardcover)
If you are the sort of music lover inclined to go beyond the sounds and to indulge into musing over such subjects as "music and transcendence", you will enjoy this book.

But there is more : art and artifice, setting words to music, magic of music making, metaphors in singing technique, irrational melancholia about sore throats are a few of the many - more or less serious but never boring - issues. "Magic" extends beyond the first chapter and is sort of leitmotiv of the book. None of the issues is explored comprehensively - the book is appropriately called a "notebook" - so you will probably be stimulated to go on musing on several of the ideas exposed.

Besides, you will perhaps discover some unknown composers (for me it was Henze and Adès, and I have yet to listen to some Janacek) and a few things on well-known works such as St Matthew Passion, Winterreise, The Turn of the Screw, the War Requiem ; not surprisingly, Britten is much discussed by Bostridge and his views are rather revelatory (to quote only one example: the final scene of The Turn of the Screw compared to the final scene of Wozzeck).

The reading is very pleasant, quite understandable even in the more philosophical places ; captivating too, and one is only tempted to read it too fast, so a re-reading may be found necessary.

Looking again through the book to write this review I realized how compelling it is, while opening it at any page, to follow the author in his thoughts and be elated beyond the music discussed, into its magic.

Please excuse my English: I enjoyed the book very much and there was only one positive review.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book, thoughtful and thought-filled, 2 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: A Singer's Notebook (Hardcover)
Wonderful book, thoughtful and thought-filled, exactly what one would expect from this consummate artist ! A true joy to read and re-read.
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19 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Polymath's Notebook, 27 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: A Singer's Notebook (Hardcover)
The modest title of this book gives no indication of the vast learning, wisdom and critical perception of the author, so that at the beginning it's very easy for the reader to believe that Bostridge really does know everything. Later on, however, it becomes clear that he doesn't. The first essay, 'Music and Magic' is an erudite twenty-four page introduction to ...er... music and magic. It is written in simple, straightforward language that anyone with degrees in history and music and a PhD in philosophy can follow with relative ease. I imagine so, anyway.
From these few pages we learn, among other things, that Proust was 'deeply influenced by Schopenhauer' and that Wittgenstein, Ludwig, not his brother, was 'another Schopenhauer aficionado' and 'a key figure in the 'linguistic'revolution in twentieth-century philosophy'. We also learn that Galileo's father, Vicenzo Galilei emphasised the necessary imperfections of contingent sound.' (Lots of people don't know that. I must confess I didn't myself).
He tells us that Newton interpreted Pythagoras' views on musical consonance as containing the essence of the inverse square law of gravitation, his dazzling solution to the unity of celestial and terrestrial mechanics and dynamics, Newton's triumph was to equate mathematical functions and physical reality and thus smuggle magic, and a sort of silent music, into the age of reason.' Clever chap.
Another interesting snippet of information, ideal for use during a lull in conversation at cocktail parties, is that 'The eighteenth century's supposed lack of creative ambition - Haydn's 'Creation' was much mocked by its capitulation to the aesthetic of illustrative imitation - was spurned by a nineteenth century in thrall to a notion of absolute music that could match the ineffability of the Hegelian absolute.' Who could argue with that?
It comes as something of a relief later on in other parts of the book, when the author writes at some length and for the first time in comprehensible English, about his having had the flu. It would appear that his great learning does not include an elementary knowledge of homeopathy, since if it did, he could have taken a mini dose of ARNICA for the flu and ACONITE for a cold and recovered at once.
Bostridge is never found wanting when it comes to acknowledging brilliance, as in the following examples: 'Fintan O'Toole's brilliant dissection of Shakespearean soliloquy; the brilliant choral director and conductor Stephen Layton; the brilliant touch of the horn prologue...; the brilliant recitatives in Idomeneo; John Bridcut has brilliantly reconfigured...; the Lied traditions of the 1840s, which Kravitt brilliantly summarises..; and the best of them all: 'When you have read Charles Rosen's pyrotechnic accounts of the postlude to Schumann's Frauenliebe und leben..., it is difficult to be satisfied with anything less brilliant.'
Occasionally he gives brilliant a rest, as in 'Ross's superbly nuanced historical accounts...; masterly unpicking by Ross; Roger Scruton's marvellous writing on music; and Charles Rosen, the pianist and peerless writer about music'.
One definition of 'a rare book' nowadays is one that makes no mention of Hitler. It would come as no surprise to see a new edition of 'Alice in Wonderland' with an introduction commenting on Hitler's absurd love of animals manifest in his kinky obsession with white rabbits. Bostridge get a chance to include the nazi dictator when reviewing a book by the masterly Ross. He tells us that Hitler was a vegetarian and an animal lover. A few pages later, however, and before we have time to kick the nearest cat and throw the lettuce and tomatoes in the waste bin, he tells us that his friend, composer Hans Werner Henze,is also a vegetarian animal lover. So, what do we do now?
When writing about NoŽl Coward, whom he doesn't seem to like much, he says 'He (Coward) once conversed with a bemused Sibelius under the impression that he was Delius'. Since this is utterly false, we'd better have the facts. Coward says in his autobiography that when he was in Helsinki someone suggested that he should call on Sibelius. He was then driven out into the country to visit the celebrated composer. When describing the meeting he says 'I remember regretting bitterly my casual approach to classical music and trying frantically in my mind to disintangle the works of Sibelius from those of Delius'.
I think I'd better stop here, otherwise it might be thought that I'm being critical.
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A Singer's Notebook by Ian Bostridge
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