Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Lure of Music, Picturing the Human Side of Great Composers

Olin Downes - The Lure of Music, Picturing the Human Side of Great Composers (1922)

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Collection of short, entertaining biographies of composers.  The one on Handel opens that he was "a full-blooded, adventurous, practical man, who swung through life magnificently and compelled everybody to acknowledge his genius. As student, traveler, duelist, opera manager, favorite of courts and friend of kings, he was tremendous!"

That does give the impression this is almost a kids book or breathless worship of the great artists but Downes is merely enthusiastic and covers the key biographical information and some of the major works.  It seems faint praise to say the book is "readable" but too often this kind of thing falls into the dry world of the encyclopedia.  He does enjoy writing synopses of opera and can't help but try to claim Beethoven as American in spirit (hey, some people try to portray Shakespeare as German so maybe it somewhat balances).

Downes (1886-1955) was a long-time critic for the Boston Post and the New York Times.  He was a powerful advocate for Sibelius and other contemporary composers (but somewhat dismissing the Second Viennese School despite a long correspondence with Schoenberg).  There are some other collections of his writing including 1957's Olin Downes on Music.