Synopses & Reviews
Aging and creativity can seem a particularly fraught relationship for artists, who often face age-related difficulties as their audienceandrsquo;s expectations are at a peak. Inand#160;Four Last Songs
, Linda and Michael Hutcheon explore this issue via the late works of some of the worldandrsquo;s greatest composers.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813andndash;1901), Richard Strauss (1864andndash;1949), Olivier Messiaen (1908andndash;92), and Benjamin Britten (1913andndash;76) all wrote operas late in life, pieces that reveal unique responses to the challenges of growing older. Verdiandrsquo;sand#160;Falstaff, his only comedic success, combated Richard Wagnerandrsquo;s influence by introducing young Italian composers to a new model of national music. Strauss, on the other hand, struggling with personal and political problems in Nazi Germany, composed the self-reflexiveand#160;Capriccio, a andldquo;life reviewandrdquo; of opera and his own legacy. Though it exhausted him physically and emotionally, Messiaen at the age of seventy-five finishedand#160;his only opera,and#160;Saint Franandccedil;ois dandrsquo;Assise, which marked the pinnacle of his career. Britten, meanwhile, suffering from heart problems, refused surgery until he had completed his masterpiece,and#160;Death in Venice. For all four composers, age, far from sapping their creative power, provided impetus for some of their best accomplishments.
With its deft treatment of these composersandrsquo; final years and works, Four Last Songs provides a valuable look at the challengesandmdash;and opportunitiesandmdash;that present themselves as artists grow older.
“Passionate, learned and often thrilling.” Clevelandclassical.com
and#8220;An enjoyable study. . . . Skillfully dissected in a series of well-chosen examples.and#8221;
“An enjoyable study. . . . Skillfully dissected in a series of well-chosen examples.” Patricia Howard
"Lively and engaging. . . . [A] brilliant musical mapping of the seventeenth century."
and#8220;This is an excellent book with implications and resonances that reach far beyond the study of the four composers. It displays a tremendous range of knowledge across a spectrum of disciplines: musicology, critical theory, humanistic gerontology. The Hutcheons are pioneers in creating such a synthesis. Timely in its arguments, Four Last Songs will appeal widely and make a powerful impact.and#8221;
andldquo;As a practicing geriatrician, I was inspired by these accounts of creativity in old age. As an opera lover (Verdiandrsquo;s Falstaff is one of my particular favorites), I enjoyed the stories about these remarkable composers. I would highly recommend this elegantly written book for any reader interested in opera, or creativity, or aging.andrdquo;
andldquo;Four Last Songs takes its readers on a vivid musicological journey across the rhythms of tradition and discords of modernity to arrive at the late careers of Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten, whose operas tell big stories about nation and identity, finitude and transcendence. Bravo to the Hutcheons for bringing their historical discoveries and brilliant sense of the unexplored to inspire age studies today and into the future.andrdquo;
andldquo;Limits to creativity are rarely imposed by nature alone; rather it is social constraints that have often weighed heavily on those pursuing significant creative goals late in life. This important book beautifully validates what those who continue to pursue professional and personal projects in their late years already know; but for others, who associate aging with ebbing energy and creative fatigue, this book is, and should be, a revelation.andrdquo;
and#8220;Passionate, learned and often thrilling.and#8221;
andldquo;An extremely inspiring study of a heroic quartet.andrdquo;
In this book, Susan McClary examines the mechanisms through which seventeenth-century musicians simulated extreme affective statesand#151;desire, divine rapture, and ecstatic pleasure. She demonstrates how every major genre of the period, from opera to religious music to instrumental pieces based on dances, was part of this striving for heightened passions by performers and listeners. While she analyzes the social and historical reasons for the high value placed on expressive intensity in both secular and sacred music, and she also links desire and pleasure to the many technical innovations of the period. McClary shows how musiciansand#151;whether working within the contexts of the Reformation or Counter-Reformation, Absolutists courts or commercial enterprises in Veniceand#151;were able to manipulate known procedures to produce radically new ways of experiencing time and the Self.
and#147;In this book brimming with great music and great ideas, Susan McClary takes us into the sensual, even bawdy world of the seventeenth century. Its musicians developed ways to express, through tones, the longings and pleasures that the nobility hoped to experience on earth and in heaven. With McClary as our guide, we can tour this sacred and profane landscape of desire and, in our own fashion, luxuriate in its musical beauties.and#8221;
and#151;Robert O. Gjerdingen, author of Music in the Galant Style
and#147;In this ambitious study, Susan McClary boldly argues that the seventeenth century was far more than the period in which an emerging tonal practice can be charted in Western music, for it was precisely in this nascent tonality, she claims, that composers discovered affective sonic expression of modern notions of self, temporality, and bodily desire. Enriched by compelling analytic examples and enlivened by McClaryand#8217;s characteristically vivid prose, it is a book sure to arouse the interest of music historians and theorists alike."
and#151;Thomas Christensen, general editor of Cambridge History of Western Music Theory
Later life is a fraught topic in our commercialized, anti-aging, death-denying culture. Where does creativity fit in?and#160; The canonical composers whose stories are told in this book--Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), and Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)and#151;offer radically individual responses to that question. In their late years, each of these national icons wrote an opera around which coalesced major issues about their own creativity and aging, ranging from declining health to the critical expectations that accompany success and long artistic careers. They also had to deal with the social, political and aesthetic changes of their time, including World Wars and the rise of musical modernism. By investigating their attitudes to their creativity in the face of aging, together with their late compositions and the critical reception of them, this book tells the stories of their different but creative ways of dealing with those changes. Bringing their respective specialties of medicine and literary criticism to bear on the study, the authors show how the late nineteenth century, where these stories begin, saw the discovery and definition of and#147;old ageand#8221; as a social, economic, and medical construct. And thus were born, in the twentieth century, both geriatrics and gerontology as disciplines. Despite recent medical advances and increased life expectancy, the strikingly dichotomous cultural views of age and agingand#151;both positive and negativeand#151;have not changed much at all. What also has not changed are the reception of late-life works as caught between decline and apotheosis and the fraught discourse of and#147;late style.and#8221; The stories in this book weave all these elements together, highlighting both the shared vicissitudes of aging and the individual power of creativity as a way to meet them.
About the Author
is university professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto and the author of many books on contemporary culture and theory. Michael Hutcheon
is a pulmonologist and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. Together they have written several books on opera and medical culture, most recently Opera: The Art of Dying
Table of Contents
Prelude: The Music of Pleasure and Desire
Part I. The Hydraulics of Musical Desire
1. The Expansion Principle
2. Composites, or the Still-Divided Subject
Part II. Gendering Voice
3. Soprano as Fetish: Professional Singers in Early Modern Italy
4. Gender Ambiguities and Erotic Excess in the Operas of Cavalli
Part III. Divine Love
5. Libidinous Theology
6. Straining Belief: The Toccata
Part IV. Dancing Bodies
7. The Social History of a Groove: Chacona, Ciaccona, Chaconne, and the Chaconne
8. Dancing about Power, Architecture about Dancing
Part V. La Mode Franand#231;aise
9. Temporality and Ideology: Qualities of Motion in Seventeenth-Century French Music
10. The Dragon Cart: The Femme Fatale in Seventeenth-Century French Opera
Postlude: Toward Consolidation