New non-fiction: Mario Lanza: A Life in Pictures by Derek Mannering

9780719817991Mario Lanza: A Life in Pictures

Mario Lanza: A Life in Pictures is a stunning collection of photographs and illustrations that captures the fabulous and tumultuous times of the greatest romantic tenor of the twentieth century.

Compiled by acclaimed Lanza biographer Derek Mannering and drawing on exclusive photographs from the tenor’s closest friend, Terry Robinson, the book offers an unrivalled pictorial history of the tenor’s extraordinary life and career, from his childhood in Philadelphia, his first tentative steps towards a career in opera, the unexpected about-turn that led to his glory days in Hollywood, and on to his sudden and tragic death in Rome in 1959.

Complementing the rare photographs is Derek Mannering’s authoritative and compelling narrative together with personal comments by Terry Robinson throughout. The book concludes with an afterword by Mario Lanza’s daughter, Ellisa Lanza Bregman.

Few careers in show business have been as colourful or as controversial as Mario Lanza’s. Groomed for a professional life on the operatic stage, Lanza was instead waylaid by Hollywood where, in films like The Great Caruso, he thrilled movie-goers with his magnificent voice and dazzling personality. His films and recordings were highly influential in shaping the careers of countless young opera singers and to this day Lanza continues to be seen as the crossover artist supreme.

Derek Mannering was born in Dublin, Ireland, and currently lives in the USA. He is the author of Mario Lanza: Singing to the Gods, also published by Robert Hale.

Buy your copy of Mario Lanza: A Life in Pictures here.

Echoes From The Music Room

9781910208250Not surprisingly, the idea for my novel, The Music Room came to me at a concert on a winter’s night eight years ago. Watching the young solo violinist rip majestically through Mendelssohn’s Hebrides symphony, my thoughts roamed away from the stage. I pondered the tremendous pressures on her to convey the hours, days, perhaps years of rehearsal into a thirty minute moment of performance perfection.  Then the applause. The bow.  Finito. That moment, once passed, is gone— and until the advent of recorded sound, some 125 years ago—gone forever. Performance is finite. Rehearsal goes on forever.

Is the musician’s incessant rehearsing akin to the writer’s eking out many drafts? I don’t think so. Writers write and re-write, and though the book itself passes through many hands (agent, editor, copyeditor, production people, publicist,) it emerges often without fanfare or applause. No bow. Sorry. And once published, the writer does not return to rework it. No second chance to right what was wrong, as a musician can with the next performance.

Moreover, for the most part, writers work alone. Music and drama, on the other hand, are collective undertakings. Musicians and composers and actors and dramatists actively require the input of others to bring any given work to fruition. Without the composer’s work, the cellist has nothing to play. Without the band to enrich the song, the songwriter might as well just sing in the shower. For musicians (and for actors and dramatists) each undertaking creates new professional and often personal relationships. In working together artists connect, come to recognize whom to trust.   These relationships, in turn often open up into future endeavours, broadening everyone’s horizons.

In The Music Room Gloria’s endless rehearsing involves no one but herself. In this she is more like a writer than a musician. Gloria imagines (or remembers) some joyous moment of performance, applause, public recognition for her talents, even her genius. However, in her dedication to rehearsal, to grooming, perfecting her repertoire, Gloria has lost some crucial connection to the world.  She has also lost a central element of musical life. Musicians are not meant to be alone. Even if, and as she achieves perfection, Gloria has atrophied, wizened as a human being.

Gloria Denham seems to me a splendid example of the artist as pathetic character, isolated from anything and anyone who might have given her life richness and savor. Her willful ignorance only underscores her pathos. Her gorgeous music room with its brilliant acoustics ought to have exalted the collective efforts of many musicians, and at one time it did. When that moment passed, it became a sort of cell, Gloria its prisoner in solitary confinement. Ironically, Gloria finally trades that room for the chance to perform, to play in front of an audience of sycophants who are waiting for her to die.

Thematically The Music Room asks:  what do the arts extract from people who practice them? What does the artists’ obsession, their single-minded pursuit, oblige from spouses, children, parents, the people who live with or around them? Musicians, composers, painters, actors, writers must, of necessity, carve time from everything else in life to give to their work. There will be costs and losses, just as surely as there will be moments of glory. The costs and losses in this novel are borne by two children, Marcella and Rose-Renee, detritus, in their parents’ nasty divorce, debris in their family’s egotistical pursuit of the arts.

My two sons, both musicians, have taught me a lot about music, about rehearsal and performance. When they were in high school rehearsals were always at our house. As they moved out into the world, I have attended their various gigs and concerts, recitals and recording dates. While the performances are exhilarating, my favourite part of the experience is rehearsal. I like sitting at the back of an unfilled theatre, a sparsely furnished rehearsal room,  an empty nightclub, or in the recording booth at the studio, and listening to the start-and-stop, the mis-steps, the sometimes tedious repetition leading to the “Let’s move on” moment. Then they begin the same process on the next part of the program or the piece.   I enjoy sound-check just before the show. The guy at the soundboard barks at everyone. The musicians oblige him, but hold themselves in check: every bit of psychic energy must be saved up to walk out in front of the audience. Performance.

In the months just before I went to the Mendelssohn Hebrides concert that inspired The Music Room, I had watched my eldest son Bear conduct an orchestra of some eighty musicians, and watched my youngest, Brendan give his all onstage at a rock venue.  After being part of their bright, communal musical life, to return home, to this well-known room to write, seemed suddenly very lonely. It was winter and the days were short and sunless. The Hebrides concert inspired me to create, at least on paper, the noisy lives of children who live with music lilting through their lives. I wrote for a few months, finished a full draft, but then abandoned the book. Over the course of some seven years, I returned to the novel, and then left it again. The form changed, the title changed, but the story always stayed the same.

I intended to dedicate The Music Room to Bear and Brendan McCreary.  But now I have a little grand-daughter, fittingly, for a musical family, named Sonatine. So, of course, The Music Room is for her. I expect one day to attend her rehearsals too.

The Music Room is published July 2015 by Buried River Press, an imprint of Robert Hale Ltd.

 

New non-fiction: Neglected Music by Neil Butterworth

Neglected Music: A Repertoire Handbook for Orchestras and Choirs

This book is a unique guide for musicians who are seeking new material to perform. Over 400 pieces of music from the seventeenth century to the present day have been selected, covering a very wide range of styles and nationalities. Under each entry details are given of numbers and types of performers required, duration of piece, publisher, and availability of material and recordings. A description is supplied for each item with an assessment of difficulty, plus other specific guidance.

9780719815805Emphasis has been placed on works the performance material of which can be purchased, to enable musical organizations to avoid the cost of repeatedly hiring music and allowing them to build a library for the future.

In addition to choral and orchestral works, a section on opera has been included with information on thirty works suitable for amateur and student performance. A wealth of information, this book will prove invaluable for musicians of all kinds wishing to widen their repertoire.

 

Neil Butterworth

Neil Butterworth was born in London in 1934. He studied at Nottingham University, London University and the Guildhall School of Music. From 1968 to 1987 he was Head of the Music Department at Edinburgh Napier University. For many years he was music critic for the Times Educational Supplement and the Sunday Times Scotland, and a reviewer for Classic CD. In addition he was a frequent broadcaster for BBC Radio Scotland. He also conducted the Glasgow Orchestral Society for twenty-six years.

Buy your copy of Neglected Music here