Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Please Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.
Synopsis (From GoodReads):
Beethoven’s Skull is an unusual and often humorous survey of the many strange happenings in the history of Western classical music. Proving that good music and shocking tabloid-style stories make excellent bedfellows, it presents tales of revenge, murder, curious accidents, and strange fates that span more than two thousand years. Highlights include:
A cursed song that kills those who hear it
A composer who lovingly cradles the head of Beethoven’s corpse when his remains are exhumed half a century after his death
A fifteenth-century German poet who sings of the real-life Dracula
A dream of the devil that inspires a virtuoso violin piece
I am an avid lover of all kinds of music and am the daughter of a professional musician. So when I saw this non-fiction book, Beethoven's Skull, by Tim Rayborn, I was excited to read some strange and quirky stories of my favorite composers of old. There certainly were some gems, but I found I had to dig through quite a bit of filler to find them.
What I Liked:
The best stories come from the section on The Romantic Era. Composers such as Liszt, Paganini, and Berlioz have compellingly strange lives and the author does a good job of narrating them. I think this is due, in part, to the fact that there are well documented accounts about these people's lives.
What I Didn't Like:
Most of the book had stories that had a tenuous link to the premise of the book (quirky anecdotes of composers through the ages). I realize it is nearly impossible to have any stories of people who lived thousands of years ago at the dawn of music. So why not admit that and skip ahead? Instead we are asked to trudge through a lot of stories that are rather boring. I'm sorry, but it just wasn't entertaining.
Although his name pops up here and there, Richard Wagner doesn't get a separate mention. I find this strange, and even went back through the book and checked. Wagner had a very strange career as one of his patrons was King Ludwig II of Bavaria (often called Mad King Ludwig). It was well known that the King was infatuated with Wagner and took advantage of this. He knew he could string the King along and get him to back him financially. Later, the King became obsessed with Wagner. I would have loved to have read even more about that.
In all, I found that the book did have entertaining parts, but not enough for me to recommend it. The book's premise was supposed to be composers, Classical music, and beyond. I think this book has a great deal of the "and beyond" parts. There are sections on nursery rhymes, and modern pop stars that, while interesting, seem like filler. Perhaps if the book had been marketed as a book about strange things in the music world as a whole, I could have been more open-minded about reading this book. But my expectation was set at learning hidden aspects of the world of Classical music. There just wasn't enough here to warrant an entire book.
Release Date: November 15th, 2016
Format: ARC E-Book
Recommendation: This book missed the mark with me, but you may enjoy it as a light library read.