What the Editors Are Reading

Having read Sir Philip Magnus’s biography of William Gladstone in graduate school, I recently picked up a copy of his King Edward the Seventh, published in 1964 and made the basis of a very excellent series by Masterpiece Theater, with the superb British actor Timothy West in the title role, a decade or so later.  Unlike many or most historians, Sir Philip takes a sympathetic view of Edward, equally compelling in print and on screen, as having been a misunderstood Prince of Wales and King determined to do his duty despite a difficult upbringing overseen by his overly scrupulous father, Albert the Prince Consort, and Queen Victoria’s unwillingness to allow her son to prepare himself adequately for the throne.

So far I have read only the two introductory chapters and the third, about Giu seppe Verdi, in the newly published Four Last Songs: Aging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten (University of Chicago Press) by Linda and Michael Hutcheon.  The psychological business doesn’t interest me much, but the Hutcheons’ discussion of Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, as a deliberate and witty musical commentary on Wagner’s own final work, Parsifal, and an encouragement to young Italian composers to stick with their musical tradition in the face of the encroaching German one, is very good indeed.

Every time I have the chance to grab a...

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