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Award-winning singer Ian Bostridge examines iconic works of Western classical music to reflect on the relationship between performer and audience.
Like so many performers, renowned tenor Ian Bostridge spent much of 2020 and 2021 unable to take part in live music. The enforced silence of the pandemic led him to question an identity that was previously defined by communicating directly with audiences in opera houses and concert halls. It also allowed him to delve deeper into many of the classical works he has encountered over the course of his career, such as Claudio Monteverdi’s seventeenth-century masterpiece Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Robert Schumann’s popular song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben. In lucid and compelling prose, Bostridge explores the ways Monteverdi, Schumann, and Britten employed and disrupted gender roles in their music; questions colonial power and hierarchy in Ravel’s Songs of Madagascar; and surveys Britten’s reckoning with death in works from the War Requiem to his final opera, Death in Venice.
As a performer reconciling his own identity and that of the musical text he delivers on stage, Bostridge unravels the complex history of each piece of music, showing how today’s performers can embody that complexity for their audiences. As readers become privy to Bostridge’s unique lines of inquiry, they are also primed for the searching intensity of his interpretations, in which the uncanny melding of song and self brings about moments of epiphany for both the singer and his audience.
About the Author
Ian Bostridge is an English tenor, known for his performances as an opera and lieder singer. His recordings have won multiple international record prizes and three Grammy awards, and he gives recitals regularly throughout Europe, North America, and Asia. He was awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2004. His recent books include Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession and A Singer’s Notebook.
“Bostridge uniquely combines the gifts of a celebrated tenor with the gifts of a professional historian. The result in these remarkable essays is an exploration of both the emergence of certain powerful musical compositions and the experience of performing them. These ‘hidden histories,’ as Bostridge calls them, at once complicate and intensify our responses to the works of art he so effectively brings to life.”
— Stephen Greenblatt, author of 'Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare'
“Finally a book that highlights something I have always felt to be true: the immutability of creative art. Bostridge's new book shines a light in the corner of often neglected, fragile beauty, and brings that beauty a relevance to current issues of the world we live in: gender, race, and the universality and humanity of death.”
— Yuja Wang, pianist
“Song and Self is an engaging, elegant, and provocative meditation on identity in music. Focusing on the performer and the text, Bostridge writes from deep thought and scholarly research but also from thirty years of personal musical experience; he formulates and articulates this combination with eloquence—indeed with poetic power.”
— Linda Hutcheon, author of 'Four Last Songs: Aging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten'
“This book gives an old cliché a new and fresh life. Bostridge shows how music creates personal and social identities, evoking the ways song shapes character in vivid and unfussy prose. It’s a wonderful essay.”
— Richard Sennett, author of 'The Craftsman'
"In this short but powerful book, acclaimed tenor Bostridge explores themes of gender roles, politicizing, decolonizing, and death within a range of operatic and song repertoire ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Bostridge’s earlier training as a historian provides a solid grounding for his foray into this exploration of subjects of timely import to the artistic community."
— Library Journal