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On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain Paperback – April 10, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
This is the book culture critic Said was completing when he died in 2003. The critical survey had its genesis in a popular course Said taught at Columbia University, "Late Works/Late Style," examining "artists... whose work expresses lateness through the peculiarities of its style." Writing with insight and meticulous phrasing, Said studies the output of creative talents during their final years. The passing parade of artists, writers and composers includes Beethoven, Mozart, Jean Genet, Glenn Gould, Arnold Schoenberg and Richard Strauss. In one piece, Said details dramatic contrasts between Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard and Luchino Visconti's film adaptation of that novel; in another, he compares Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (1911) with Benjamin Britten's 1973 opera of Mann's novella, composed near the end of Britten's career. While "late works crown a lifetime of aesthetic endeavor," Said concludes there also is "artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution, but as intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction." As Said examined the effect of impending death on artists, leukemia led him to his own final pages, resulting in this erudite collection. (Apr. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Late style" is the quality possessed by the puzzlingly beautiful artistic works that are created late in an artist's career, after decades of creative output, yet suggest not closure and resolution but rather "intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction," the "nonharmonious, nonserene tension" of an artist renewed with youthful energy in the face of imminent mortality. Put differently, Said is fascinated by artists who refuse to go gentle into that good night, finding, instead, an autumn-summer adolescence that subverts their peers and perhaps their earlier oeuvre as well as complicates matters for critics and admirers. This quality, he argues, is in Benjamin Britten's dark operatic rendition of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, where a discordant amalgam of text and music shows struggle but not resolution, and in Cosi fan tutte, in Mozart's gestures of longing, coldness, and technical mastery amid superficial artifice. Improving upon concepts articulated by Theodor Adorno in "Spatstil Beethovens," Said's precisely worded yet rambling narrative ultimately hints that modernism itself may be a form of late style. He was at work on this prescient book when he died, in 2003. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
If you're looking for a short collection of essays on music and literature I'm sure it's pretty good, but if you're looking for a careful, structured argument on late style you may be disappointed.
The cost to the reader not infrequently consists of wading through thickets of inpenetrable prose, prose that needs be hacked at to decipher the meaning intended. This necessity may be exacerbated in this collection by the fact that it was left unfinished and unpolished at his death. Nonetheless, skill in reading Theory and the jargon that attends it is required to comprehend, not to say appreciate, much of the early chapters. Happily much of this falls away as the book proceeds and many pearls are revealed undisguised and in fascinating verbal settings.
I continued to have difficulties with much of the entire enterprise: to wit, are Mozart's late operas really "late style" considering the man died so young? Surely they became "late style" by way of premature mortality alone. Extrapolating late style from one book wonders such as Di Lampedusa also stretches the point.
And yet incomplete, impenetrable and, as always, arguable Said, paradoxical as it sounds, remains more intellectually stimulating than most comparable critics, and still repays the effort it takes to read him.