Sunday, June 5, 2016

REVIEW: Sounds and Sweet Airs by Anna Beer

Sounds and Sweet Airs
by Anna Beer

Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Page Count: 304
Release Date: May 10, 2016
Format: ARC Paperback

How got: ARC copy won through LibraryThing giveaway

First attention getter: nonfiction about obscure historical female figures


From GoodReads:

SOUNDS AND SWEET AIRS reveals the hidden stories of eight remarkable composers, taking the reader on a journey from seventeenth-century Medici Florence to London in the Blitz.

Exploring not just the lives and works of eight exceptional artists, historian Anna Beer also asks tough questions about the silencing of their legacy, which continues to this day. Why do we still not hear masterpieces such as Hensel’s piano work "The Year," Caccini’s arias and Boulanger’s setting of Psalm 130?

A long-overdue celebration of neglected virtuosos, SOUNDS AND SWEET AIRS presents a complex and inspirational picture of artistic endeavour and achievement that deserves to be part of our cultural heritage.

The featured composers are Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Marianna Martines, Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn), Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

The subject matter of this book is what first drew me; obscure female figures from history are always a win. The author goes into lots of detail of their lives, giving us figures that felt real and that we got to know. However, sometimes the author could go into TOO much detail. I felt I was drowning at times in scene descriptors or tangents that supplemented the women’s stories.

From the introduction, it sounds like the author faced much the same challenges that her subjects did as she researched their lives. Facing down the idea that a woman’s place was under a man and not in the musical world showed through quite clearly, even in the 20th century.

Yet, Beer gives us eight women who didn’t let those attitudes and society stop them from doing what they loves. Faced with family tragedy, pressure to conform, and the vagaries of patron support, each woman shows us the guts it took to face the world down and create.

The amount of detail incorporated into this book was both a blessing and a curse. The author spends a huge amount of time giving us small details into the lives of her subjects: the intimate relations, the dramatic works that launched some of them, honeymoons, romantic letters, and illnesses. All made for vivid reading and creating a connection between these women and the readers.

However, I found that at times the author could get too wordy and detailed with her extras. While they added depth to the women portrayed, sometimes the extras would overpower their story in their vivid glory. The early works that shaped Caccini are a prime example. The various plays and musical events she took part in are relevant, yes, but the amount of them talked about and the abundant details used seemed excessive to me.

Talking about obscure female figures will always be a plus for me, and Beer does a good job in bringing them and their works to life. She provides lots of details in a readable format for those who don’t read non-fiction often. Yet, those details could also sometimes bog down her narrative; I felt like there was padding going on in this book. Still, she always came back to her eight women and their lives. This was an enjoyable read, and I look forward to more.

Note: Book received for free from Library Thing giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

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