Monday, October 27, 2014

Object Lessons

Here are a variety of histories told through museum objects and other items such as maps, stamps, recipes, and songs.  So if you're a visual learner, a museum-goer, or you just like to approach your learning and reading in manageable lists or bits, you might enjoy these histories, listed here from broader to narrower subjects:

A History of the World in 100 Objects   by Neil MacGregor (Viking, 2011).  As Director of the British Museum, MacGregor wrote this book based on a BBC radio program that described 100 of the museum's objects chosen by these rules: 1) They represent the beginning of human history to the present. 2) They represent the whole world as much as possible. 3) They represent varied aspects of human experience. 4) They represent whole societies, not just the rich or powerful.  
The objects and their brief stories are laid out chronologically, but could easily be read and appreciated in random order.  [Other titles of a similar world-wide scope are:  Earth in 100 Groundbreaking Discoveries  by Douglas Palmer (Firefly, 2011) and A History of the World in Twelve Maps  by Jerry Brotton (Viking, 2012).]

These two recent books by West (America, 2014 and Britain, 2013) give interesting 3-5 page glimpses into British and American events, people, styles, and attitudes based on individual stamps laid out chronologically.  You need not be a stamp collector to enjoy these books.  In fact, West prefaces the British history with these words: "Stamps tell stories.  They speak to us across generations - if only we'd stop squeezing them into albums and worrying about their catalogue value, and just listen to their voices instead."

A History of New York in 101 Objects   by Sam Roberts (Simon & Schuster, 2014).  Roberts, The New York Times urban affairs correspondentwrote this history following the example of MacGregor from the British Museum (see above). He looked for enduring objects that played a transformative role in the city's history, and consulted museum curators, archivists, librarians, other journalists, and other New Yorkers to assemble this collection of "distinctive objects that span the history of New York, nearly all reproduced in brilliant color." [from flyleaf].

And here are three histories on narrower subjects:  The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs  by Greil Marcus (Yale Univ. Press, 2014) - the significance of ten songs recorded and re-recorded between 1956 and 2008; Season of Saturdays : a History of College Football in 14 Games  by Michael Weinreb (Scribner, 2014) - 14 of the greatest games of all time and their greater significance; A History of Food in 100 Recipes  by William Sitwell (Little, Brown, 2013) - the British food writer's selection of the best chapters in the history of food, with culinary characters, villains, and recipes, which have not been updated for modern cooks.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Opera Resources at the Library

Link to Giovanni Program Book
Lyric Opera of Chicago's season is well underway with Don Giovanni, Mozart's "comic drama" based on the Don Juan story, running through October 29th; and Capriccio, Richard Strauss's "conversation piece for music" that weighs the importance of words against music, running through October 28th.  

Recordings, DVDs, scores. and librettos for opera-goers and others wanting to further their appreciation of any of this season's operas can be found at this link:  Lyric Opera of Chicago Resources 2014-15 Season.  Free streaming commentary for each opera is available through the
Lyric Opera's website at this link:  
Lyric Opera Commentaries 

More information about Don Giovanni can also be found in the Lyric Opera's complete program book (link to PDF is above) and in the following title and others like it from the library's collection:

Getting the most out of Mozart : the Vocal Works  by David Hurwitz (Amadeus Press, 2005).  This book begins with an overview of Mozart's operatic style and continues with chapters on several of Mozart's great operas, including Don Giovanni; placing each opera in the context of Mozart's other works, summarizing the plot, discussing orchestration, and the opera's characters and their music.  The accompanying CD includes a few arias from Don Giovanni as well as selections from other Mozart works.

Find out more about Capriccio in The Cambridge Companion to Richard Strauss  edited by Charles Youmans (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010).  Discussions of it can be found in the chapters on Strauss's last works, his musical quotations and allusions, and his musical commentary on the nature of music itself.