Happy Alchemy : On the Pleasures of Music and the Theatre

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9780140276381: Happy Alchemy : On the Pleasures of Music and the Theatre

This autobiographical collection of pieces draws on Robertson Davies' life-long passion for the theatre, opera and music. It encompasses speeches and prologues to plays, a libretto for a children's opera, a suggestion for a film scenario and fragments from Davies' own diary.

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Review:

The following passage reveals Robertson Davies's great love of the theater, and it shows that these collected pieces, numbering 33, transcend mere criticism: "For as long as I can remember, playgoing has stood first among all pleasures with me, and although to most people it is simply a pastime, I think that I have brought qualities to it which raised it above that.... I sincerely believe that I have been a good playgoer, and that is something better, perhaps, than having been a well-known critic."

One's admiration for this literary master doubles when remembering that drama was Davies's academic field, and it constituted one of his three successful careers (he acted with the Old Vic in England). By 1962, Davies had begun to craft his playgoing notes into the Theatre Diary--snippets of which appear in this posthumously published collection. Each of these 33 pieces, introduced by the author and followed by a diary entry or two, demonstrates Davies's enormous and diverse erudition. Included are speeches, prologues to plays, articles about the theatre and opera, a discussion of folksong, a children's opera, a story set to music, and a preliminary sketch of a film script. Several personal essays shed light on his own ambitions as a playwright.

Many of these pieces were lectures, and they enjoy the immediacy and cadence of the spoken word. A spacious tone ensues; that is, complex ideas are delivered clearly, because they are intended for a listening audience. Surprisingly, this enhances the pleasure of reading them. Happy Alchemy may not appeal to the reader whose interest in theater and opera is only occasional but certainly will to any ardent Robertson Davies fan who delights in the turnings of a learned and sophisticated mind. --Hollis Giammatteo

From Kirkus Reviews:

On the evidence of his immense legacy in print, the late novelist Davies was a man of profound artistic appetite; this, the second posthumous collection of his criticism, shares the exuberant and casual erudition of the first (The Merry Heart, 1997). The material here, most of it previously unpublished, was culled by the author's wife and daughter from his vast archive of speeches, interviews, articles, and errata, including excerpts from the copious diaries he kept throughout his life. Though the majority of pieces deal with the theater, Davies, like George Bernard Shaw, with whom he enjoyed much fruitful contact over the years, cultivated a dynamic relationship to music, and the ruminations on offer here attest to the depth of his engagement. Of Verdi's Rigoletto and distaste for fine verse that would distract from his music, he provocatively notes that ``the inferiority of what he made his librettists produce from the bleeding ruins of Macbeth and Othello is proof of his musical genius, but certainly not of his literary taste,'' praising the crudity of its melodrama as essential to the composer's intent. Elsewhere we encounter subtle observations on the psychology of folk music, the performance style of renowned pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch, for whose daughter the author held a deep affection, even a musical ghost story that Davies wrote for the Young People's Theatre in Toronto. His remarkably droll humor is on display here, most notably in a letter, from fictional ``necromantic suppliers'' friars Bacon and Bungay, to Tanya Moiseiwitsch, director of the Stratford Festival Theatre in Davies's native Canada, offering to sell the eclectic ingredients necessary to perform the famous witches' scene in Macbeth, part of which was omitted during the festival's 1962 production of that play. Lovingly collected, these scatterings of Davies's singular talent are typically abundant and a welcome addition to a corpus like no other in contemporary literature. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Robertson; Davies, Brenda; Surridge, Jennifer Davies
Published by Viking Press (1998)
ISBN 10: 0140276386 ISBN 13: 9780140276381
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Robertson; Davies, Brenda; Surridge, Jennifer Davies
Published by Viking Press (1998)
ISBN 10: 0140276386 ISBN 13: 9780140276381
New Paperback First Edition Quantity Available: 1
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Irish Booksellers
(Rumford, ME, U.S.A.)
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Book Description Viking Press, 1998. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0140276386

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