Bernard Williams, who died in 2003, was one of the most influential moral philosophers of his generation. A lifelong opera lover, his articles and essays, talks for the BBC, contributions to the Grove Dictionary of Opera, and program notes for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the English National Opera, generated a devoted following.
This elegant volume brings together these widely scattered and largely unobtainable pieces, including two that have not been previously published. It covers an engaging range of topics from Mozart to Wagner, including sparkling essays on specific operas by those composers as well as Verdi, Puccini, Strauss, Debussy, Janacek, and Tippett. Reflecting Williams’s brilliance, passion, and clarity of mind, these essays engage with, and illustrate, the enduring appeal of opera as an art form.
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Bernard Williams was Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy, Cambridge University, Monroe Deutsch Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley, and White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, Oxford University. He was a member of the board of the English National Opera in London and author of many articles on music.From Publishers Weekly:
A moral philosopher and lifelong opera enthusiast, Williams has an extensive body of operatic writing, from articles and essays to program notes for the English National Opera. This collection organizes these scattered writings and covers a wide range of popular composers, such as Mozart, Debussy and Puccini. The first essay, "The Nature of Opera: Entry for The New Grove Dictionary of Opera," sets the tone for the following essays by defining opera in Williams's terms. Each essay brings Williams's passion and philosophical knowledge to classic operatic works such as The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Cosí Fan Tutte, Tristan und Isolde and Pelleas et Mélisande. The essays range from minute examinations of specific operas, like his examination of the inherent conflicts between the libretto and the music in Cosí Fan Tutte, to more general musings, as in his "Comments on Opera and Ideas: From Mozart to Strauss by Paul Robinson." He discusses the political implications in Verdi's Don Carlos, Wagner's Ring Cycle and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, and the psychological implications in other works like Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Williams then turns his attention to the listener and to the question of why Puccini's music holds such broad appeal despite his bloody, often sadistic plot elements (such as the torture and death of Liu in Turandot). The more philosophical writings can overwhelm the amateur opera lover, like the essay "Janacek's Modernism: Doing Less with More in Music and Philosophy and the periodic critiques of operas by Richard Strauss." But as a whole, the collection engages the major operatic texts in a more universal philosophical discourse, appealling to opera fans of every level.
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