Ok friends, we just migrated to a new format and there’s all kinds of exciting new options on here. Let’s see if I can check all the right boxes and make a book review happen!
If you read last week’s review, you know that I was so moved by Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach that I needed to take a week off from fiction. So what did I do? I read Beethoven’s Skull, by Tim Rayborn.
Quick disclaimer time: I’m friendly with this author, which is to say we’re Facebook friends, I’ve met him once or twice, and I’ve taken multiple dance workshops taught by his wife (I think he co-taught one in his guise as a musician). We’re not close, but sometimes we like each other’s cat pictures. I bought his book with my own money and I’m not receiving any compensation for this review. Cool? Cool.
Beethoven’s Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating from the World of Classical Music and Beyond is the fun sort of light non-fiction that you can reach for when you’ve got a few minutes to kill. It gives you some interesting facts that you can break out at parties, and might inspire you to do some deeper research or go fall down a YouTube or Spotify rabbit hole of classical music and composers.
As the lengthy subtitle suggests, this book is focused on the macabre side of classical music. It seeks to dispel the idea of classical music as stuffy and boring by cataloging the various titillating troubles that composers and musicians got themselves into. From murder to excommunication to all manner of lover’s quarrels, it’s in here.
There’s also quite a bit about superstitions, hauntings, and other potential supernatural stuff, presented in a “Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t” manner meant to please skeptics and believers alike.
For the most part this book has a very tongue-in-cheek tone, although as it approaches the modern era, it mellows out. Mindful of the fact that this book could be picked up today by descendants of 20th century composers, it treads more carefully around their vices and deaths, pointing them out but not as glibly as early chapters.
This is the sort of book that makes a great gift, and hey, as I’m writing this, Father’s Day is right around the corner. If you have a dad in your life who loves classical music and/or has a bit of a dark sense of humor, he might enjoy this book. It’s ideal for anyone who also just likes to have a head full of random facts. You never know when Baroque composers will come up around the ol’ office water cooler, right?
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