Nikolaus Pevsner – The Life

(by Susie Harries) The rather ponderous biographical figure can make for a fascinating biography, when it is written and researched judiciously and with love.  Pevsner’s love for his adopted England is shown in the Teutonic thoroughness with which he trundled about every shire in the country, travelling and lodging uncomfortably with a hard cheese sandwich wedged in his coat pocket, to document every church, every manor, every public building, bridge and stile of consequence.  He accumulated a wall of architectural volumes for the intelligent layperson that still inspire the question: “Is it in Pevsner?”  

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Michelangelo: His Epic Life

(by Martin Gayford) Straightfoward but intelligent and informed biography of the world’s greatest visual artist, well sourced and well imagined. Even when he ran out of puff, money or interest, he still managed to do great things; e.g. his incomplete (although officially deemed finished after 45 years of tinkering) tomb of Julius II, with its magnificent centrepiece of Moses. Ridiculously prolific even though he could be a right sod in negotiating and delivering his famous services, as multi-talented as his rival Leonardo, as contradictory as all men, Michelangelo is still “the one to beat”. “And who is He that sculptured…

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Memoirs of Hector Berlioz

Like Wagner, Berlioz was a pain in the neck, a necessary pain, the kind reminding one both of life and mortality.  There is still no agreement as to how good he was and a lot of his work has Wagnerian length without the same depth. But check out his Faust, Trojans and Symphonie fantastique. This autobiography, painstakingly translated by David Cairns, (who has also produced a massive biography) shows the composer kicking like a mule to get ahead, to get his way, to get some recognition, in a France that has always been indifferent to him.  A great work even for…

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Lord Berners

(by Mark Amory) It’s not possible to know what made Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners tick, but everyone seemed to like him and his eccentric acts were mostly harmless; dyeing animals, driving around in grotesque masks, hiding under a bearskin rug to ‘fool’ tedious guests.  A soft spoken flower with a small but keen talent justifies this very readable and accomplished bio.  And remember, ‘Red roses blow but thrice a year, in June, July and May.  But those who have red noses can blow them every day.’  

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I Shall Bear Witness

(by Victor Klemperer) Despite some confusing Anne Frank with a Nazi (see: Rijksmuseum moments), her diary is mandatory reading and so should be this diary of German Jewish academic, Victor Klemperer. He lived in Germany throughout the Nazi reign and this volume, covering 1933 to 1941, reveals the incremental march to holocaust. Each little step led to the next and so on, quickening in pace: May ’33: Klemperer can still lecture in Romance languages and literature at Dresden but he complies with a ‘request’ to no longer conduct exams; by May ’35, he is dismissed from his post; by October…

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