Reviews for First Nights : Five Musical Premieres

Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 May 2000
In his discussions of the premieres of five of the most significant musical works of the past four centuries, Kelly considers the composer, the cultural milieu, the production, and the reviews of each. The five are Monteverdi's Orfeo, a chamber opera mating poetry and music; Handel's Messiah, the first theatrically presented oratorio based on Scripture; the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, culmination of his career and the first symphony to end in choral song; Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, romantic music following an autobiographical program; and Stravinsky's Sacre du printemps, which introduced "primitive" idioms in dance and music to staid Parisian audiences. Each created a stir at its premiere, for instead of today's ritual of listening without comment, premieres of yesteryear drew applause, jeers, and demands to encore favorite parts during performance. Kelly describes why each masterpiece was composed, who sponsored it, who first heard it, and how its composer anticipated the future while being influenced by his own current culture. Aided by a wealth of pictures and documents, Kelly limns these five epoch-making debuts in engrossing detail. ((Reviewed May 1, 2000))Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

Choice Reviews 2000 November
Undergraduate courses with names like "Music Appreciation" or "Introduction to Western Music" generally have similar formats: they introduce basic terminology and concepts, then move on to a chronological survey of styles, genres, and representative composers from the Middle Ages to the present. Venerable texts for such classes--e.g. Joseph Machlis and Kristine Forney's Enjoyment of Music (1955; 8th ed., 1999), Joseph Kerman's Listen (1972; 4th ed., 2000), D. Kern Holoman's hip Masterworks (1998)--frequently agree on a canon of perennial favorites: Monteverdi's Orfeo, Handel's Messiah, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Derived from an introductory class that Kelly teaches at Harvard, First Nights comprises case studies, focusing on the first performance of the four works listed above plus Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The social, political, intellectual, and artistic context that these case studies provide can greatly enhance one's understanding of the works (for example, the chapter on Orfeo considers the Orpheus myth in music, the Mantua court, and a probable cast of singers and a description of the room for the first performance). Kelly writes beautifully and includes excerpts from primary sources. Though it will not replace the standard "appreciation" text, it will be a splendid complement to beginning courses and a delightful read for general audiences. An essential purchase. Copyright 2000 American Library Association

Library Journal Reviews 2000 May #1
This is a unique and extremely attractive account of the premieres of five musical masterpieces spanning from 1607 to 1913: Monteverdi's opera Orfeo, Handel's oratorio Messiah, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, and Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du printemps. The focus of each essay is the actual premiere, but Kelly, who teaches a course called "First Nights" at Harvard, first places each event in its broader historical and cultural setting and then proceeds to fill in the scene with numerous interesting details and asides. One of North America's most prominent musicologists, Kelly paints a vivid and fascinating picture of each premiere by combining information taken from a number of sources, including letters, archival documents, and observations of the music itself. This should appeal to all music lovers. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Timothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.