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Portrait of a Castrato: Politics, Patronage, and Music in the Life of Atto Melani [Hardcover]

Roger Freitas

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Book Description

May 29 2009 0521885213 978-0521885218 1
This book explores the fascinating life of the most documented musician of the seventeenth century. Born in 1626 into a bourgeois family in Pistoia, Italy, Atto Melani was castrated to preserve his singing voice and soon rose to both artistic and social prominence. His extant letters not only depict the musical activities of several European centers, they reveal the real-life context of music and the musician: how a singer related to patrons and colleagues, what he thought about his profession, and the role music played in his life. Whether Atto was singing, spying, having sex, composing, or even rejecting his art, his life illustrates how music-making was always also a negotiation for power. Providing a rare glimpse of the social and political contexts of seventeenth-century music, Roger Freitas sheds light on the mechanisms that generated meaning for music, clarifying what music at this time actually was.

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'The book includes a survey of Atto's cantatas, polished, efficient exemplars of a fashionable new Italian genre, but in the end far less important to their creator than the wordly advancement their performances brought with it. Richly documented, this whole extraordinary chronicle of the eunuch as self-made man is one of the most absorbing studies in its field to have appeared in recent years.' The Times Literary Supplement

Book Description

Exploring the fascinating life of the most documented musician of the seventeenth century, Freitas tells how the castrato Atto Melani rose to musical and social prominence. Whether Atto was singing, spying, having sex, composing, or rejecting his art, this book illustrates how music-making was always also a negotiation for power.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Work Worth Reading July 12 2009
By Go for Baroque - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Portrait of a Castrato" appears to be meant for scholars and those persons seriously interested in the Baroque world of the castrati. (The two images of "The Musicians" on the dust jacket, i.e., two Italian castrati, one Spanish, and possibly Caravaggio's adaptation of his own features, are the most immediately accessible features of the book.)

Roger Freitas describes a world far more intricate and fascinating than the superficial idea of "human nightingales" often associated with the era, an idea somewhat more applicable to the golden age of Handel and Hasse, Farinelli and Caffarelli. This study, instead, offers far more of interest than biographical information about one person or the music for which he was known. Through the author's painstaking research and analysis, one develops a much clearer understanding of the cultural, sociological, political, and even sexual practices of the time. The author also views with a fresh eye the Baroque genre of cantate and motets, demonstrating the greater subtlety in their composition and the greater importance in the life of the aristocracy than previously understood. One concludes reading the work with a sense of having gained a much more realistic understanding of the era.

Readers and authors too often fall into the trap of viewing earlier eras and practices from their own, modern perspectives, thereby slanting the manner in which the information is presented. This author avoids such a trap and leaves the readers to form their own conclusions and comparisons. "Portrait of a Castrato" is not only an engaging story; it also is worth keeping as a reference.

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