RaveThe New York Review of BooksFiges has shown an unerring ability to weave together the political and the personal ... Figes tells the tale with his customary vigor and sensitivity but in counterpoint with a panoramic yet engagingly detailed survey of the creation of a pan-European culture suspended between the revolutionary moment of 1848 (for which Pauline composed an official cantata based on the \'Marseillaise\') and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 (which forced the Viardots and Turgenev to leave the hitherto cosmopolitan environs of Baden-Baden). The two registers—the personal and the world-historical—intertwine and reflect back on each other ... Figes is acutely aware of the ways that material changes interacted to produce cultural change ... Turgenev was a living embodiment of the cosmopolitanism whose creation Figes is celebrating.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe most iconic work of the English choral tradition, and the most famous, with its rousing 'Hallelujah' chorus, is surely Handel’s Messiah (1741), the subject of Jonathan Keates’s new and excellent brief study ... Keates, a distinguished biographer of Handel, sets out to examine the origin and afterlife of the piece, and to establish what an eighteenth-century critic might have called its 'sublimity.' Keates celebrates its 'emotional range, the ways in which it embraces the multiplicity of existence, the directness of its engagement with our longing, our fears, our sorrows, our ecstasy and exaltation, giv[ing] the whole achievement an incomparable universality.' Keates recognizes that Handel was as spiritual a composer as J.S. Bach, his Messiah as rooted in that spirituality as Bach’s Passions were in his; Keates will have no truck with the tradition that 'pigeonhole[s] Handel as a cynical opportunist, a shrewd entertainer with an eye on the market.'