Verdi - A Biography  (Phillips-Matz)    (0-19-313204-4)
Item# B0666
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Verdi - A Biography  (Phillips-Matz)    (0-19-313204-4)
B0666. Mary Jane Phillips-Matz. Verdi - A Biography. New York, Oxford, 1996. 941pp. Index; Bibliography; Photo; DJ. Excellent copy has very neatly mended sl.detached rear cover. - 0-19-313204-4


“A magnificently detailed portrait of the great Italian composer (1813-1901) that refutes many myths and uncovers some unsavory new material, including the strong likelihood that before their marriage Verdi and Giuseppina Strepponi conceived several children who were abandoned at birth. Just as important as her full-bodied rendering of Verdi's personal life is Phillips-Matz's powerful delineation of his confrontations with pre-Unification Italy's foreign masters. Verdi's art was deeply political, she reminds us, and he used his wild popularity to ensure that it would be heard in the form he intended.

With an eloquent foreword by Andrew Porter, VERDI: A BIOGRAPHY brilliantly illuminates the life of the composer, patriot, and philanthropist who not only created the operas that would prosper generations after the artist, but who also emboldened the cultural pride of a country fighting for its freedom.”

“This monument of research--a lifetime's labor of love--now becomes the standard scholarly biography of Giuseppe Verdi in English. For four decades, Phillips-Matz has immersed herself in the archives not only of the Verdi family but of parish churches, town halls, publishing companies, and opera houses throughout Europe. Her method is one of extensive factual presentation rather than portraiture, and the density of her research is likely to prove daunting to casual readers. Nonetheless, Phillips-Matz's fact-gathering allows intelligent readers to form their own views, and it clarifies the distortions Verdi himself created. Phillips- Matz makes a convincing case that Verdi's background and childhood weren't as obscure and poverty-stricken as he led his contemporaries to believe. In addition, although Phillips-Matz largely leaves musical and dramatic analysis of the operas to others, her investigation of Verdi's relationships--with his family, his first wife (who died, as did their two children, while Verdi was still young), and the woman with whom he lived openly for a number of years before she became his second wife--will ring bells for those familiar with the family complications that fill the plots of Verdi's operas. The author is also first-rate at explicating the sources of the composer's anticlericalism and fierce patriotism to a united Italy. Readers of the magazine OPERA are already familiar with the controversy that Phillips-Matz has engendered by suggesting that a baby girl named `Santa Streppini’, who was abandoned to be raised by nuns in Cremona, may have been Verdi's illegitimate daughter. Her argument is not unconvincing on the facts but is less convincing as a matter of human nature given the `Bear of Busseto's' well-documented scorn for public opinion. To a shelf of CDs and Julian Budden's magisterial three-volume musico-dramatic analysis of the operas, the complete Verdian now must add this book.”

- Kirkus Review

“Mary Jane Phillips-Matz was known in particular for her monumental volume VERDI: A BIOGRAPHY, published in 1993 by Oxford University Press. Spanning 941 pages, the book was the product of some 30 years’ research. Reviewing it in The New York Times Book Review in 1994, Edward Rothstein, then the newspaper’s chief music critic, called it an ‘important biography’, adding, ‘provides us with a more complicated portrait of the man than we have had so far’. The biography won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award in 1994.

Verdi, Ms. Phillips-Matz’s biography explains, was a man of outsize moods and corresponding actions. He could be immensely generous, founding or supporting schools, hospitals, libraries and a musicians’ retirement home, among other good works. Yet after a rift with his family when he was an adult, Verdi legally disowned his father and forced him from his home. He also may have sired at least one child out of wedlock who was given up for adoption at birth.

Ms. Phillips-Matz took a similar approach in PUCCINI: A BIOGRAPHY (2002). The book portrayed its subject as a simple man of immoderate appetites — for fast cars, speedboats, cigarettes and women.

In the late 1940s, after earning a bachelor’s degree in medieval literature from Smith College and a master’s in the field from Columbia, she began writing for Opera News magazine, to which she would contribute articles for more than 50 years. She was also a regular writer of program notes for the Royal Opera House in London.


- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Jan., 2013