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Britain and the World, by Andrew Elsby

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, August 09, 2020 15:00:45
Britain and the World, by Andrew Elsby

Britain and the World: Case Studies in British Foreign Policy Decision-Making 1939–1968 traces a period of relative British decline in economic, military, political and diplomatic power and the policies with which successive British governments reacted to it. The book assesses the different causal influences on the decision-making process, including the objective economic, political and military context and the attitudes, perceptions, personalities and relationships of those involved in British political and official establishment foreign-policy decision-making. Addressed are the negotiations for an Anglo-Soviet alliance in the spring and summer of 1939, the Soviet demand in late 1941 and early 1942 for recognition of their annexation of the Baltics, the post-war future of Germany, the Berlin crisis of 1948–49, the Suez crisis of 1956, and a comparison between British policy over the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, and British policy in the Vietnam War between 1964 and 1968.

Britain and the World is available at the following online retailers:

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Thomas Müntzer, by Peter Cowlam

Theology Posted on Wed, August 05, 2020 12:42:28
Thomas Müntzer

Thomas Müntzer didn’t do by half / What was preconceived / In the modern Romantic Marx.

Thomas Müntzer (c1489–1525) was a leading German activist during the Reformation, whose oratory was fiery and prophetic. In 1524–25 he took part in the abortive Peasants’ Revolt in Thuringia, and is now seen as a major force in the religious and social history of modern Europe. In the twentieth century Marxists came to characterise him as an early agitator in the struggle against feudalism and for a classless society.

He was, initially, an advocate of Lutheran theology, yet soon opposed the Lutheran idea of ‘justification’ – i.e. justification by faith alone, with authority vested in Scripture. Müntzer instead vested supremacy in the inner light of the Holy Spirit. That in turn led to a call for the conquest of anti-Christian earthly government. In his view the common people, as the instruments of God, would have to perform that conquest themselves. Müntzer professed that the commoners, lacking property and unspoiled by worldly sophistication, were God’s elect through whom God’s will was manifest. As God’s elect it was for the peasants to lead the eschatological process against all enemies of the Holy Spirit.

Through his preaching Müntzer gathered disciples to his cause, and produced important religious, liturgical, and theological writings, including German Church Office, German-Protestant Mass, Of Written Faith, and Precise Exposure of False Belief. He tried, unsuccessfully, to urge on Saxon rulers the task of restoring Christendom to its biblical resplendence.

He was involved in the abortive revolt of 1524–25, with grievances against, among other things, rising taxes. Mühlhausen was at the centre of the uprising in central Germany, where Müntzer took command of local troops. He stressed his belief that only if the common people identified the law of God within themselves, and placed group above individual interests, would society be transformed, promising a future without social and legal discrimination. During the rebellion, possibly seen by him as the last struggle between cosmic good and evil, Müntzer equated the lot of peasant, tradesman, and commoner with the liberation of Christendom. The revolt collapsed and Müntzer was taken prisoner, tortured, tried and executed.

Peter Cowlam is the author of New King Palmers, winner of the 2018 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction. It is available from online retailers, including

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Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, 8th Baron of Wigmore, by Peter Cowlam

Ethnology Posted on Mon, July 27, 2020 12:48:17
Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March

Poor Roger Mortimer / As he stood before his slaughterer. / His scrotal sac was intact / But about to be cruelly hacked.

Mortimer, born circa 1287, was the lover of Queen Isabella of France, King Edward II’s queen. Between them, in 1327, Mortimer and Isabella schemed Edward’s deposition and murder. For the next three years Mortimer was virtual King of England, with Edward III still in his minority.

A descendant of Norman knights who had come with William the Conqueror, he inherited wealthy estates, mostly in Wales and Ireland. On the death of his father, the 7th Baron of Wigmore, he became, in 1304, the 8th Baron. He devoted himself to the control of his Irish lordships against the Lacys, his wife’s kinsmen, who called to their aid Edward Bruce, who was fighting to become King of Ireland. In 1316 Mortimer was defeated at Kells and withdrew to England, but afterwards, in Ireland, as lieutenant to Edward II, he was central in overcoming Bruce and in driving the Lacys from Meath.

In 1317 he was associated with the Earl of Pembroke’s ‘middle party’, but in 1321 distrust of the Despensers drove him and other marcher lords into conflict with those in South Wales. He got no help from Edward II’s other enemies, and in January 1322 Roger and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk surrendered. They were imprisoned in the Tower of London. Roger escaped in 1323, fleeing to France. In 1325 he was joined by Queen Isabella, who became his mistress. They invaded England in September 1326, with the fall of the Despensers followed by the deposition and murder (1327) of Edward II. Mortimer was deeply implicated.

As the queen’s paramour, Mortimer virtually ruled England, and using that position furthered his own ends. He was created Earl of March in October 1328. He secured lordships of Denbigh, Oswestry, and Clun, the marcher lordships of the Mortimers of Chirk, and Montgomery. His avarice, arrogance, and unpopular policy towards Scotland inspired his fellow barons to revulsion against him. In October 1330 the young King Edward III had him seized at Nottingham and sent to the Tower. Condemned for crimes by his peers in Parliament, he was hanged at Tyburn as a traitor, where at the point of death he was emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered. His estates were forfeited to the crown.

Peter Cowlam is the author of New King Palmers, winner of the 2018 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction. It is available from online retailers, including

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Amazon USA

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Waterstones



Elizabeth Jennings: ‘The Inward War’ by Dana Greene, reviewed by Jon Elsby

Criticism Posted on Sat, July 25, 2020 15:38:47
Elizabeth Jennings: ‘The Inward War’, by Dana Greene

Dana Greene’s biography of Elizabeth Jennings (1926–2001) is a record of a life outwardly uneventful but characterized by inner turmoil. Jennings, the only woman and only Catholic associated with the group misleadingly labelled ‘The Movement’, was subject to periodic bouts of mental illness (anxiety, depression, obsessive spending and hoarding, and paranoia), which were sometimes severe enough for her to be temporarily institutionalized. She underwent psychiatric treatment which she found hard to bear and which did little to improve her condition. She was often lonely and always hypersensitive to criticism. She was also chronically short of money, although, whenever she was in funds, she spent recklessly and extravagantly, on drink, taxi rides, trips to the cinema and the theatre, and on the toys and knick-knacks by which she loved to be surrounded. And she was emotionally needy and extremely demanding, often soliciting loans, or gifts of money, or other forms of material assistance from her friends, who must have had a great deal of patience and forbearance, as well as generosity.

Greene charts, sympathetically but with commendable objectivity, the trajectory of Jennings’ life from an intermittently happy childhood (although her mother was distant and her father irascible), through her student days at Oxford (by which time she had blossomed into an attractive young woman with delicate features), to her old age ravaged by mental and physical illness (when her unkempt and dishevelled appearance led to her being known as ‘the bag lady of the sonnets’). She never married, but seems always to have needed someone to love: one of the many psychological necessities of her complex nature. She was both obsessed with and afraid of sex, but had many close friendships with men (often priests) and women.

Jennings led, in many ways, an unhappy life – perhaps it would not be exaggerating to call it tortured. Such inner peace as she found came from two things: writing poetry and her Catholic faith. She wrote poetry copiously all her life, even when she was institutionalized. Only a fraction of her total output has been published, but even that runs to several hundred poems. Critics sometimes suggested that she wrote too much and revised too little, but a writer seldom chooses his or her modus operandi. Nearly all writers are obsessives who write, in response to some deep inner compulsion, in the only way they can. Flaubert could spend an entire day agonizing over the choice of a single word (‘le mot juste’) or the construction of a particular sentence. Jennings, however, wrote quickly and incessantly, and rarely revised what she had written.

For Jennings, poetry had a sacramental character. In her mind and imagination, art and religion were closely related. In her epilogue, Greene writes insightfully—

For Jennings, the function of poetry is to discover order in a post-Edenic world marked by chaos, time, decay, and darkness. Poetry restores what is lost and only half-remembered. It halts time and, like love, religious ritual, and the experience of nature, it holds back darkness and gives brief access to the transcendent, offering hope in the midst of despair. She suggests that the best poems are those which show order emerging from conflict. For her, the poem moves not from the general to the particular, or from one abstraction to another. Neither is it concerned with theoretical ideas, but with ideas expressed in images, metaphors, and similes. Although poetry must be personal, the poet’s experience is shaped and ordered by means of imagination, emotion, technical skill, and intellect. As a consequence, the poet’s individual experience is transcended. The poem which emerges is an autonomous phenomenon, one independent of its creator.

[…]

Poetry is a restoration, but it is also ‘a way of looking,’ of seeing the world. As such, it is a gateway to the numinous, like the Eucharist, and analogous to prayer and mystical experience. Given these insights about the nature of poetry, Jennings can be understood as an early contributor to the field of theopoetics, the study of poetry as an embodied dimension of human experience, an offering of legitimate evidence of the intersection of divine and human interaction.

Many religious poets have apprehended poetry in precisely this sense. The metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century, Milton, Blake, Hopkins, Thompson, Meynell, and Patmore, would probably have agreed. So, I suspect, would T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Roy Campbell, and George Mackay Brown – the first two being Anglicans, and the last two, like Jennings, Roman Catholics. The religious sensibility has an instinctive affinity for order and a corresponding aversion from whatever tends to produce chaos, disorder, misrule, and anarchy. For Jennings, writing poetry was a way of distilling order, purpose, and meaning from the amorphous data of personal experience. Her Catholic faith was absolutely crucial to this enterprise. From Catholicism, she derived her ‘way of looking’ – the standpoint from which she perceived and interpreted reality. In this, she resembles several other Catholic authors who suffered from mental illness and for whom the Church was a rock and faith was a way of keeping the demons at bay – e.g. Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, and Alice Thomas Ellis. Not that they believed because they had a psychological need to believe: rather, it was the case that, having been received into the Church because they had been persuaded by the evidence [1] that the Catholic faith was true, they then found it to be a bulwark against chaos, misery, depression, and despair. As Hilaire Belloc wrote in his ‘Letter to Dean Inge,’

One thing in this world is different from all other. It has a personality and a force. It is recognized, and (when recognized) most violently loved or hated. It is the Catholic Church. Within that household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it, is the Night.

Perhaps it is because the craft of poetry is so technically exacting – it is, above all, the prime example of the ordered use of language – that so many poets are drawn to Catholicism. In Jennings’ life and art, the quest for order and meaning was central and paramount. There must have been, somewhere in the recesses of her unconscious mind, a profound fear of disorder, and perhaps even a tendency to associate disorder with madness and mental collapse. In the light of her many psychological problems and her harrowing experiences of psychotherapy, such a view would be understandable.

Jennings’ enormous literary output included several prose works (mostly critical essays) and some unpublished autobiographies. According to Greene, the autobiographies are exercises in concealment rather than self-revelation. In many respects, Jennings was an intensely private person who guarded her privacy jealously. The extraordinary thing is that this difficult, disturbed, and demanding woman – someone for whom the term ‘high maintenance’ might have been invented – had so many loyal, true friends: the priests Sebastian Bullough, Hildebrand James, and Peter Levi, Rugena (Ruga) Stanley, Priscilla (Prisca) Tolkien, and C. V. (Veronica) Wedgwood, were among those who befriended her and helped her in different ways, sometimes financially, sometimes by providing her with a home to stay in, always by supporting her emotionally.

Not the least of the merits of this fascinating biography is that it reminds us that creative gifts often come at a high price. By common consent and critical acclamation, Elizabeth Jennings was one of the greatest poets of the late twentieth century. But how many of us would have wanted her gifts if we had to pay for them by living her life?

Notes

[1] The evidence for the Catholic Faith comprises both (1) historical and empirical (experiential) data, and (2) philosophical arguments.

Jon Elsby is the author of Light in the Darkness, a series of essays on Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and C. S. Lewis. It is available from online retailers, including

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

Book Depository

Wordery



The Terrorist, by Garry O’Connor

Fiction Posted on Thu, July 16, 2020 15:25:45
The Terrorist, by Garry O’Connor

The late 1960s. Celebrity playwright Oliver Lindall has assembled his team of players for the premiere of his new play When Winter Comes. For the author, first-night nerves won’t be his only obstacle. Among his troupe is Simon Baird, chosen for his acting skills, yet known for his reputation. Baird has brooding class resentments and is as likely to wreak destruction as shine in any new production. When the play finally premieres, we still don’t know what it will be: more plaudits for Oliver Lindall, or chaos at the hands of the hugely talented, mercurial Simon Baird? In the climax of O’Connor’s The Terrorist we are delivered not only a verdict, but one further question: who actually owns the finished production – the playwright, the players, or the audience played to? Simon Baird has his answer, and demonstrates it graphically.

‘A gem.’ Publishers Weekly on Garry O’Connor’s William Shakespeare: a Life

‘A fascinating biographical study of a stellar acting career – including the secrets that lie behind it.’ Simon Callow on Garry O’Connor’s recent biography of Ian McKellen

‘Garry writes a racy, opinionated and very readable account of life and loves in the English theatre since the 1960s, based often on his own experiences…’ Bamber Gascoigne

‘…an unusual and absorbing book…. I really felt you knew the wiles and shenanigans that go on behind the scenes. Mad, troubling, desperate and funny – I fell around with laughter when poor Oliver got locked in that office. And of course in Simon you’ve created a memorable monster. I thought of several such – Williamson, who drove poor Terry Hands mad by botching his lines as Lear, Harris, Burton perhaps, possibly the rather nice and very self-questioning Hopkins, but above all Oliver Reed, who once threatened someone I knew with a shotgun and drank for England, Scotland and both bits of Ireland. However, Simon is a character in his own right!’ Benedict Nightingale

The Terrorist is available for pre-order at the following online retailers:

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Light in the Darkness, by Jon Elsby

Theology Posted on Sat, July 11, 2020 16:14:05
Light in the Darkness, by Jon Elsby

Christian apologetics is an important area of intellectual endeavour and achievement, standing at the boundaries between theology, philosophy and literature. Yet it has been largely neglected by historians of literature and ideas.

In these essays, the author attempts to establish apologetics as a subject deserving of respect in its own right. He analyses the apologetic arguments and strategies of four of the greatest Christian apologists of the twentieth century – Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and C. S. Lewis. He shows how different lines of argument support each other and converge on the same conclusion: that what Chesterton called ‘orthodoxy’ and Lewis ‘mere Christianity’ represents the fundamental truth about the relations between human beings, the universe, and God.

A new book on four of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th C – Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, C. S. Lewis, available at Amazon USA and Amazon UK



Maria Vetsera, by Peter Cowlam

Fiction Posted on Fri, July 10, 2020 11:27:10
Maria Vetsera

You see, / It’s all a decree, / An ideology, / When the prince and his mistress / Are a mote in the eye. / The imperium says they must die.

According to standard encyclopaedia entries, Baroness Maria Vetsera, a girl of seventeen, began relations with Rudolf, Archduke and Crown Prince of Austria, in October 1887, and for reasons still to be puzzled on accepted his offer of a suicide pact. The official story is that Rudolf had ideas for himself as a future King of Hungary, who in that role would resuscitate a Kingdom of Poland. But there were forces against him, and he was frustrated in these efforts, and furthermore was unhappy in his marriage – hence his mistress Maria Vetsera.

On the morning of the 30th of January 1889, he and Maria were found shot dead in the hunting lodge at Mayerling. The emperor and his advisers in attempting to disguise the facts only provoked rumours, though depression resulting from his political isolation is recorded as the best explanation of Rudolf’s suicide.

Now for the unofficial story—

We begin in the crags and bluffs of a landscape brooding under a leaden sky, and a filthy night of rain. A coachman hunched in the folds of his coat moaned at his secret mission, and paused mid-oath when a reddish-looking ember streaked across his horizon. He watched through the slits of his eyes as it gently arced to earth, and in a pirouette of orange flames cratered the hillside. There it fizzed out abruptly – two intertwining twists of smoke under an icy sheet of rain.

His coach had been newly retouched, and gleamed in the violet zigzags of light forking through the valley. He thundered on, through the mud and ruts, almost overturning where two enormous boulders – grey, sluggish shapes – loomed from nowhere through the rain. Abruptly the road twisted and rose, fell and rose again, then plunged finally into the forest. He lashed at the horses, and had as his sole thought his destination – only his destination – and how to accomplish that without mishap.

Borne along with him were two passengers, their embassy the cargo propped precariously between them. They were brothers – merchant bankers both – who despite the wrap of expensive furs shivered uncontrollably. That was because the little flakes of frost that chilled their blood was fear, a new pang for a pair more accustomed to life in the rococo drawing rooms their leisured clientele inhabited. That lumpy sack of cargo wedged between them, all too ghoulish, and greatly inconvenient, was a cadaver – in fact their dead niece, who at seventeen had been pretty, vivacious, and a baroness. Her name was Maria Vetsera, too young and good-looking to die. Nevertheless that loll of her head, as the coach clattered on through all those spooky rain-dark pines, told you she was dead.

The coachman’s task was to deliver his two bankers and one deadweight to the monastery of Heiligenkreuz, under whose bell tower a sexton and his mate had already knocked the soil from their shovels, and stood waiting by the grave they’d dug. They like the brothers couldn’t guess at what it was, this prologue all four mummered in – or that the drama was destined to repeat itself twenty-five years later.

But now to Vienna. The year 1889. At that time southern Europe was dominated by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, under its emperor Franz Joseph. Its extents were oppressive to some. In its favour there was breadth of religion, language, culture and economics – those four monsters hard to tame or control. By contrast, other countries the emperor ruled had an unhappy knack of self-mutilation, for even then intractable contours rumpled the cloth, for example the Balkans. We shall also see there were things the emperor didn’t find amusing. A case in point was the one thumbprint grazing his escutcheon, in the person of his son, the Crown Prince Rudolf, whose fads he sought effective means of dealing with, by excluding him from all functions or fiascos grounded in affairs of state. You couldn’t be surprised at Rudolf’s reaction against this, whose interests were counter to the military education his father had set out for him. His preferences were natural history and literature. One sultry afternoon – or so we come to imagine it – Rudolf was thinking of how best to resist his father’s proscriptions. Activism was one thing, and required effort, while a life wrapped in cotton wool was a misfortune reserved for the effortless. With these two at odds, Rudolf gazed into just that limbo where nothing much of consequence could ever be achieved by him.

Our own historical moment must have taught us something of everlasting monarchs, whose longevity their heirs have to suffer in finding a role for themselves. That conundrum, when it visited the Habsburgs, did so on a late January morning in 1889. The emperor had spent tranquil moments unrolling the scrolls of his signature onto one of his crested documents, and had planned for an hour with one of his ladies. Alas that wasn’t to be. The shrill of voices, then the sudden sweep of his padded doors, shattered that illusion. His wife thundered in, and had in train the royal physician – a sombre, spindly man whose coat tails flew up behind him. The emperor, who paused to catch his breath, nevertheless had to deal instantly with marital torpedoes fired across his blotting pad.

‘Rudolf is dead. Rudolf has shot himself.’

The emperor put away his pen, and was staggered.

Earlier that morning, Rudolf’s body had been found in the bedroom of his hunting lodge, in the leafless Vienna woods. To complicate things the prince had not been there alone. In the same deadly pact the corpse of Baroness Maria Vetsera rumpled and bloodied the bedding too – for they’d both been shot.

‘Then it’s clear,’ the emperor said. That vixen, in a fit of God knew what, had murdered his son.

His court physician begged to differ, though trembled as he did so. He’d examined, he said, both bodies, and had no doubt that the prince had shot the baroness, then trained the revolver on himself.

‘My son is not a murderer,’ the sad-eyed king decreed, and that was true – the emperor’s son was not a murderer.

We pause for the official course of action, when rumours in Vienna invaded every drawing room. The emperor’s next instructions were categorical: to prepare the family vault for the prince’s body. That was at the Church of Capuchin Friars. The hunting lodge would close, and re-open as a shrine, with a service. After that came the official investigation, which the emperor ensured was headed by Baron Krauss, the top man at that time in the Vienna police. Krauss would report to the emperor, and reporting to Krauss was Baron Friedrich d’Oc.

Krauss took immediate action over the Vetsera burial, which went ahead, symbolically, under an angry, swollen sky, and was veiled in secrecy. It was, potentially, the biggest scandal of European society – just that sort of state dilemma the d’Ocs, with their wealth, connections, and more important a centuries-old diplomacy, were trusted to dampen down. Therefore what history fails to record is Friedrich’s velvet glove, and the iron claw that drew it on. Gathered in its grip were members of the press, whose hold on things correspondingly diminished. Even Moritz Szeps, a close friend of Rudolf’s, and proprietor of the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, couldn’t do more than mumble into his pocket handkerchief. What paragraphets he manufactured offered nothing conclusive, with the revelation only that Rudolf – or rather he and his ‘paramour’ – had been shot dead at Mayerling, a village on the Schwechat River, about twenty-five kilometres southwest of Vienna. The hunting lodge is now a Carmelite convent.

The barons Krauss and d’Oc did a thorough job, and made sure no one was able to say what had prompted these events. Inextricably bound to them was the emperor’s wife, Elizabeth – Empress of Austria and Bavaria (and also Queen of Hungary).

One person Elizabeth might have trusted was the ambitious Count Andrassy, who as the most powerful man in Hungary sought to extricate its kingdom from the empire. He was backed in this by Bismarck, the German Empire’s first chancellor (1871–90), whose influence on European politics left its mark on the dual murders of Mayerling. Emperor Franz Joseph had too readily bowed to his medic’s opinion, even if it made his son a murderer, or worse than that, guilty of the mortal sin of suicide. Against all, he ordered the crown prince laid to rest in the imperial vault – with no post mortem, and no inquest. There was a token investigation, entrusted to Baron Krauss, whose job included the disposal of Maria Vetsera’s remains, but of course, only the moment’s Realpolitik drove these things along. The secret treaty of 1877, between Russia and Germany, amounted to a handshake effectively uniting the emperor’s two biggest enemies.

That was a treaty the crown prince was likely to approve of, and that surely made Rudolf’s suicide unlikely. He’d been eliminated, for fear of what politically he was likely to develop into. Franz Joseph, the prince’s father, saw to his removal, with the barons Krauss and d’Oc trusted to do the work and dust his tracks. The emperor’s motto was: ‘never apologise, never explain’. That served an empire not simply steeped in power and wealth and military might. To Franz Joseph, it was something more ancient and much more permanent than that. It was his on divine trust. If to maintain it meant sacrificing his son, then unlike Abraham his regal hand would not be stayed, and Rudolf had to die.

Rudolf’s successor was his cousin Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose political thinking was more in line with the emperor’s, but whose domestic affairs were not as polished. In opting to marry beneath him, any future offspring couldn’t accede after him. But then on the 28th of June 1914 he and his spouse were shot in Sarajevo – an assassination sparking World War I, and a final confirmation that the archduke wouldn’t succeed to the throne.

You can read more on Maria Vetsera in the novel New King Palmers, winner of the 2018 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction, available at Amazon USA and Amazon UK



Heroes and Lovers, by Jon Elsby

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, July 05, 2020 14:57:57
Heroes and Lovers, by Jon Elsby

What is a tenor? What makes some tenors great? Why are tenors so rare? Heroes and Lovers suggests answers to these questions and offers critical essays on twenty-six tenors and shorter assessments of thirty-four others. The tenors covered range from Francesco Tamagno, the first Otello, and Fernando de Lucia, both of whom recorded in the early years of the twentieth century, to Joseph Calleja and Rolando Villazón today. The book also comprises an introductory essay and separate essays on the early tenors of the recorded era, the popular tenors, the British tenors, and the specialist categories of Mozart tenors and Heldentenors.

This is a personal selection and it will please, stimulate, provoke, and infuriate in equal measure.

‘This truly is a book for lovers of the art of singing and the tenor voice.’ Alan Bilgora in The Record Collector

Heroes and Lovers is available at Amazon UK and Amazon USA



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