Antonietta

John Hersey, Author
John Hersey, Author Alfred A. Knopf $21 (3p) ISBN 978-0-679-40194-0
Reviewed on: 04/01/1991
Release date: 04/01/1991
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-679-74181-7
Hardcover - 978-0-517-10970-0
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Pulitzer Prize-winner Hersey's latest work (after Fling: and Other Stories) is a delightful tour de force--a picaresque novel tracing the peregrinations of a violin created in Cremona by Stradivari in 1699, dubbed the Antonietta in honor of the master luthier's second wife. Hersey divides the story into five ``acts'' that dramatize the violin's fortunes under various owners. He syncopates the narrative via four ``intermezzi,'' which interject factual data linking the fictional portions, and ends with a bittersweet ``finale.'' In each section the stylistic tone is appropriate to the music coaxed from the Strad by violinists of each century. First the prose cadences suggest the sensual passion of the middle-aged Stradivari, obsessed by the lusty Antonietta. Next, Mozart's frolicsome, irreverent, scatological voice is conveyed in letters that record his fascination with the instrument; the third selection captures the flamboyant personality and romantic music of Berlioz; the fourth is a fugue featuring the voices of Stravinsky, the writer C. F. Ramuz and violinist Federovsky. In the novel's last section, however, Hersey's own voice is most clearly heard, as he deplores the fate of culture in the modern world, where life ``no longer imitates art, it imitates TV,'' and the Strad arouses in listeners cupidity and greed. (Here the musical references are to the ``mathematical'' compositions of Schoenberg, Hindemith, Alban Berg.) This novel satisfies on several levels; one need not know music to enjoy it, but the music lover will be doubly enchanted by a virtuoso performance. BOMC and QPB alternates. (May)
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