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Book 1

  1. Stone, Irving — The Agony and the Ecstasy (439 of 763 pages)
Page count
439
book cover: The Agony and the Ecstasy.

As with Testimony last year, I chose to read The Agony and the Ecstasy in preparation for my concert of songs based on words by Michelangelo (Dmitri Shostakovich's Suite on Words of Michelangelo Buonarroti and Hugo Wolf's Michelangelo Lieder). Both of these song cycles convey, in parallel, artistic testimonies of the composer and poet's lives, and so I felt it was important to learn about their biographies.

In the case of Michelangelo, I could have chosen something more academic, but Stone's approach (biographical fiction) appealed to me. The breadth of this book (and length of the bibliography at the end) attest to the author's scholarship, but framing it as a story (and daring to conjecture how characters reacted emotionally, beyond dry recorded fact) brought Michelangelo to life for me. The book's length seemed daunting at first, but then Michelangelo lived a long life, and his story is so gripping and dramatic that at times I found it hard to put the book down. I feel as though I've learned so much, not only about Michelangelo but also the processes of art and the history of northern Italy during the Renaissance, and gained tremendous insight into his poems, all while enjoying a well-told story.

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