Who edits these things?

I’ve been reading Matthew Boyden’s biography of Richard Strauss. It’s an adequate treatment of Strauss’s life, although I wish it talked a little more about the works. It mentions all the operas in context as well as the major tone poems, but it doesn’t really talk about the plots of any of them; detailed analysis is outside the scope of this book, but for a reader who isn’t already familiar with the works, some description would be useful. Even worse, Boyden barely mentions any of the other works Strauss wrote during his long career: other orchestral works, choral works, or the more than 200 songs.

Frankly, I knew I wouldn’t be crazy about this book right from the first thing I saw, the opening chapter head:

AND PARADISE WAS ALL AROUND US1

That’s right, the title of the first chapter is footnoted. Boyden footnotes a lot, although it’s almost never to give a citation for something. Most of the time, the footnotes provide colorful information which would have been quite welcome as part of the main text.

The book also bears out another frequent observation of mine, that non-fiction works tend to be very poorly edited. For example, Boyden misquotes the last line of Salome as “Man tötet dieses Weib!” instead of “Man töte dieses Weib!”, and then he mistranslates it as the ungainly “Man kill that woman!” (A better translation would be “Someone kill this woman!”, or just “Kill this woman!”)

[audio:http://aaron.sherber.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/salome.mp3|titles=Man töte dieses Weib]

Most perplexingly, in discussing the time immediately following the end of World War II, when American soldiers occupied the town of Garmisch, where Strauss lived, Boyden writes:

Many soldiers came to Strauss for autographs (most asking for a bar or two from Rosenkavalier, some for a quotation from his ‘Blue Danube Waltz’) …

Does Boyden here mean to poke fun at the uncultured Americans, who don’t realize that the waltz was written by the completely unrelated (and long-dead) Johann Strauss? Or is it possible that Boyden himself is guilty of this conflation? It’s not at all clear.

August 28, 2010   Tags: ,