Tommasino: The Enigma of the English Mozart
by Tony Scotland
208 pages. Hardback
Tony Scotland might well be a familiar name. A perceptive and stylish regular for some years on BBC Radio 3 and then on Classic FM, he has also published books on, among other subjects, Lennox Berkeley and Stravinsky. Here he sallies forth on the subject of Thomas Linley (1756-1778). This short-lived composer has not, as a subject, been overrun with books and studies but, by the look of it, this one is the most vivid. Linley, known as the “English Mozart”, was a ‘wunderkind’ of his times. He was described by Charles Burney (1726-1814) as one of “the most promising geniuses of the age”.
The circumstances of Linley’s death are charted in Chapter 1 in a Matisse-like dazzle of colour and detail, so much so that this might well be a film script. Later chapters return to the conventional order of things – childhood to studies to réclame. The surviving musical works by Linley can fortunately be experienced, largely through the efforts of Peter Holman and Hyperion; see Tony Scotland’s discography and listener’s guide also on this site.
Scotland looks into Linley and his sister’s intermingled life stories. His time spent abroad gaining new tiers to his inspirational, sentimental and technical education. Reports of his meetings with Mozart and participation or attendance at famous concerts with the great and the good add immeasurably. There are picaresque elements with duels and elopements, false and real weddings (for the sister) and financial rewards. The story leaps and lopes along with easeful elegance.
This is a handsome case-bound volume with dustjacket, 48 illustrations and an index. It is most engagingly and practically presented and its outward appearance matches its content. The only thing that jars, for me, is the equating of aspects of colourful language from the then sensationalist press – nothing changes – which are projected as ‘outing’ Linley as a homosexual. As a line of reasoning it’s all quite cogently argued but … I am not convinced. I confess to being ignorant of the meanings and subtexts of the time but remain more than sceptical on this point of interpretation. In any event the music is all that matters … not that the author suggests otherwise.
As a backdrop to music which I have yet to hear and from an era that is outside my usual bounds of interest, there is so much else here to draw in and inform. The key events and the ancillaries around Linley’s family and contacts are enhanced by Tony Scotland’s candidly scrupulous approach. His admissions, when solidly founded facts cannot yet be identified, steer a wondrously honourable line between the plausible and the imaginative. It’s greatly refreshing and inspires surefooted confidence. The sparingly applied footnotes also chart a nice pilgrimage between being essential to the text and asides that are collaterally supportive.
The illustrations – many albeit reduced in size – are in colour. Their presence enhances a volume that is already the last word in well turned-out book production from Shelf Life, the publishing house owned by the author and his partner.
Rob BarnettAvailability: Supplier