Press Release (20-10-2015)

Plumbago Books and Arts is delighted to announce the launch of its new series of music books, Defining Opera, on 20 October 2015 at Queen’s College London. The first two titles are:

Arnold Whittall, The Wagner Style. Close Readings and Critical Perspectives, edited by Christopher Wintle, xii + 250 pp. with illustrations and music examples. ISBN: 978-0-9931983-0-4 (hardback) and 978-0-9931983-1-1 (softback).

John Cordingly, Disordered Heroes in Opera. A Psychiatric Report, edited by Claire Seymour, xii + 204 pp. ISBN: 978-0-9931983-2-8 (hardback) and 978-09931983-3-5 (softback)

The series is distributed by Boydell & Brewer PO Box 9 Woodbridge Suffolk IP12 3DF, from whom copies may be acquired (

Defining Opera

The series is a new initiative that focuses on critical and analytic issues surrounding opera of any period but excludes histories of opera as well as biographies of composers, singers, conductors, producers and so forth. It may also include modern polemical writing. It is edited by Christopher Wintle, an Emeritus of King’s College London, who has written extensively on opera since Mozart, who for many years reviewed opera for the Times Literary Supplement and who has contributed regularly to the programmes of The Royal Opera; and it is typeset by Julian Littlewood, author of the monograph, The Variations of Johannes Brahms.

The Wagner Style

The book celebrates the 80th birthday of Arnold Whittall, Emeritus Professor of Music at King’s College London, with a collection of his key writings on Richard Wagner. The composer’s ambitious, innovative ways with words and music have never ceased to fascinate, never more so than now, two hundred years after his birth in 1813. The first ten chapters deal with the three Romantic operas, the four parts of The Ring and the three remaining music dramas. Their aim is to illuminate those aspects of Wagner’s style that are both personal and important for his successors. Whittall sets close readings of key passages in the context of a critical debate that has itself raged for over a century, and his comprehensive range of reference makes this volume essential reading for all those who want to enter the debate. The final chapter deals with Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream (2007), a modern operatic treatment of Wagner the man and his unrealised Buddhist project, Die Sieger. Whittall’s style is focussed and discriminating, yet also relaxed and accessible. The book, which presupposes some knowledge of Wagner’s oeuvre and a certain level of music competence, is rich in music examples.

Disordered Heroes in Opera

Opera depicts extreme emotional states. Taking a novel and challenging approach that combines scientific diagnostic approaches with literary and musical analysis, the retired, musically-trained psychiatrist John Cordingly examines the disordered personalities of twelve male operatic protagonists. On the one hand, he gathers together varied historical opinions on the contentious concept of personality disorder. On the other hand, he assesses operatic protagonists through music, words and performance, as well as through source material and in some cases the biographies of the works’ creators. He does not view his protagonists as ‘mad’. But are they bad, or are they Byronic heroes, he asks? Should they be punished or are they in need of treatment? And what is their sexuality? From the hubristic Otello and Boris Godunov to the psychopathic Iago and John Claggart; from the schizoid Wozzeck and Peter Grimes to the borderline Werther and Herman; from the narcissistic Don Giovanni and Eugene Onegin to the repressed and melancholic Faust and Gustav von Aschenbach, Cordingly places human nature under the psychiatric spotlight. In their diversity and complexity, he shows how these men reflect timeless aspects of us all.


Plumbago Books and Arts is a small, not-for-profit award-winning academic press launched in London in 2000 to publish and promote writings and events in music and the arts that might otherwise have no outlet. It takes its name from the plant that grows in the wild across Europe and elsewhere but in Britain needs to be protected from the cruel frost of the climate. Its logo was designed by Mary Fedden OBE, RA after the characteristic blue flower of the plumbago capensis. The company is based in Clapham Old Town in South West London with its technical support in Oxford. Its books are distributed internationally by Boydell & Brewer Ltd. from Woodbridge, Suffolk, and its main printer is the MPG Books Group of King’s Lynn, Norfolk. It has received financial support from The Hans Keller Trust, The Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust, King’s College London, the Institute of Advanced Musical Studies (KCL), the Faculty of Music of Cambridge University, the Britten Estate Ltd., The Jewish Music Institute (SOAS) in conjunction with the Millennium Award scheme funded by the National Lottery, The William Alwyn Foundation, The William Scott Foundation and private donors. Its books are scrupulously refereed and are regularly reviewed in leading journals.


In its first decade, Plumbago Books has developed three strands: The Hans Keller Archive, The Poetics of Music and a General List. The Hans Keller Archive is part of the publishing outlet for a project to assemble in book form the principal writings of the well-known and influential Austrian émigré Hans Keller (1919-85); the editorial office is at King’s College London (where the Director is currently a Senior Research Fellow) and many of the publications are supported by the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust (of which the Director is a Board Member). Plumbago Books is responsible for four titles: The Jerusalem Diary: Music, Society and Politics, 1977 and 1979 (with drawings by Milein Cosman) (2001); Music and Psychology: From Vienna to London, 1939-52 (2003); Film Music and Beyond: Writings on Music and the Screen, 1946-59 (2006); and Alison Garnham’s account of Hans Keller and Internment: The Development of an Émigré Musician, 1938-48 (2011). The Jerusalem Diary won the Royal Philharmonic Society Book of the Year Prize for 2001: Joan Sutherland presented the award to Milein Cosman during the Society’s annual dinner at the Dorchester Hotel, London on 8 May 2002. The Poetics of Music series is an attempt to map out a modern equivalent to the ars poeticus (Horace), the artistic instruction of the ancients, with wilfully heterogeneous volumes by composers, critics, scholars, performers, analysts and others. The first four volumes show how its repertory is drawn from music new and old: Julian Littlewood’s The Variations of Johannes Brahms (2004, with an introduction by Alexander Goehr), Hugh Wood’s Staking Out the Territory and Other Writings on Music (2007, with an introduction by Bayan Northcott), Bayan Northcott’s The Way We Listen Now and Other Writings on Music (2009), Christopher Wintle’s All the Gods: Benjamin Britten’s Night-piece in Context (2006) and Metapoetics: Aphorisms, Thoughts and Maxims on Life, Art and Music (2010). The General List has opened with a book by Leo Black, a member of Hans Keller’s circle, BBC Music in the Glock Era and After: A Memoir (2010).


From the outset, Plumbago Arts has consistently supported small projects, events and concerts in London. Most recently it published a 2010 calendar of Dancers by Milein Cosman on behalf of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust; on 24 April 2010 it contributed to an evening devoted to the pianist, teacher and former BBC employee Paul Hamburger at the Austrian Cultural Forum (Knightsbridge); and it continues to supply King’s College London with A3-size ‘Schenker’ manuscript paper.


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