While there’s a small handful of composers I know a fair amount about, the majority I don’t, especially information about their personal lives, and the details that make them “real people” not just fossils of an archaic time. As I sit down to delve into a composer’s life, I have no idea what I will find. I typically start with finding information on their important relationships, then I zoom into year 32. Once I have an idea of what they did at 32, I zoom out to the 5ish years on either side of 32 to give context to the lives of the composers. Next I use a combination of Grove Music Online (music encyclopedia) and *gasp* Wikipedia to compile a list of what pieces they were composing at 32. Once I have the blurb on the composer written, I look up the top works for each composer to see when they wrote the works that made them most famous.
I try to find 1 or 2 snippets of information from my readings to look further into to tell a story about each composer. Did you know Schoenberg couldn’t make a living in music at 32, so he borrowed money from Mahler to make ends meet? Mahler, working primarily as a conductor at 32 had great success conducting the music of Wagner, even conducting Tannhäuser, which Wagner wrote when he was 32? Wagner at age 36 played an active role in a political uprising writing articles encouraging people to revolt and (it is alleged) he made hand grenades for the cause!?
I have 11 composers’ blurbs drafted, another 22 to go! (Yes, I realize that is 33 not 32, but I’m giving myself a cushion to veto one composer if I run into a brick wall in my writings). As I’m working on my book, I feel like I’m putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but I don’t know what the finished picture will look like, but the act of discovery is just as exciting as telling the stories for others to join me on my journey!
AJ Isaacson-Zvidzwa is a (soon-to-be) 32 year-old composer and amateur historian who is dipping her toes into the world of historical non-fiction writing. This blog will chronical her journey writing her book "The Year They Turned 32" that looks at historical musical figures and what they were doing in the year they turned 32.