Charles Jessold, Considered As A Murderer

Charles Jessold, Considered As A Murderer Leslie Shepherd, A Music Critic Nearing The End Of His Life, Reflects On The Shocking Murder Suicide That Rocked London Society Years Before The Unlikely Killer Charles Jessold, Composer, Prodigy, And Shepherd S Collaborator On The Opera That Was Set To Open The Following Night The Victims Jessold S Wife And Her Vocal Coach, Found Poisoned In Her Marriage BedWesley Stace Is The Author Of Two Bestselling Novels, Misfortune And By George He Is Also A Folk Pop Singer Songwriter Who Goes By The Stage Name John Wesley Harding And Who Has Called His Style Of Music Folk Noir And Gangsta Folk

Wesley Stace also records music under the nom de plume of John Wesley Harding.

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  • Hardcover
  • 344 pages
  • Charles Jessold, Considered As A Murderer
  • Wesley Stace
  • English
  • 04 October 2019
  • 9780224089883

10 thoughts on “Charles Jessold, Considered As A Murderer

  1. says:

    I am surprised that there are so few 5 star reviews for Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, because this novel is an instant classic The background alone is fascinating Britain in the early twentieth century is just getting over a 300 year dry spell in music This recovery is controversial since it came about by grafting German music Brahms, Wagner onto the English stalk, resulting in hybrids like Elgar who wrote the music usually used at graduations.Truly English music is sought out by collectors of rural folk songs Our title character and the narrator, Leslie Shepard begin the novel by going out to the country songcatching Shepard is a music critic and musically conservative and looks to composer Jessold as the Great White Hope of English music We follow Jessold through Shepard s eyes as he develops by incorporating modernist dissonances from the continent into his music, all the while holding on to some traditionally English elements.The climax of Jessold s career is to be the premier of his opera, Little Musgrave, the first English opera since the time of Shakespeare But on the night of the dress rehearsal, Jessold s wife and her lover are poisoned and Jessold is found dead of a gunshot wound, an obvious suicide This triple death seems to echo the plot of the opera, whose performance is now cancelled.Shepard takes us through Jessold s life and death two times, the first time in an official account, the second time as a memoir written in his old age The two stories have some significant differences, raising interesting questions about how truth gets spun and how myths get made Shepard s narrative voice alone is worth the price of admission observant, self aware, arch, vain, he slightly resembles Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead.Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer is a fascinating portrait of three wonderfully wrought characters Jessold, Shepard and Shepard s wife It is replete with period detail and references to both real and imaginary musical history I am only passingly acquainted with the era, and it completely held my attention.

  2. says:

    I have enjoyed Wesley Stace s earlier work Particularly By George But I really didn t like Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer The narrator biographer is not likable or interesting, and his subject isn t either The first half of the book essentially the false biography of the main subject is rather boring The only thing that kept me reading was my interest in figuring out what the point was The second half really a bit less than half was much enjoyable as the narrator begins to reveal himself, and his long dead subject, in his old age All of the characters get a much nuanced definition, but by the time I got to the revelations at the end I already suspected them, but didn t really care In the end everything seems to be in service of the point about the dangers of biographical criticism and not the story itself It is a bit like all the descriptions of music the reader can t hear that make up a great deal of the text, they become tedious loose their musical qualities To me this book just didn t sing.

  3. says:

    Surprising and gripping, this book is intellectual suspense at its best Initially worried that its basis in the world of opera would be a negative aspect, my reluctance to read the book was quickly replaced by captivation and a hunger to read Thrace sets his stage as well as any good operatic composer and I found myself immersed in a world that, despite its unfamiliarity, became vibrantly alive with his musical descriptions and his twisted plot Although portions of the novels are less than glimmering, their necessity in clarifying the operatic world to the non initiate is clear and, therefore, they don t detract from the interesting parts of the story The psychological insight into the characters and their motivations is its best aspect, for the book leaves you wondering who the bad and good guy really were and rethinking your entire views on jealousy, unfaithfulness, love and murder.

  4. says:

    i ll give this an extra star for originality and research the idea was interesting, and there s no doubting the erudition and preparation in the writing however, the prose is entirely and needlessly overwrought, and the structure of the book is nothing short of annoying the telling and retelling with some epilogue bits thrown into the main prose 2 3 of the way through made this a tedious read a potboiler at best not sure how i could have enjoyed this book at all

  5. says:

    Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography cclapcenter.com I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP it is not being reprinted illegally It s no secret that I m a huge fan of British author Wesley Stace who when he s not writing has a second career as indie musician John Wesley Harding mostly because of the way that he can declare a theme and then weave in all kinds of complicated and subtle references to it throughout his dense manuscripts, yet maintain a light hearted and very readable tone to the whole thing, as best manifested so far in his 2008 charmer by George, simultaneously a multilayered family drama and an overlook at the entire British live entertainment industry from the 1870s to 1970s, as public taste morphed over a century from music halls to supper clubs, radio and television And now his latest is out, the equally entertaining but much darker Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, which again pairs together two themes to fascinating effect, one philosophical and one practical it s essentially an examination of what we mean by objective truth, and exactly how malleable that concept really is, told through the filter of a scandal within the classical music world, right at the time that Early Modernism was calling into question what exactly the future of chamber music was to even be, and what role British artists were to have in it.Because that s an important thing to know if you don t already, long before discussing any of the weightier, metaphorical issues this book raises, is simply that the British musical arts had a complicated relationship with the Early Modernist movement of the beginning 20th century that after missing the boat during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the UK in the 1800s had just started producing its first world class composers and performers, just to flounder again in the face of atonality and experimentation in the 1910s and 20s, which when followed by thirty years of international war meant an almost complete lack of influence in the music world until the rise of the first Britpop bands of the 1950s and 60s And this is one of the things to love about Stace, apart from anything else in his writing, is his mere dedication to and almost musicologist approach to the history of the British arts and if nothing else, Jessold is a fine historical look at an intriguing era of British music, and really brings to life the image of mustachioed gentlemen still dressing in Edwardian tuxedos for formal evenings out, but now sitting around listening to the dissonant, challenging songs of Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Debussy.But like I said, this is far from the only pleasure to be had in Stace s work, with these rich settings serving as mere window dressing to the main tale he means to convey in this case, a complicated meta story that gets unspun through a series of retellings by the same main narrator at different periods of his life, each detail taking on new resonances as he slowly reveals and behind what went into each of them That narrator is one Leslie Shepherd, who in turn is telling us mostly about the eponymous Jessold, a wild child and former prodigy who nearly singlehandedly changed the face of British music in those years, if not for a tragedy on the night of his greatest triumph that weirdly mirrored the melodramatic details of his work itself See, as we learn over the first third of this novel, Jessold was one of the rare Brits to really understand and embrace Modernism right at its centennial beginnings, only helped by his internment at a German non military prison camp during World War One, from which he came back heady with experimental thought from the Continent and so in the early 20s does he embark on his first major opera, based on similar twin legends that are introduced into his life and detailed earlier in the book, in which a wealthy patron discovers an affair his wife is having with the artist he is supporting, and kills both them and then himself in a fit of passion and insanity And indeed, through a delicious series of events that Stace details in the first hundred pages, Jessold ends up in a quite similar situation himself, even as he is writing the opera that so closely mirrors it, culminating in a raucous opening night that ends in the real world with the same kind of murder suicide that befalls his aria singing characters.Ah, but then we enter the second part of the book, in which years later Shepherd is pushed through circumstance into examining the sordid story again, where through time and distance he ends up admitting things about it all that he hadn t during his original remarks to the police, the story that made up the first third of the manuscript Like, does anyone really know what exactly happened to Jessold during his three years in Germany during the war, besides what Jessold chooses to tell everyone else Why has no one ever met this mysterious experimental poet who was supposedly writing so many of Jessold s librettos Why did Shepherd s wife have such a cool attitude towards Jessold, anyway, even from the first day she met him And so as the manuscript continues, we get a very different view of what exactly transpired between these people in those years, even as the objective facts laid out in part one never actually change and then just as we think the mystery is finally solved, along comes the third section of the novel, written by Shepherd near his death when he decides to finally confess all the remaining secrets regarding these now half century old events And be forewarned, by the way, that Stace deliberately inserts several red herring threads into his storyline that ultimately go nowhere, specifically for all you smartypants who like trying to outguess the author before actually getting to the end of the story By the end, it all adds up to a highly inventive, surprise filled but fundamentally sound reading experience, helped immensely by Stace s constant little references and callbacks in every detail to the book s main themes of identity, secrecy, and the slippery nature of capital t Truth I mean, granted, it s not for everyone, which is why it s getting a score a bit lower than the love I personally feel for it many will find it much too convoluted, others will find it a bit too silly, while I imagine that those who actively dislike chamber music will often be bored but for sure this is one of those books for those who love novels not just as objects but as concepts, the kind of people who appreciate puzzleboxes equally for their complexity and their beauty Weighty and light by equal turns, this is truly a manuscript for the deep thinking reader, and it comes specifically recommended to such audience members today.Out of 10 9.2

  6. says:

    Murder Mystery or Music Criticism Wesley Stace s ample new novel half murder mystery, half music criticism opens with a press report on the death of the talented but fictional young English composer Charles Jessold in 1923 He appears to have shot himself in his apartment after poisoning his wife and his wife s lover and watching them die The murder suicide has not one but two ironic precedents It reproduces the story of the Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, who similarly killed his wife with her lover It is also the subject of an English folk ballad, Lord Barnard and Little Musgrave, which Jessold had taken as the subject for his operatic magnum opus, due to premiere the following night Given the circumstances, the opera was canceled and Jessold s posthumous reputation ruined It seems clear that he was a man obsessed by the career of Gesualdo, his near namesake, as he squandered his own talent in alcoholism and excess The facts are not in dispute it only remains to trace the sorry path that led to this debacle, and ascertain the composer s possible motives.This task is left to Leslie Shepherd, a gentleman of independent means who writes musical criticism for a leading London paper Meeting Jessold at a country house weekend, he takes it upon himself to promote the young man and guide his early career It is the period of the English folk song revival, when composers such as Vaughan Williams and Holst would go out into the countryside to transcribe ancient versions of the old ballads as sung by aged countrymen, in search of a home grown nationalism to combat the dominance of German music Jessold is staying with Shepherd and his wife Miriam when they hear the Little Mossgrave ballad sic sung by an old sheep shearer, planting the seed for the eventual opera, for which Shepherd will write at least the first draft of the libretto But a decade must pass before that Jessold attracts attention with a number of smaller compositions he makes two trips to study in Germany, but is trapped there by the outbreak of the 1914 war, and spends the next four years in an internment camp There, he manages to write music of ever greater brilliance, and returns to London in 1918 as a musical celebrity and clearly the next great hope for British music But he also becomes personally unreliable, rejecting his old friends, and turning to drink.Wesley Stace is clearly a musician in fact he has a separate career as a singer songwriter under the name John Wesley Harding But he knows the classical repertoire too Unlike virtually all novels about musicians that I have read Vikram Seth s An Equal Music being the sole other exception at the time of writing though I would since add The Time of Our Singing and Orfeo by Richard Powers , the musical background to this one is impeccable Stace understands the conflict in prewar British music between pastoral Englishism and dilettantish daring He is also aware of the great movements on the continent he has superb passages on Stravinsky s Rite Of Spring and especially Schoenberg s second string quartet, the work in which he renounced tonality Shepherd sums up his experience of the latter Yet I had to admit that I too felt the wonder of the music, its power, its horror I had laughed at Jessold s breeze from other planets, but I had experienced it, that chill wind blowing from the future, in the hairs on the back of my neck, in my soul.Stace is brilliant at showing how Jessold steered his way between these various influences He makes the composer always plausible, but very much his own man If there is any one composer whose early music one thinks of than others, it is Benjamin Britten, and the 1945 premiere of Britten s Peter Grimes is another of the brilliant musical set pieces in the book.I do have problems, however There are many times when I am not sure whether the music is just the background to the personal story, or whether the story has been devised solely to enable Stace to write about the music As a musician myself including as an opera librettist and former newspaper critic , I was fascinated by everything, but other readers might find the book slow Stace also goes out of his way to imitate the mandarin style of a lot of English writing at the beginning of the century, flowing with the stately amplitude of a Henry James, and there are times when you just wish he would get on with it This is especially so in the second part of the book, after Jessold is long since dead, and Stace continues into the later years of his biographer, Leslie Shepherd The musical details continue to fascinate, but when Hamlet has left the scene, who is interested in Horatio Yet stick with it while Stace goes through the same events again but from an intriguingly different perspective Some of his surprises come close to narrative cheating, but in the end they transform the book into a different kind of psychological study altogether, still very much worth the reading 3.8 stars

  7. says:

    Please note This book was received from the Vine program and as such, I cannot post the same review here as I did on , so I am making some changes to accede to the ToS there.Synopsis from Goodreads A gentleman critic named Leslie Shepherd tells the macabre story of a gifted young composer, Charles Jessold On the eve of his revolutionary new opera s premiere, Jessold murders his wife and her lover, and then commits suicide in a scenario that strangely echoes the plot of his opera which Shepherd has helped to write The opera will never be performed.Shepherd first shares his police testimony, then recalls his relationship with Jessold in his role as critic, biographer, and friend And with each retelling of the story, significant new details cast light on the identity of the real victim in Jessold s tragedy.This ambitiously intricate novel is set against a turbulent moment in music history, when atonal sounds first reverberated through the concert halls of Europe, just as the continent readied itself for war What if Jessold s opera was not only a betrayal of Shepherd, but of England as well My Thoughts While I am certainly a person who enjoys the journey when it comes to reading a book, the journey in this book is like taking the railroad across the country when you just need to get across town The narrator shares pretty much every event with us, no matter how small the detail and insignificant the occurrence, every single thing he ever experienced with Charles Jessold is described in excruciating detail I was looking forward to a story about the events of the murder and the solving thereof and instead of I get a history of Charles Jessold s descent into alcoholism and eccentricity While certainly this background is useful, it could be easily digested if woven around the story of the murder and its solutions Very disappointing I would recommend checking it out of the library if you are curious about it rather than wasting your money I abandoned it at about the halfway point simply could not finish.

  8. says:

    This is a peculiar and compelling book, literate and sly, peopled with characters at once unlikeable and empathetic It is erudite about music and British society in the first half of the 20th century, and contains a wonderful exemplar of the untrustworthy narrator I can t say I couldn t put it down, but I was ever eager to return to it To say would be to give away its secrets, which are worth discovering on one s own.

  9. says:

    This is a psychological murder mystery whose central character is a music critic there aren t many of those Anyone who likes classical music, especially the British composers of the early 20th century, will enjoy this book.

  10. says:

    I should have loved this book about music, England, history and murder But I gave up half way through the narrator, fussy, witty, and SO long winded as to bore me helplessly to sleep I know the whole book shifts with a second half, but I couldn t summon up the energy to follow it through.

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