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The Song of the Lark [CD] (AUDIOBOOK) by…
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The Song of the Lark [CD] (AUDIOBOOK) (original 1915; edition 2007)

by Willa Cather

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Title:The Song of the Lark [CD] (AUDIOBOOK)
Authors:Willa Cather
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The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather (1915)

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Having promised myself that I would read more Willa Cather novels this year, it was pretty certain that TheSong of the Lark would be one of the novels I would finally get around to. First published in 1915 – it was Cather’s third novel and is considered to be the second novel in her Prairie Trilogy.

“The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing — desire.”

At almost 600 pages it is certainly one of Cather’s longer novels, if not the longest, and it has a scope to match. There is so much to this novel in terms of depth and scope, that I will only try to give a flavour of it, it’s a truly great story, and a quite ambitious work, beautifully written as one would expect, memorable and engaging. The title comes from a painting of the same name, by Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton. songofthelark1

The beginning of the story is set in the fictional town of Moonstone, Colorado, where Thea Kronberg, one of seven children of the Swedish Methodist minister, at eleven years old is already showing signs of becoming a gifted musician. Thea’s strong, intelligent mother allows Thea space to grow, she knows her daughter is different to the others, Thea’s aunt Tillie, who lives with the family is a bit silly, irritates so many other people, is surprisingly tolerated by the adolescent Thea. Many years later, Tillie’s fierce pride in her niece survives as she remains alone in Moonstone. Even at this young age, one of Thea’s greatest friends, is the young town doctor, Dr Archie, a friendship that will survive decades and Thea’s raise from her humble background to become a great opera singer. The novel is told in six parts, charting Thea’s growth as an artist and a woman, as she progresses from Moonstone to Chicago and New York, studies in Europe and her eventual great success in her debut as Sieglinde at the Metropolitian Opera.

“Many a night that summer she left Dr. Archie’s office with a desire to run and run about those quiet streets until she wore out her shoes, or wore out the streets themselves; when her chest ached and it seemed as if her heart were spreading all over the desert. When she went home, it was not to go to sleep. She used to drag her mattress beside her low window and lie awake for a long while, vibrating with excitement, as a machine vibrates from speed. Life rushed in upon her through that window — or so it seemed. In reality, of course, life rushes from within, not from without. There is no work of art so big or so beautiful that it was not once all contained in some youthful body, like this one which lay on the floor in the moonlight, pulsing with ardor and anticipation. It was on such nights that Thea Kronborg learned the thing that old Dumas meant when he told the Romanticists that to make a drama he needed but one passion and four walls.

A fiercely determined young girl Thea helps to look after her younger brother, born at a time when Thea was gravely ill and attended by her good friend Dr Archie. While learning piano from hard drinking, Professor Wunsch, by fifteen Thea is already teaching pupils herself, using the money she makes to create her very own room under the eaves, this jealously guarded private space becomes a place where Thea can be herself. Often asked to sing at funerals Thea also competes with her singing rival the pretty Lily Fisher. Wunsch lives with the local tailor Kohler and his wife who live within sound of the Mexican community, where Spanish Johnny and Mrs Tellamantez live, sing and dance; and who along with Dr Archie, The Kohlers, Prof. Wunsch, and railwayman Ray Kennedy form Thea’s group of adult friends. Thea only partly understands what desires lie inside her, her striving and ambition, her wish to move beyond Moonstone and her music pupils. Wunsch leaves Moonstone, and Thea leaves school to take on greater numbers of pupils and earn her own money. When Ray Kennedy, whose secret wish it is to marry Thea when she is old enough is killed, his bequest of six hundred dollars gives Thea the opportunity to leave and study in Chicago.

In Chicago Thea studies hard at piano, but her true gift is in her voice so when her voice is revealed to her piano teacher he sends her to work with a great vocal teacher instead. However Thea is sometimes dissatisfied, frustrated in herself and those around her, she begins to show those personality traits we might expect of a great artist. Thea struggles to adjust to her new life, living with two German women, and close to a Swedish reform church where she often sings in the choir. When Thea returns to Moonstone for a holiday she finds herself out of step with her old home, seeing resentment on the faces of her siblings and angered to have herself talked about by the local community. Returning to Chicago to embrace her studies, Thea puts Moonstone firmly behind her, the first of the sacrifices she makes in her determined pursuit of her voice. While studying with her teacher Bowers, Thea must play piano for other singers, something she tires of, resenting the success of less gifted singers and despising the public’s preference for them. Then Thea meets rich young man Fred Ottenberg, with whom she spends some wonderful carefree healing days in Arizona on a holiday arranged by Fred. However like Thea’s great friend Dr Archie, Fred too is trapped in an unhappy marriage. These two men however remain close to Thea as she eventually succeeds to the greatness that is her destiny.

Apparently loosely based on the life of soprano Olive Fremstad, The Song of the Lark is the story of an artist, of determination, ambition and sacrifice. Moving from a small Colorado town in the 1890’s to the New York concert halls in the first decade of the twentieth century Cather captures perfectly the psychology of a truly gifted singer, the almost paralysing ambition and the sacrifices which come with that. Cather’s characterisation of Thea is honest and unsentimental, Thea is sometimes difficult, as she does rather shrug off the people in her life she cannot take with her. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Aug 12, 2014 |
I think my head is still reeling from this. I watched and enjoyed the TV adapation a few years ago and picked up the novel but I've only got to reading it now and I wish I hadn't waited so long. The adaption strangely cut the final third of the book and that seems a shame. The other changes were minor but this is so much of the story. First, the Panther canyon part, which they did keep, but then more and more of Thea's struggles and finally her moment. Truly amazing to read. I'm not sure I can get back into the everyday world so easily.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
I loved this book. I was first introduced to Willa Cather as a teenager when my mother urged me to read My Antonia. Over the years I have randomly picked up other novels by Cather -- Sapphira and the Slave Girl, O Pioneers!, Shadows on the Rock, Obscure Destinies, and the odd short story that has been anthologized in lit. textbooks. This is my favorite.

The Song of the Lark, a kunstlerroman, chronicles the adolescence and growth into artistry of Thea Kronborg, the daughter of a Methodist minister in a small northern Colorado town who becomes a renowned opera diva.

Thea, a middle child in a large Swedish family, seems destined for something larger, even as a young girl. She is noticed by the town doctor, adored by a young railway man, provided with piano lessons by her mother, and driven to hard work and accomplishment by her piano teacher. Eventually she makes her way to Chicago to study piano, and her voice is discovered.

Thea's journey is fascinating, but it is her surroundings (her kith and kin, if you will) that make the book so rich and resonant. Cather captures the life and landscape of growing up in a small Plains town vividly: the relationships among the siblings in a large family, the small town scrutiny of the preacher's daughter, the uneasy relationship between the "American" side and the "Mexican" side of the town, the central role the railroad played in the settling of the West, and most importantly the natural landscape, both of Colorado Plains and later of the Arizona cliff lands.

Cather herself grew up in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in similar circumstances, and much of Thea's childhood draws from Cather's -- down to the description of the prized bedroom which she claimed for herself in her teens. We went to Cather's childhood home in Red Cloud a couple of years ago, and the bedroom remains preserved as it is described in The Song of the Lark.

Cather's characterization of Thea is unsentimental, recognizing the hardness that one must develop in order to achieve great artistry. In many ways, this is an old-fashioned book -- full of wonderful characters and unashamed of its values. ( )
3 vote janeajones | Jul 1, 2014 |
Some of the elements are familiar--the misfit child in a backwater who by dint of energy and talent rises to international fame--the changes it puts her through. Is it talent or drive or a unique combination of the two? She gets some breaks, but she seizes and uses them. As her fame rises the old town of Moonstone and its characters fade and dissipate, leaving only a few characters to see the whole story. Cather was criticized for the epilogue, but I think it was brilliant. ( )
  rsairs | Feb 22, 2014 |
After finishing O Pioneers and loving it, I thought I'd pick this up next and read the Prairie Trilogy in order. I won't say I regret doing that, exactly, but there's definitely a reason this book isn't as well known (or as widely praised) as O Pioneers. The show-to-tell ratio in this book is, unfortunately, much lower than in its predecessor. Either through her narration or, more tediously still, through her characters, Cather gives voice to a number of philosophical declarations, especially about the nature of being an artist (not to say the nature of art, really). Some are interesting, some are not, but few are very enlivening, and whole sections of the book are mired in these discussions. Apart from that, it's not bad, and there's plenty to like as well. The characters, despite their occasional roles as vessels for Cather's philosophizing, are relatively well fleshed out and interesting. Still, I expect to enjoy the last Prairie novel (My Antonia) more, and I certainly did O Pioneers. ( )
  spoko | Nov 14, 2013 |
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Epigraph
"It was a wond'rous lovely storm that drove me!" - Lenau's Don Juan
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To Isabelle McClung
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Doctor Howard Archie had just come up from a game of pool with the Jewish clothier and two travelling men who happened to be staying overnight in Moonstone.
The Song of the Lark tells a tale familiar in frontier history, a tale of struggle and courage in which a determined protagonist forges a self equal to a wild and outsized land. (Introduction)
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This is the Cinderella story of Thea Kronborg, born into provincial obscurity in Moonstone, a small desert town in the American West, rescued from it by her exquisite voice. Thea is one of seven children, yet she is a child apart and there are those in Moonstone who know it: Aunt Tillie, Doctor Archie, Spanish Johnny, Professor Wunsch, her alcoholic piano teacher - and Ray Kennedy, a railroad man whose most cherished dream is to marry Thea but whose fate it is to set her free. With her rugged will and fierce pioneer spirit Thea forces her way through life - from Moonstone to the windy streets of Chicago, from Dresden to New York and a triumphant debut as Sieglinde at the Metropolitan Opera. Thea becomes a great opera singer, but learns on the way that to be a true artist she must make the most bitter sacrifices of all...
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A story of a young woman's awakening as an artist and her struggle to escape the constraints of a small town in Colorado.

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