Jan Swafford, “The Music of the Castrati” – from the article: From the 16th to the 19th centuries, tens of thousands of male children were castrated before puberty to preserve their high voices, then subjected to a brutal and relentless program of vocal training. The first instruction, wrote an observer, “was inseparable from the whip.” As in all eras of musical education, the result was a few idolized stars like the celebrated Farinelli; a steady supply of well-trained singers for church, court, and opera; and myriad also-rans and nobodies. In this case, particularly tragic nobodies. These nobodies sang for pennies in the streets, turned to prostitution for male customers, and sooner or later disappeared into the oblivion of the outcast. A great many ended up suicides. As for the public, mingled with their admiration for the famous castrati was disgust and scorn. Names for them included “geldings, eunuchs, capons … nature’s rejects, nullities of known creation.” To have gone under the knife, never by your own choice, meant only one career path. By law and by custom you were forbidden to take Church orders or serve in government or military. Needless to say, you never had a family. As a castrato you were a singer, or you were nothing.
Mary Tompkins Lewis, “Vincent Van Gogh: His Art, His Words” (h/t aldaily.com) – [re: six volumes of Van Gogh’s correspondence] A few letters, previously unknown or fragmented, are also added to the lot. They are accompanied by thumbnail reproductions, many in color, of every work of art van Gogh discussed in his incessant musings on painting, including his own. Brief sketches introduce each haunt of his short, peripatetic career, and every person, place or event mentioned even in passing is likewise explained in copious notes. Van Gogh was a voracious reader, and epistolary exhortations to friends to read his favorite authors peppered his writings.