Willa Cather’s novel The Song of the Lark is a book I return to every few years. The somewhat autobiographical story follows the life of a fictional opera singer, Thea Kronborg, as she develops her musical and interpretive gifts.
Thea is not an entirely lovable character, but I deeply identify with her passion, ambition, and – most of all – her fierce struggle to protect and nurture her talent.
Throughout the work, Cather brings up questions about what it means to be an artist and how the process of becoming one affects the artist herself and those around her. And singers will appreciate her accurate descriptions of the intense work it takes to train the voice.
I also enjoyed the depiction of musical training in 19th-century America. No symphony orchestras on the prairie? Only one decent voice teacher in the Midwest? How far we’ve come since then!
If you aren’t familiar with Cather’s work, I highly recommend them. She is best known for My Antonia, O Pioneers, and her volumes of short stories.
The themes of friendship, perseverance, and the joys of music run throughout Cather’s works. She expresses a love for all things cultural and artistic - in a world where such things were hard to find. (The book’s title is taken from the name of an 1884 painting by Jules Bréton, pictured above.) And her language is beautifully descriptive, especially when she writes about the land - the vast, untamed American Midwest - often both a metaphor and a character in its own right.