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4.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Concise Essays on England's Leading Composers, 11 Jan 2011
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
I'm not sure this kind of book will survive the internet age. In his preface, Stanley Sadie writes that the texts presented here originated as dictionary articles and are therefore designed for east reference and are concerned more with facts than opinions. Over time, I envisage people are more likely to access Wikipedia than dictionaries for the kind of information presented here, which is a shame since the breadth of erudition displayed and the amount of detail provided is far higher than one would find on such a website.

This is a review of the 1986 paperback edition. Its entries cover Elgar (65 pages), Delius (25), Vaughan Williams (45), Holst (26), Walton (22), Tippett (35), and Britten (57). Is there anyone missing? Well, if a new edition was planned today we might expect the likes of Peter Maxwell Davies and John Tavener to also have entries. The entries consist of a biographical-cum-musicological essay, followed by a list of each composer's works (usefully indexed to the relevant pages of the essay) and a bibliography.

Diana McVeigh's essay on Elgar concludes that, "Elgar's voice is individual enough to be instantly recognizable ... He was not an innovator ... [but] his work remains a great English summation of the European tradition." Interestingly, she declares the third symphony "cannot be completed from the remaining sketches", which is what Anthony Payne succeeded in doing a few years' later.

Anthony Payne himself contributes the essay on Delius, remarking how the composer "grew intensely aware of the transience of things." Harmony for Delius is as, if not more important than melody, evinced by "Delius's remarkable ability to prolong a sensuous moment by purely harmonic means." Meanwhile, Hugh Ottaway notes, "It is part of Vaughan Williams's strength and importance that he cannot be adequately discussed in narrowly musical terms."

The essay on Holst is contributed by his daughter, Imogen. Hers is a valuable insight into the composer's own valuation of his works. Hugh Ottaway returns for a three-page review of the composer's biography, but the works of this " `reluctant' rather than ... `compulsive' composer" are explored more fully. Ian Kemp's essay on Tippett was written when the composer was still alive, whilst Peter Evans's consideration of Britten's music extends to over forty pages, the longest of the set.

There are a number of monochrome plates. An index brings up the ear.
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