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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate Advocacy
Writing in depth on the life and work of such a major composer as Rubbra requires a daunting skill set. First, a deep knowledge of all the music, and the ability to discuss it at a variety of levels, from the points of view of technique, structure, instrumentation and overall impact. Second, a firm and non-judgemental hand when it comes to biographical facts. Third, the...
Published 16 months ago by Master Jacques

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile subject
I am in favour of anything that promotes interest in Rubbra. He's a sobre minded but spiritual composer, part of that English mystical tradition that tends to be made up of visionaries and mavericks like Blake and Samuel Palmer, whose pictures are on the covers of the Chandos Cds of Rubbra's symphonies.

It's very pleasing that there is a book about Rubbra's...
Published on 26 Feb 2009 by Andrew Baker


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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile subject, 26 Feb 2009
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I am in favour of anything that promotes interest in Rubbra. He's a sobre minded but spiritual composer, part of that English mystical tradition that tends to be made up of visionaries and mavericks like Blake and Samuel Palmer, whose pictures are on the covers of the Chandos Cds of Rubbra's symphonies.

It's very pleasing that there is a book about Rubbra's symphonies - but I read this with growing dismay. Leo Black has written interestingly on the ideas behind Schubert so I had high expectations but somehow I felt this book told me nothing. A lot more could be said about the ideas behind the music, and Rubbra's changing religious beliefs. There could be more analysis, but unfortunately all you get here is a decscription that has little value when you can far better listen to the music!

Even the analytical side is limited (and I don't think Rubbra would want us to be interested in technical analysis) and, the final puzzle, Black astoundingly refers to a saxophone theme in the seventh symphony.

Now the 7th is one of all time favourite pieces and that tune my favourite moment in Rubbra. It's not a saxophone, it's flute and bassoon.
How could anyone who writes a book on a set of symphonies not have looked at the score and known there was no saxophone? How could he have listened to the piece and not realised?

So buy the Chandos CDs rather than the book!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An opportunity missed, 21 Nov 2009
By 
R. H. Kay - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Rubbra has been poorly served by biographers, the only authoritative book having been published by Triad Press in the 1970s.

Certain composers - Havergal Brian and Sorabji spring to mind - seem to attract a particularly irritating type of biographer - "star-struck pedant" is a possible description. The previous book on Rubbra, by Ralph Scott Grover, fell into this category : Leo Black's analyses of Rubbra's music and subjective reactions to its subtleties are in similar vein and are sadly predictable.

Black scores over Grover by giving a reasonable quantity of biographical detail. The vicissitudes of Rubbra's personal life make interesting reading and help one to form a better picture of a composer whose music is highly cerebral and gives virtually no clues to his personality.

As indicated in the previous review, however, the book contains several dreadful howlers which should never have got past a half-competent editor. The talk of a Saxophone solo in the Seventh Symphony is by far the worst - it implies that Black did not look at the score but relied on recordings (evidently played on poor equipment), and would on its own disqualify the book from serious consideration (the solo is not for Flute and Bassoon, but Cor Anglais and Bassoon). Two other major slips are : (i) The "Four Mediaeval Lyrics" words in question are "O, O, totus ardeo" (not "langueo" - he is obviously confusing Rubbra with Howard Ferguson) and (ii) Rubbra's Twelfth Symphony fragment was numbered by Rubbra himself as Op. 164, not 165 - this mistake adds to the existing confusion about the opus numberings of Rubbra's last few works.

Another damaging mistake is the implication that scores of Rubbra's symphonies are not available for sale. They are - see the "Lengnick Sales" section of Ricordi's online website.

Of all composers, Rubbra is one of those who least repays analysis and most repays listening. All are currently available on CD. Symphony No.6 is the most attractive, and 5, 3, 8, 7 and 10 should then be listened to in that order - those are the best (No.10 is the best of the lot but takes a bit of getting used to). This will give a good idea of Rubbra's style and the remaining symphonies will give no difficulties.

Black's book gives the impression of having been written by someone whose intellectual attention-span was sadly deficient, and the style is very flippant. If you buy it, enjoy the details about Rubbra the man, but the book is unlikely to win the composer new friends and will probably irritate his many admirers.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A truly missed opportunity, 9 Nov 2013
This book is very disappointing. There are a number good books about British composers for example all of those by Michael Kennedy, Jeremy Dibble on Parry, Diana McVeagh on Finzi and Elgar and Paul Spicer on Herbert Howells. This reader found Leo Black's book not to be in the same class and virtually unreadable. I had to force myself to read it to the end. It was only my interest in Rubbra's music that made me persevere. I am not sure I was better informed when I finished that when I started. If Leo Black was aiming at the genral reader with a serious interest in music and its composers, then I think he has failed. It is much too intellectual. It may be good as a PhD, treatise which only academics are going to read after it has been submitted. This is rather sad as there is a need for a biography on Edmund Rubbra with the ordinary concertgoer in mind. Edmund Rubbra's music although well represented on recordings is heard too infrequently in the concert hall. There is need to demystify Rubbra. He is too good to be a cult figure with a limited appeal. I hope someone will write a readable biography that will attract attention to his work.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate Advocacy, 12 April 2013
By 
Master Jacques (London, England, UK) - See all my reviews
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Writing in depth on the life and work of such a major composer as Rubbra requires a daunting skill set. First, a deep knowledge of all the music, and the ability to discuss it at a variety of levels, from the points of view of technique, structure, instrumentation and overall impact. Second, a firm and non-judgemental hand when it comes to biographical facts. Third, the verbal skill to convey the writer's own stance and position in time, the better to allow the reader to 'place' the book.

No such study should be expected to be a sort of 'bible' guide to a composer as richly diverse and even ambiguous as Rubbra, but Black passes each of these tests with flying colours. As Rubbra's pupil at Oxford, he can call upon both technical and personal knowledge of his subject. The 'life' is dealt with, warts and all, with empathy and intelligence, without moral judgement. Then, as a BBC Radio 3 producer of many years standing, Black understands the need to communicate - and my goodness, he can certainly write with brilliant individuality!

He also makes clear (for instance, through regular quotation from the works of contemporary Roman Catholic mystics such as 'Cardinal Ratzinger') his own religious affiliations, allowing us a perspective on the nature of his insights into his subject.

Of course there are some small slips, which we might hope would be corrected in a second edition. But - especially when compared against the worthy but dull, exhaustive and exhausting, thesis-traversal of the ground by Ralph Scott Grover - Black's book shines by its critical acumen, pungency of observation and valuable weight of factual accuracy and musical insight.

The appeal of Rubbra's music, organically non-structural and highly personal in idiom, is extremely hard to verbalise. Black has done a sterling job to produce a book which is authoritative yet full of its own personality - and above all readable for non-specialist music-lovers. It deserves to win many new friends for this unique voice amongst the great 20th century symphonists.
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Edmund Rubbra: Symphonist
Edmund Rubbra: Symphonist by Leo Black (Paperback - 17 July 2014)
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