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This new volume in a long-running series is impressively wide-ranging, including not only composers and performers, but also such phenomena as just intonation, extended performance techniques (Bartók pizzicato, tone clusters, multiphonics, etc), pantonality, chance music, electroacoustic music and electronic music. The only pop, jazz or rock composers included are those ‘whose work overlaps the realm of concert music’ – such figures as Duke Ellington, Frank Zappa, Scott Joplin and Gershwin. However, this volume does have a strong American bias, so I am doubtful about its usefulness for more general readers in the UK. I am sure I will not be alone in finding dozens of unfamiliar names, while Turnage, for instance, is omitted. A little perversely, Ireland, Butterworth, Bridge and Bax (hardly arch-modernists) have been included. Other important omissions are Holliger, Donatoni, Golijov, Vivier, Rihm and Silvestrov. Of course, one can play this game ad nauseam, but I often found myself wondering about the criteria for inclusion. On the other hand, I was amused to read about the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, and surprised to learn that microtonality dates from the late 1890s.

Wearing my pedant’s hat, I found the following errors and omissions. In the Kodály entry I looked in vain for possibly his greatest work – the solo cello sonata. The entry on Gerhard has no mention of his three outstanding astrological works, while polystylism receives no entry – not even in the account of Schnittke. On page 261 the reference to Pulcinella incorrectly attributes all of the original music to Pergolesi. On page 277 Thelonious Monk is misspelled. The Barber Adagio’s origin as a quartet movement is not mentioned. Les Illuminations was written for Sophie Wyss, not Peter Pears. Honegger’s famous piece is Pacific 231, not ‘2. 3. 1.’ Also, I would describe Jeux as subtle, deeply fascinating, elusive, fluid and kaleidoscopic, but certainly not ‘hard-edged and dissonant’.

The book has one of the best bibliographies I have ever seen, its 57 pages including lists of books and journals, but also interviews and websites.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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