The Art-Music Forum

Little-known music of all eras => Books about composers and their music => Topic started by: Greg K on April 10, 2018, 05:14:47 pm



Title: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Greg K on April 10, 2018, 05:14:47 pm
"Surprised by Beauty: A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music" by Robert Reilly & Jens Laurson

Has anyone here read through this volume, - apparently a series of about 70 essays (2016 edition) on twentieth-century tonal composers?

Would appreciate any "pocket-sized" reviews as to its quality and perspective.



Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Greg K on June 26, 2018, 11:16:21 pm
I've still not acquired this, - but it's on my mind again.

There's an abundance of reviews around, - at Amazon and from other online sources, and extracts - so I get something of its features and qualities now, and even the distinct "philosophy of music" underlying Reilly's approach.

But will no one here opine (Colin?)?

I imagine it a fitting companion to the "PIMLICO Dictionary of Twentieth Century Composers" by Mark Morris (which Colin has previously extolled here or elsewhere), likewise quirky and opinionated, but so suggestive and stimulating (much more than a mere Dictionary).


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Dundonnell on June 27, 2018, 12:08:11 am
Ok, Greg, since you mentioned me by name  ;D..........

I have just ordered the book :)


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Greg K on June 27, 2018, 12:57:32 am
Wonderful.  I'll duly await your evaluation here before judging it worth purchasing myself.

But please confirm you ordered the (2016) 2nd edition, which almost doubled in size, I believe, with dozens of additional composers added.


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Dundonnell on June 27, 2018, 11:34:25 am
Wonderful.  I'll duly await your evaluation here before judging it worth purchasing myself.

But please confirm you ordered the (2016) 2nd edition, which almost doubled in size, I believe, with dozens of additional composers added.

Yes, I can confirm that :)


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Dundonnell on July 06, 2018, 02:16:32 pm
So..."Surprised by Beauty" has just been delivered to me and I have had a very brief and initial run-through the book.

My preliminary observations will not surprise you:

The choice of composers is idiosyncratic. Many of them I would have included, a few I would not (partly through choice and partly sheer ignorance of their music)
Some of the chapters on individual composers are so short that I am left oddly deflated and unsatisfied.
The book could have been better edited: in the end of chapter discographies there are repetitions of the same cds
The book is-in relation to the current cd availability of certain works-obviously and unavoidably a snapshot in time and will (hopefully!) be steadily outdated.
The particular works discussed are chosen with care but reveal some anomalies: eg the last few symphonies of Roy Harris are ignored (probably wisely!), Robert Simpson's Ninth (which many, including myself, regard as his masterpiece) gets barely a mention
There is some considerable variation in the accuracy of the listings of currently available cds (eg Harald Saeverud).

........but, the book is written in a throughly accessible style (ie it eschews overly technical analysis), seems never less than interesting and, no doubt, at times thought-provoking, and is full of that enthusiasm which I have always found infectious (no surprise there then Greg ;D). I even smiled at the reference (in the chapter on Richard Arnell): "Now I can only wonder how works of this magnificence and of such noble striving could have been overlooked for so long, particularly in Great Britain, where they are given to doting on even their third-rate composers" (my italics)

I don't know, Greg....there will be much which will almost certainly have you raising your eyebrows in scepticism or grinding your teeth in derision but I would still suggest you see for yourself :) :)


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Greg K on July 06, 2018, 08:12:33 pm
Thanks for that, Colin.

In fact, you immediately touch on something that has me waffling whenever I consider acquiring this volume, - which is the idiosyncratic and less than ideal choice of composers included (at least, given my own biases and enthusiasms).  It's a major disincentive.

Not that a majority of the author's inclusions aren't just fine, - figures I would be keen to gain more insight about, and better understand the personal, social, and historical context of their work and its possible meaning(s).

But so many other names (mostly Americans) induce a disappointed wince, not out of any disparagement (like with you, I'm mostly ignorant of their music), but because certain more familiar and (to my mind) more important figures I'd wish to read the authors' reflections on and evaluations of are thereby excluded.

I do understand most (all?) of these essays originated as magazine pieces, enough inspired by the occasion and the authors' then inclinations to make them appropriate subjects at the time of writing.  But now as a book they take on the inevitable flavor of a piecemeal collection (in anticipation at least), incidental and kind of random rather than well planned and calculated, - a discomfiting effect to someone with my characteristic mindset.

I therefore await further apologia from you as to the discerned coherence of and derived satisfaction from the authors' overall vision and treatment (as well as the wisdom of its chosen cast), - if you can give it.  Until then I'm going to hold off, - short of a cheaper copy than I can now find available turning up somewhere.



Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Dundonnell on July 06, 2018, 10:06:12 pm
I am revising"idiosyncratic" to"eccentric" and I may move very shortly to "just plain daft"!!

The selection of American composers??Barber -yes, Harris-yes, Rochberg-yes from my perspective, but the rest??? No Schuman or Mennin or Piston or Hanson or Creston!!! Instead a wierd mix of also-rans and nonentities.

At least Mark Morris's selection made more logical sense. This is-as you say-so obviously cobbled together. Elgar and Nielsen rubbing shoulders with "who?" and "who??"


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Greg K on July 07, 2018, 01:08:45 am
Ouch, - yeah.

Schuman, Mennin, Piston, Hanson, Creston, (one might add Thompson, Persichetti, and others) - exactly the characters I myself would wish to read about.

But Stephen Albert, Kenneth Fuchs, Steven Gerber, Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larsen, Peter Schickele(!), Morton Gould, Lowell Liebermann, (a few others also I could name)?

Are these truly worthy of much more than passing recognition?  (Perhaps they are, and I too would be Surprised by some exceptional Beauty were I to engage with their music as the authors have).

Enough essays on the more intriguing and commanding composers may redeem any felt inconsistencies, -  or your antipathies converted to curiosity and even admiration in some cases.

But from outside it seems just so much a hodge-podge.

Please update your evaluation as you make your way through.


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Jolly Roger on July 19, 2018, 09:48:14 am
I fail to see why Hibdon is included in any book about modern music of any quality.


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: soundwave106 on July 20, 2018, 02:24:45 am
Morton Gould

This one I can see to be honest, depending on how deep the book wanted to go. Although more varied than what he's best known for, Morton Gould was probably one of the leading composers at the time of what would now be called "crossover music".

Anything "crossover" or "light" is not as rigorous as the more academic stuff, but this area (and cinema and theater) were areas that always tended to remain tonal overall in the 20th century, and can produce crowd-pleasing stuff. I do feel that some interesting things can be found in this area, given the constraints of course. (I feel the same about the British "light music" too that I've heard.)

I would've included some of the ones Dundonnell mentioned (like Hanson and Piston at minimum) before Gould though! But Gould is more worthy of inclusion than PDQ Bach. :)

My guess is for a lot of that list, there was a reach for anything relatively modern. These days there probably there really aren't any "big names" of mostly tonal American concert hall composers. For relatively modern examples of American orchestral "beauty", I would've stuck with film composers personally...


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Greg K on September 03, 2018, 10:26:23 pm
Have you made your way all the way through this by now, Colin, and (leaving aside the sometimes odd choice of composers we've noted) able to conclusively evaluate its merits?


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Dundonnell on September 04, 2018, 02:08:00 am
Have you made your way all the way through this by now, Colin, and (leaving aside the sometimes odd choice of composers we've noted) able to conclusively evaluate its merits?

I shall attempt to give a considered response when I have the time to do so, Greg. I am very busy at present, juggling several balls simultaneously ::)


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Alex Bozman on January 28, 2019, 09:22:56 pm
I was tempted to buy this, having been alerted by the reviews on here.

My preference would have been for the authors to omit the 20th century 'greats' writing broadly tonal music and include more unfamiliar names. However, if you are including the 'greats' an admittedly subjective category, then include them all. No Bartok, Ravel and I'd add Copland to the list of absent Americans.

It was pleasing to get informative articles on some of my favourite composers; Lajtha, Martin, Mathias, Saeverud for example. I did also explore some of the new repertiore suggested by the authors. Most of the American composers suggested didn't inspire, but quite liked Jack Gallagher's Threnody Symphony and find Stephen Albert an interesting composer new to me, particularly some of the song cycles like Tree Stone. Albert's Symphony no 1 is interesting, but hasn't fallen into place for me yet.

I'm not entirely comfortable with the author's emphasis of the spiritual in his writings, but overall have enjoyed reading this.     

 


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Jolly Roger on June 09, 2019, 07:27:22 am
has anyone purchased this one?

https://www.amazon.com/Classical-Revolution-Thoughts-Century-Expanded/dp/0486814483/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2/143-3495258-2881545?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0486814483&pd_rd_r=d4997617-8a7e-11e9-8d2e-a70b2f04bb3c&pd_rd_w=H2qVp&pd_rd_wg=bm0hL&pf_rd_p=a2006322-0bc0-4db9-a08e-d168c18ce6f0&pf_rd_r=ZQ8NPKEA7PQ60FYNERP0&psc=1&refRID=ZQ8NPKEA7PQ60FYNERP0


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Jolly Roger on June 09, 2019, 07:34:03 am
this is probably my favorite reference for general information.
https://www.amazon.com/Classical-Music-Essential-Listening-Companion/dp/0879306386/ref=sr_1_8?keywords=the+3rd+ear&qid=1560061935&s=books&sr=1-8


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Neil McGowan on June 09, 2019, 05:52:31 pm
has anyone purchased this one?

Certainly not, considering who the author is - a persistent internet troll.


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Greg K on June 10, 2019, 01:18:05 am
has anyone purchased this one?

Certainly not, considering who the author is - a persistent internet troll.

What are you talking about?  An utterly gratuitous judgment it seems to me.

Prone as you are to making dogmatic statements without any justification, why not elaborate what you have against this individual?


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Greg K on June 10, 2019, 01:51:07 am
this is probably my favorite reference for general information.
https://www.amazon.com/Classical-Music-Essential-Listening-Companion/dp/0879306386/ref=sr_1_8?keywords=the+3rd+ear&qid=1560061935&s=books&sr=1-8

Hugely enjoyable as I found the "Third Ear Guide" when it first came out 20+ years ago, the coverage is annoyingly inconsistent and the musical judgments often disagreeable to me.
The Mahler and (especially) Bruckner sections are extremely sketchy and slipshod, for example, and so many other composers that one wishes for a much fuller treatment of are shortchanged and not given the range of consideration their stature truly deserves.  It's apparent many of the authors dashed off their commissions without sufficient knowledge of and exposure to the recordings landscape they were charged with describing, and the critical evaluations are often too glib or overly dogmatic.  Noticeable biases become evident also, with these exclusively American critics tending to favour American composers and American (or at least American based) conductors and Orchestras (just as the Penguin & Good CD Guides do with the English).  All inevitable in a compilation like this, I suppose.  It is entertaining though, but also out of date by now, as any even more recent print handbooks of this type would be almost as soon as they were issued, - the new releases come so fast and furious.  


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Neil McGowan on June 10, 2019, 10:36:40 pm

Prone as you are to making dogmatic statements without any justification, why not elaborate what you have against this individual?

Try keeping a civil tongue in your head, We don;t have to tolerate your behaviour here, and you are heading for a ban..


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: the Administration on June 11, 2019, 12:42:29 am
I am very sorry that immediately prior to and during my recent week-long enforced absence from the forum there have been some "heated exchanges". I also accept my own responsibility for contributing in my personal capacity to some of that "heat".

This forum has a relatively small membership. The percentage of that membership which contributes through posts is obviously very much smaller. We depend on those contributions, whether regular or occasional, for the survival of the forum. Otherwise, to put it bluntly, it will die.

The duties of Administration have largely devolved on one person over the last few months. Latvian has not been able to visit the forum at all over the past month- for entirely understandable personal reasons relating to his worklife!

It is becoming very evident to me that trying to maintain a dual role here as both an "impartial moderator" and as a member with his own views and perspectives is increasingly difficult.

However, I am willing to continue to do what I can to assist in sustaining a forum which I value, appreciate and enjoy.

It would be helpful if we all-and I DO include myself in this-attempt to remember that calm, good manners, an appreciation of the feelings of other members should underpin our discourse. If members, and again I include myself, make remarks about others which are, or are perceived to be, rude or offensive then the outcomes are inevitable. I am asked to ban members. Members simply stop posting at all. Members voluntarily leave.

I could adopt a draconian attitude and start throwing members out. I have tried to avoid this unless absolutely necessary (the number is less than the fingers of one hand!). I do NOT want to become such an administrator. Indeed I would not be such an administrator.

Can I therefore plead for a greater measure of calm and for a recognition by all of the need for views to be expressed with moderation, tact and good humour?


Title: Re: Surprised by Beauty
Post by: Neil McGowan on June 11, 2019, 05:56:47 pm
I am entirely in favour of amicable discussion.