(Thomas TALLIS - Ernst TOCH)

(Satie - Szymanowski)     (Vactor - Vorísek)      contents
A small but rising surge of interest in this music, due mainly to the popularity of the Tallis Scholars and the happily-named Peter Phillips. The greatest composer of his Elizabethan day and a master of the motet. Try the Cantiones sacrae (a joint effort with William Byrd). What distinguishes his style for me is a direct emotional appeal and a meditative quality, not unlike the famous Vaughan Williams fantasia. This is absolutely beautiful stuff. His music can be uncomplicated ("O nata lux") or incredibly complicated, as in the 40-voice (that's 40 independent voices, at least in the beginning) showpiece "Spem in alium." I once sang this work. The physical score was a hoot. The conductor needed a good-size table to hold it. Lamentations of Jeremiah is yet another substantial work of great depth. Really, if you don't know his music, try anything.

This was the first woman composer I ever heard. It had never occurred to me that all the composers I knew of were male. Composers' Recordings, Inc., released an All-Gal disk which included her Toccata for orchestra. Strong, vigorous work in the school of American neo-classicism. I couldn't believe she was so little known. When I heard the biological metaphysics on why women couldn't compose, I always brought up Talma (by then, I'd heard the 3 Duologues for clarinet and piano, which only confirmed my likes). I was met either by blank looks or smirks, as if she belonged to an eastern bloc women's track team. Stereotype much? At any rate, Beveridge Webster made a classic recording of her 6 Études for piano. Virginia Eskin has recorded the Piano Sonata No. 1, which has an architectural strength comparable to Copland's Piano Variations. Let's Touch the Sky beautifully sets e. e. cummings poems for a chamber ensemble and chorus. Musical Heritage released a disk with her song cycle Variations on 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and the poetic chamber opera Have You Heard? Do You Know? I'm still looking for more. Thornton Wilder wrote a full-length libretto Alkestis especially for her, and I hope someone will see fit to perform it. I found out later my mom studied theory with her.

20th-century Pole long resident in Paris and then the US. A friend of Stravinsky's. A very cool neo-classicist whose music runs the risk of becoming ordinary. However, when he's on, he cooks. Try the Triptych for strings and the Suite in Modo Polonico, written for Segovia.

He lived a long, strange life. He didn't leave much music. During the Tudor period, as a Catholic, he wrote some of the most deeply-felt music until William Byrd, mainly motets. His Mass on the folk song "The Western Wind" (not to be confused with contemporary masses by Shepherd and Tye on the same tune) is one of the glories of English music. He converted to Protestantism, persecuted Catholics, and gave up music as "Papist."

As a kid, I loved his music. As a callow youth, I caught the contempt of my elders. As a slightly less callow youth, I discovered for myself the magnitude of his achievement: nothing less than the creation of an entire idiom, called Tchaikovskian. It's really difficult, after his early nationalist phase, to figure out his influences. Also, the music is a lot quirkier than we may think. All those years of familiarity have lulled us so that most of the time we're not really listening. A few performances have driven this point home for me: Szell's performance of the 4th symphony, Mravinsky's of the 5th, Dorati's complete Nutcracker, Dohnanyi's 6th. What particularly strikes me is his habit of putting acerbic dissonances in music of the greatest delicacy -- dissonances that come out of harmonic left field. The first symphony ("Winter Dreams") happens to be my favorite of the six, and it's seldom done. Try also the string sextet "Souvenir de Florence," the Manfred Symphony, and the Moscow Cantata. The major body of work waiting to be discovered is for me the 4 suites for orchestra: masterpieces of fantasy.

Alexander. Influenced by Prokofiev, a writer of lively piano concerti. Whitney and Kubelik recorded one apiece, with the composer at the piano.

The Concerto for 4 violins is really for little more than four violins and brilliantly solves all kinds of problems of texture and range in music of surprising power. Der Tag des Gerichts, an oratorio written late, is Telemann beating the Bright Young Things of the Mannheim School at their own game. Harnoncourt recorded this one.

Randall. Known primarily as a choral composer, despised as "popular," and mostly dismissed. A major minor composer. Outside of his mega-hit, Alleluia for mixed choir, he is hardly known at all, except for some extremely practical church music. Try, however, his sensitive Frost settings Frostiana, the lovely Last Words of David, and the magnificent Peaceable Kingdom, for unaccompanied chorus with text from Isaiah. Bernstein once recorded the Second Symphony, so full of good tunes that it at once reminded me of Dvorak's 9th. The String Quartet and the Suite for oboe, clarinet, and viola communicate immediately.

Virgil. To me, one of the few true modernists in America, since most of our moderns turn out to be Romantics in Disguise. He's an adept in two arts, for he also happens to be a major American prose writer. For sheer pleasure, check out the Virgil Thomson Reader. Although overshadowed by Copland (who, by the way, always admitted his debts to Thomson), he achieved far more in the realm of opera and vocal music, over which almost everyone acknowledges him as a master. Try the powerful (and, to my ear, deeply American) Five Songs from William Blake, the incredibly beautiful Feast of Love for baritone and chamber ensemble (a real lesson in how to continue a musical line), 4 Southern Hymns (a choral classic), the sinewy Cello Concerto, Acadian Songs and Dances (which deserve the recognition given to the sister suite Louisiana Story), Praises and Prayers, the delicate Four Songs to Poems of Thomas Campion for voice and chamber group, and the heartbreaking Stabat Mater for mezzo and string quartet. He himself considered his great achievement to be opera. His operas are certainly some of the rare and successful attempts to re-create the genre. My favorite is The Mother of Us All, about Susan B. Anthony and women's suffrage. The text is a major work of world literature. The music is by turns playful and noble and, as in Mozart, every note tells.

Hands down the greatest living British composer and always a problematic one. Somebody pointed out a 30-year lag between Tippett's writing a work and the work becoming popular. Most of his hits were done in the '40s and '50s. The later works have been no more than respectfully received, so far, by the general concert-going public. I assume we know the hits -- Child of Our Time, 4 Ritual Dances, Concerto for Double String Orchestra, etc. I'd like to recommend the less known: the lyrical Piano Concerto (influenced by Beethoven's 4th), the Fantasia on a Theme of Handel, Concerto for Orchestra, all 4 symphonies, the wonderful Triple Concerto, and the Sonata for 4 horns. I've heard complaints about his texts (he usually writes them himself), and I think the complaints justified: pretentious, portentous expression. However, to me, text is always at the service of music, and Tippett's music is never dull. He writes his own strain of British music -- the sixth great stylist of the century along with Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Britten, and Walton. The idiom changes practically with every new piece. Yet, even when he experiments with avant-garde techniques, the technique never overwhelms the emotion. If he has a real fault, it's his tendency to stuff a work too full of goodies. The Vision of St. Augustine seems this way. At any rate, the recording led by the composer came out as mush. Yet as a failure, it was greater than others' successes. Has anyone heard The Masque of Time? Andrew Porter raved.

He described himself as "the forgotten composer" of Germany. This was self-pity, because he is by no means alone. A native Viennese and almost entirely self-taught, he emigrated in the '30s to Los Angeles, where he instructed several film composers in composition. His music has great power -- in its nature, '20s expressionism allies itself with classic forms. Try the symphonies or the chamber music, especially the Piano Quintet.

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