Notes 60.2 (2003) 455-456
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Arthur Bliss: Music and Literature. Edited by Stewart R. Craggs. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002. [xv, 351 p. ISBN 1-85928-319-5. $114.95.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, indexes.
Michael Tippett: Music and Literature. Edited by Suzanne Robinson. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002. [xix, 261 p. ISBN 0-7546-0132-3. $79.95.] Music examples, illustrations, indexes.
The comparatively recent surge of interest in British music is evident from publication in the last ten years of books on Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edmund Rubbra, William Walton, Benjamin Britten, and Gerald Finzi, to name just a few. This interest is furthered by two recent publications of Ashgate Publishing in their Music and Literature series.
Stewart Craggs, editor of Arthur Bliss: Music and Literature, is already well known to those interested in British music for his scholarship in the field generally and for his work on Sir Arthur Bliss specifically. His work includes bio-bibliographies of Arthur Bliss (1988), Richard Rodney Bennett (1989), and John McCabe (1991), all published by Greenwood Press; two books on William Walton (William Walton: A Thematic Catalogue, rev. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1990] and William Walton: A Source Book [Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 1993]) and Arthur Bliss: A Source Book (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 1996).
In the introduction to the present volume, John Amis explains,
Various composers of the recent past are more played today than Bliss; there are even societies devoted to them; and many of them have more works in the CD catalogue than Bliss, get more performances on the radio and in the concert hall or opera house. This is sad and unjustified. There are great things in Bliss and they should be heard more. (p. 5)
Amis could have also mentioned in his list the relative paucity of scholarship, despite Craggs's herculean efforts.
After Amis's introduction, the book continues with nine articles on various aspects of Bliss's life and works by a wide range of both distinguished and lesser known scholars. The bibliography is limited, but readers are then directed to Craggs's Source Book for more detail. There is also no worklist; however, a separate index highlights pieces by Bliss mentioned in the text, apart from the general index.
Many of the articles function as overviews of Bliss's work in particular genres, such as those by Robert Meikle on the orchestral works, Alan Cuckston on art songs, Stephen Lloyd on Bliss's film music, and Lyndon Jenkins on the recorded works. Each of these conveniently deals with the material chronologically. The essays of Meikle and Jenkins will be particularly useful. Meikle's detailed opening chapter, "Metamorphic Variation: The Orchestral Music" (pp. 6- 57), goes a long way toward establishing Bliss as one of the major symphonic writers of the twentieth century. Meikle provides an overview of Bliss's pieces for orchestra, focusing first on the smaller, then the larger of the symphonic works. More important, Meikle clarifies erroneous dates previously attached to certain of the composer's works. Also useful will be Lyndon Jenkins's "The Recorded Works" (pp. 266- 80). He includes a discography of Bliss conducting his own works and a brief history of the recording practices associated with Bliss's compositions.
The remaining chapters focus either on specific pieces or particular aspects of Bliss's musical or professional activity. Notable in the first category is Bryan Crimp's article "The Piano Concerto in B Flat (1939)." [End Page 455] Crimp provides a valuable reception history of romantic piano concertos in the years during and after World War II, serving as a backdrop for the reception history of Bliss's own concerto. Crimp considers certain "romantic" concertos of the period failures (e.g., those by Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, and Benjamin Britten) but does not consider that they may have been intended as works firmly ensconced within the twentieth century. It is unfortunate that musical examples are not provided, for they would have made his discussion easier to follow.
Among the articles which focus on an aspect of Bliss's...