This handsomely produced book is in some important ways a story of musical works, thus inherently fascinating for the music theorist. I intend to highlight here its music-theory focus, bearing in mind that the contextualization of such concentration on works matters greatly. A list of those works on which there is substantive commentary, including here the years of composition and, where relevant, revision, is perhaps valuable, even if for good reason nothing similar was included in the book itself. The works are named in the order in which Rupprecht considers them: Davies, Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, Op. 1 (1955) Goehr, Fantasias, Op. 3 (1955) Lutyens, Motet (1953) Birtwistle, Down by the Greenwood Side (1969) Hamilton, Sinfonia for two orchestras (1959) Goehr, Sonata in One Movement, Op. 2 [piano] (1953–55) Davies, Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 2 (1956) Davies, Alma Redemptoris Mater (1957) Goehr, The Deluge (1958) Birtwistle, Refrains and Choruses (1957) Birtwistle, Monody for Corpus Christi (1959) Musgrave, Triptych (1959) Maw, Scenes and Arias (1962; 1966) Crosse, Elegy, Op. 1 (1959–60; 1961) Bennett, Symphony (1965) Davies, Leopardi Fragments (1961) Davies, First Fantasia on an In Nomine of John Taverner (1962) Goehr, Little Symphony (1963) Birtwistle, Tragoedia (1965) Davies: Revelation and Fall (1965–66) Musgrave, Chamber Concerto No. 2 (1966) Birtwistle, Verses for Ensembles (1968) Bedford, Two Choruses (1963) Souster, Spectral (1972) Various caveats are necessary in contemplating this list. First, Rupprecht mentions and in some cases comments on many works other than those on the list—Richard Rodney Bennett, for example, is represented by several other compositions—and I would defend the author against any accusation of undue selectivity, though obviously the book has its particular focus, which is, indeed, its rationale. Second, although little of this repertoire is likely to be overly familiar to American musicians, it does after all contain at least a few works that most would consider somewhat canonical within the sphere of modern and early postmodern Western art music. Third, the reader blanching not at selectivity in principle, but at the very idea of embracing mainly and only the earliest works of composers, some of whom contributed so tectonically to the later repertoire in the 1980s and beyond—think only of Birtwistle’s operas and Davies’s symphonies—should be reassured that this is very much part of Rupprecht’s plot. His story ends around the mid-1970s because, in my words, this gives us the greatest distance for historical judgment on the postwar British modernist movement; because it was the period when the modernist die was largely cast for British composers born in the 1930s; and because it was the period when critical reaction was at its most fresh and telling (all of which is discussed in Rupprecht’s “Epilogue”). Finally, even if some relatively obscure, nowadays little-heard music figures in the list, all these works are nevertheless available for listening and study, not only in printed scores generally but also in recordings: Rupprecht offers a downloadable discography that includes links to recordings of works not commercially available. Despite those caveats, this is evidently a rich supply of music, which on the face of it justifies Rupprecht’s claim of offering “a sequence of focused interpretive readings of some … key works” (27). Compared with, for example, J. P. E. Harper-Scott’s (2012) extensive argument about the quilting points of what is, for him, a very different kind of musical modernism, illustrated essentially by Walton’s opera Troilus and Cressida, and compared also with Annika Forkert’s (2014) argument for that kind of British modernism but exemplified in three works, by Holst, Lutyens, and, again, Walton, Rupprecht attempts to tell a story not through some emblematic creative nexus, but through a picture of variegated compositional practice, representing sometimes surprisingly distinct compositional styles, aspirations, and attitudes assimilable within a modernist movement. Rupprecht seeks to transcend individual creativity, as the very designation of a practice such as “modernism” must indicate, while seeking also to entail sufficient stories of individual creativity to convey the feeling of an era, the feeling of proliferation with which we are all familiar, in the sense that we usually find history to be bafflingly heterogeneous when we are in the middle of it. With remarkable historiographical confidence, Rupprecht draws the line at substantive discussion of the relevant output from only eleven composers, the group of three (Birtwistle, Davies, Goehr), and eight contemporaries, all represented, at least according to my tally above, by twenty-four works. Within that constraint, there is also the discipline of authorial intention, and here we come to what was referred to above as contextualization. One of Rupprecht’s primary tasks is to provide an account of “the status of British modernist music as British culture” (51), and in that cause the first substantial chapter of the book, “Between Nationalism and the Avant-garde: Defining British Modernism” (33–66), is not about much actual music, but about trends, practices, and reactions, as also was much of the long “Introduction” (1–32). This artistic background to the repertoire, often interpreted in terms of supposed societal forces, may be of relatively little interest to music theorists eager to explore the fabric of the music. Rupprecht would clearly like to persuade them otherwise, determined as he is to recognize that “the music—any artwork—will offer both an irreducible expressive singularity, and some recoverable traces of, if not an idealized zeitgeist, then a set of configurations recognizably affiliated with British culture of their period” (22). His aspiration may be virtuous enough, but one may question some of what he is recovering, in that the evidence he adduces may come from contemporaneous critics whose knowledge and judgment can fairly be regarded as suspect, however influential they undoubtedly were. This is not the place for a detailed account of why critical opinion in Britain in the 1950s and 60s is a slippery, dubious, refractory body of evidence about contemporaneous musical life. In brief, some of the marginal but highly influential figures in Rupprecht’s account, such as pianist and new-music connoisseur William Glock, and violinist and theorist Hans Keller, were truly significant musicians, but others were decidedly not: some readers will be bound to ask whether Rupprecht could have been more bold and, in the end, helpful in interrogating more deeply some of his historical informants, the writers, journalists, and broadcasters whom Keller himself (1987) would tend to refer to as “phony” professionals. Perhaps in any case this reviewer is expressing a certain misguided impatience with a text, the first third or so of which is providing background about Britishness and modernity, musically illustrated only a little along the way, about the “time lag” of British culture in relation to European modernism, about the vicissitudes of concert life, and the all-pervasive influence of the BBC, and even in the more specific Chapter 2 on “Post-war Motifs,” which is still outlining for us the largely rejected lure of Darmstadt (an impression—the tenuous connections between Darmstadt and British Musical Modernism—confirmed in detail in Iddon 2013), or the Promenade concerts repertoire, and so on. Even this far along, the text is still full of musical promises: “British modernism of the period, as I hope to show, encompasses a wide stylistic and expressive range” (108; my emphasis). In the big picture, anyway, it will turn out that this “range” is pretty narrow. It will turn out that this repertoire is clearly restricted when it comes to, for instance, genre, a trope in modern and postmodern continuity that Drott (2013) has examined recently in much more overtly avant-garde music than anything considered here by Rupprecht. It is also, for instance, devoid of electronics, until the 1970s; and I would say that there are even other elephants in the room, such as the relatively shoddy standards of musical performance in postwar Britain, a factor that Rupprecht does not seem to consider; and some would claim that this was the period in which those standards became at least credible. The idea of a “time lag,” to which Rupprecht refers repeatedly, is curiously deceptive in principle, if and when it is taken to imply cultural “catch-up” (190), as if British modernism ever did catch up with European and American creativity, particularly from the 1960s—and that aside from the question of whether it ever needed to do so, compositionally at least. If patience is needed, it is only, as I hinted above, by those of us plagued by tiring quickly of the shadow world of musical nationalism, internationalism, reception history, cultural anxiety, subheads such as “abstraction,” or “self and other,” of world figures flitting almost unnoticed across the parochial stage (such as the, here, curiously elusive Boulez), and patience is amply rewarded in Chapters 3–5. Here, two perspectives on the Manchester composers, up to 1960, and then forward to 1967, surround a cameo of Musgrave, Maw, Crosse, and Bennett in their formative years. Rupprecht’s narrative strategy in this extensive, central, musically concrete part of the book is to make some generalized point or points, always highly perceptive, about historical place and compositional intention, and then confirm it with a thoughtful, original, penetrating reading of a relevant work. His readings typically require only a modicum of music-theory sophistication. However, relating what he is saying to the actual score extracts does require persistent expertise from the reader. Performers and composers will probably feel at home roaming among the dozens of musical examples and their commentaries, as will, if one may put it this way, graduates and their professors, but the text of these central two hundred or so pages will be a considerable challenge for the lay reader, including eminent cultural studies professors. Let it be a tribute to the musical expertise and imagination of the composers’ legacy that is putting them to this test. Rupprecht seems to pride himself on the technical nature of his discourse, in particular on his “focused interpretive readings” (27), and so he should. I would say that most of his commentaries are unexceptionable, and that is quite an achievement. To discuss music technically at a consistent level of intersubjective (i.e., that which may be true for anyone) credibility is admirable, and one only wishes that the opinionated critics of the 1960s had instead demonstrated the musical integrity to describe and explain the wet-ink scores in front of them, rather than drenching the music’s public reputation in their impressionistic cultural prejudices. As a bonus, where possible Rupprecht looks at the creative process in sketches, notably in some of the Davies commentaries, such as on the First Taverner Fantasia, with its eloquent account of how melody is forged from precompositional material (272–73). If there are questions about Rupprecht’s music-analytical manner, these would come down first to whether some readers will shy away from the recurrently metaphorical, often anthropomorphic descriptions, ironically redolent of twentieth-century British musicology, when it begs many more questions than it answers. For example, we are told that toward the end of Birtwistle’s Down by the Greenwood Side, “the final balladic lines are delivered with raw viciousness,” and then instruments are “working in raucous consort or punchy antiphony against noisy string attacks,” after which there is some “sing-song harshness” and “grotesquerie” (66), none of which one may find to be true. Rupprecht can of course perfectly well distinguish impression from observation. Although I quote out of context, still it is striking that when discussing a Beatles track he can write so forensically of “a singing voice distorted by a rotating speaker; a guitar solo, still recognizable as such, but heard backwards; a mass of sonic visions of indeterminate source” (401), all of it verifiable, refreshingly free from critical hubris. Many of his “interpretive readings” (see above) might seem, from a music theory point of view, inflected by overindulgence in critical complicity. In fact, those Beatles’ sounds just described are also, apparently, “sounding at times like wheeling flocks of seagulls” (401), and that is exactly the step too far, at least according to my own, perhaps mistaken, idea of music-theoretical rigor. A second cavil about Rupprecht’s music-analytical work here is whether he always frames a piece sufficiently to leave us with some feeling of plenitude. For example, I came away from his account of Birtwistle’s Down by the Greenwood Side enlightened about the folk/classical polarity, and textural features, but not having been told about its form, its general pitch organization, or simply what seems most compositionally creative about it (57–66). There was a similar sense of withholding of key information in the case of Davies’s First Fantasia, where the promise of consideration of form is not really fulfilled (263–79). Much later, Rupprecht will be providing an effective form chart of Revelation and Fall (325), but there was never any such overview of the Fantasia, only the rather teasing diagnosis that “the overall form of the First Fantasia may be crisply sectional, but within paragraphs the music flows on freely” (277). Form charts, and an analytical conspectus of what each piece, or at least some of the pieces, may be thought to be about, compositionally, would have been welcome generally. The penultimate, sixth chapter on “Instrumental Drama: Musgrave and Birtwistle in the Late Sixties” is inspired by Rupprecht’s attention to the important question of genre, mentioned above, in that he discerns a tendency toward what he calls “instrumental drama” during the period in question: “all three Manchester figures were leaders in the movement towards a close fusion of music and staged gesture” (336). Predictably this involves him in some appraisal of Kagel’s contemporaneous thinking, and his British examples are Musgrave’s Chamber Concerto No. 2, with its Ives-inspired, “essentially anti-heroic” (348) character Rollo, alongside Birtwistle’s Verses for Ensembles. As Robert Adlington has explained, three of the underlying impulses to the development of music theater were the tendency toward virtuosity, the taste for indeterminacy, and the development of electronics,1 all of which coalesced into a compositional fondness for imaginary theater, which leads Rupprecht into a discursus on agency to support his focus here on “that combined spirit of playfulness and formality so characteristic of art-music in the Sixties” (364).2 And it is perhaps the same impulse that generated the final chapter on “Vernaculars: Bedford and Souster as Pop Musicians,” composers who were “children of serialism, as well as of pop” (369), though Rupprecht reminds us that “Bedford’s music … remains an art-music, one in which written scores of considerable sophistication constitute a central text” (391). Souster’s populist tendencies are also domesticated into the classical canon, at least with the idea that for him “rock was a form of electronic music” (413). Rupprecht maintains that in Souster there was “something of a fault-line between his modernist aesthetics and his pop interests; hearing Arcane Artefact , one senses a productive tension at the heart of the enterprise, between the apparent simplicity of the materials and rhythms and the elaborate developments they undergo” (435–36). That the last word on his period was thus not devoted to the Manchester composers by Rupprecht perhaps stokes a feeling that British Musical Modernism, as he has defined it, rather fizzled out, and in his “Epilogue” he struggles with “the elegiac talk of endings” (449), oblique references to “new complexity,” and a telling aside, regarding Lefanu, about it being “tempting to argue that nothing could be more English, by 1975, than atonality” (450). After such extensive musical “hermeneutic and analytical” (444) explorations of music from the 1960s, it must have seemed an almost impossible task to Rupprecht to draw his story to a historically well-mannered close, and perhaps only a British author would have felt obliged to try. Footnotes 1 Adlington (2005, 225–27). 2 An earlier version of the music theater chapter was published as Rupprecht (2013). Although clearly appropriate for British Musical Modernism, the contents of this chapter do betray their independent conception and could well have been knitted into an enlarged version of the preceding chapter, “Group Portrait in the Sixties: Davies, Birtwistle, and Goehr to 1967.” Works Cited Adlington Robert. 2005 . “Music Theatre since the 1960s.” In The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera. Ed. Cooke Mervyn . 225 – 43 . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Drott Eric. 2013 . “The End(s) of Genre.” Journal of Music Theory 57 ( 1 ): 1 – 45 . Forkert Annika. 2014 . “British Musical Modernism Defended against Its Devotees.” Ph.D. diss., Royal Holloway: University of London. Harper-Scott J. P. E. 2012 . The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism: Revolution, Reaction, and William Walton . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Iddon Martin. 2013 . New Music at Darmstadt: Nono, Stockhausen, Cage, and Boulez . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Keller Hans. 1987 . Criticism . London : Faber . Rupprecht Philip. 2013 . “Agency Effects in the Instrumental Drama of Musgrave and Birtwistle.” In Music and Narrative since 1900 . Ed. Klein Michael , Reyland Nicholas . 189 – 215 . Bloomington : Indiana University Press . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for Music Theory. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Music Theory Spectrum – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 6, 2018
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