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UNEASY LISTENING - A caricature guide to 20th century composers
by John Minnion

109pp
Paperback
ISBN 0-9544499 1 6

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Christmas heaves menacingly into sight and the challenge of finding presents for musical friends leers at you yet again.

This book could be your answer. It is a book of caricatures of composers of the last century with quite a few lingering, rambling or dashing through into the present century.

John Minnion is the artist and author of the book. You might know his name. You almost certainly know his art if you have any of the Naxos series of Glazunov orchestral works. Mr Minnion's Glazunov drawing appears on the front of every one of those Naxos disks. He began drawing composers for The Listener in the 1980s and later for Classic CD.

The book is in 200mm by 210mm format.

He works in black and white using clear lines and no colour. Gradation and texture are eloquently put across in stipple effects and contour lines to suggest light and shade. He is not afraid to use black - have a look at his vital drawing of Leonard Bernstein.

The book is laid out chronologically with major fault lines in musical history allocated more text than the brief thumbnail commentary allocated for each of the 100 or so composers illustrated here.

I specially liked the arachnid Rachmaninov, the Gollum-style Schoenberg and the elvish Szymanowski. Minnion’s RVW reminds me of Beavis and Butthead of late night TV from years back. Something similar can be seen in the Panufnik sketch. Minnion’s Varese is wonderful - about to explode. The Weill is superb. It should be used on the cover of a CD or something more significant - if ever there is a Weill festival somewhere this would make a superb poster! Then again there is horrified-frightened Walton , the extruded Martinů, Lutyens looking like something from one of the Hammer horrors for which she provided scores and scorn. Cage and Stockhausen are great with a craggy Lenny Bernstein a festively unhinged Arvo Pärt, a beaming Nancarrow and turniphead Turnage!

Each year of the century is listed with a few key works from each of those years in a panel next to the main business. And what is the main business? This is the sequence of drawings and the personal entries. The entries are pretty informal. Puccini for example is listed as having hobbies including sexual infidelity. Mr Minnion is not short of world views either for, as he says, while romanticism was chided and derided it never went away and 'it may be that classical music has lost its way without it and may never claim it back again'. Personally I think that is too gloomy a prediction but who knows.

This is wonderfully well done as a book of illustrations. It tells us something of the psychology of the composer in each case and does so wittily and not without taking a few dangerous corners.


Rob Barnett

 



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