Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

RADIE BRITAIN - A bio-bibliography
by Walter B Bailey and Nancy Gisbrecht Bailey
Greenwood Press, 1990 hardback. 173pp.
ISBN 0-313-26277-2
AmazonUK £48.50 AmazonUS $57.50

full detail at

 Picture from Women in Music

American composers beyond the central trio and core ten are not that commonly encountered on library shelves or in CD shops. Radie Britain is way beyond even the outer circle - ultra-peripheral as a reputation. She suffers at various levels, she is American, a Texan, a woman and attractive. That last factor took its toll in polite and impolite musical circles. How could she be take seriously? Madeleine Dring another vivacious female composer at least had the decency to write small scale pieces but Britain's ambition broke those respectable bounds.

This book documents her music in the lovingly practical way that sets the imprimatur on all Greenwood bio-bibliographies. This is No 25 in the series by the way. The paper is of good opaque and dense quality and a clear Bookman type font is used. The result is glare free, easy to read and soft on the eyes. I did not notice any misprints.

There is a compact biography, a bibliography annotated with full extracts for each entry, chronological and alpha list of works topped off with a good index. The heart of the work (pp. 25-87) is a highly annotated list of works and significant performances - typically premieres. Before this comes an interview with Britain. From this and from the worklist it is apparent that Britain's métier is the orchestra. Her teacher, an associate of Richard Strauss, inculcated into her the orchestral skills and her music in this genre has been played by orchestras conducted by Stock, Hanson, A Clyde Roller and Wallenstein. Her Prelude To A Drama was played by the Moscow SO conducted by Konstantin Ivanov on 11 August 1961. Although there is a String Quartet pretty well all her pieces are arranged under descriptive titles like: Southern Symphony (1935) written in the Macdowell colony, Light, Canyon, Saturnale, Red Clay, San Luis Rey, Jewels Of Lake Tahoe, Cowboy Rhapsody, Angel Chimes, Chicken In The Rough, Cosmic Mist Symphony, In Memory of Anwar Sadat, Sam Houston, Texas, Rain, Dicky Donkey and so on.

Her interest in Texan themes is clear enough and this continued when she was outside the state at Chicago and in Hollywood. Apart from a twelve tone experimental piece Les Fameux Douze, her music described, in her own words (I have only heard Saturnale), 'real good juicy melodies … something from the heart that orchestras like to play and the audience enjoys - it isn't cerebral music at all.' I would rather like to hear more by Britain but I fear that is not going to happen.

Until then take this book as your trusty guide. How wonderful if Albany would give us a Britain collection with the Saturnale, the Cosmic Mist symphony, Prelude To A Drama and Sam Houston. The performing materials are available from the Fleisher Collection in Philadelphia and from publishers Heroico at 1945 North Curson Ave, Hollywood, California 90046.

If you are out to make a splash for your orchestra do get hold of this authoritative and intriguing book. It will be your trusty and practical guide to choice and turning plans into a concert hall experience.

Rob Barnett.


Do try these detailed sites to learn more about Radie Britain

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