It is not as if these
six composers have a great deal in common.
In only the most generalised sense can
they be said to be a ‘school’. They
are identified rather by the fact that
they demonstrated no or little sympathy
with twelve tone music or for that matter
Bloch was the only
one of the six to be born outside the
USA. Hanson wrote in a style I recognise
as Nordic but cannot quite pin down.
Barber, Creston, Flagello and Giannini
form a kind of school - what I might
broadly describe as a series of Puccinian-Sibelian
subsets. Bloch's later works from the
American years were somewhat receptive
to dodecaphonic trends. His earlier
works were impressionistic and romantic.
Flagello also flirted with 12-tone technique.
Bloch was an émigré while
the others, with the exception of Barber,
are second generation Americans born
in Philadelphia, New York City and Wahoo
Nebraska - the latter being Howard Hanson’s
The uniting idea of
demeaned traditionalists can be compared
with Paul Rapoport's 1978 book ‘Opus
Est’. In the case of Rapoport's
volume six European composers were treated
each to their own section with a biographical
account and technical dissection of
one key work. The composers treated
there included Matthijs Vermeulen, Havergal
Brian, Allan Pettersson and Vagn Holmboe.
Walter Simmons’ book
should be a set text for students of
music history everywhere. The marginalisation
of some musicians, the primacy of fashion
and the brutal interface between economics
and arts make for provocative reading.
Malcolm Macdonald had already done something
similar in his Triad Press book on John
Foulds, the introduction to which also
shows a real grasp of these issues.
Voices in the Wilderness
is in many ways more satisfying
to the general reader than ‘Opus Est’.
Biographical coverage is pretty substantial
and all major works are given at least
one paragraph. This is coupled with
notes, bibliography and an essential
discography for each composer.
plates have shifted towards this music
now. Cross-Over, minimalism, world music,
film music, the high noon of the CD,
the pervasive internet and its scope
for information and enthusiasm-sharing
have made the music world far more inclusive.
There’s room for the radicalism of the
sixties and seventies alongside the
discoveries of the eighties and nineties
as well as for every other genre of
The book looks and
feels good with superb and fitting design
by Jennifer Noel Huppert. There is no
dust wrapper. Instead the hardback cover
is laminated rather like those Pergamon
Press books from the 1960s.
Walter Simmons is well
known as a writer evangelising for lost
generations of composers - not because
they are lost - not only because they
are lost - but because their music is
worthwhile. He may not have heard all
of it but he knows enough from scores
and treasured private recordings to
say that if this man or woman wrote
this or that work then his other music
is worth revival and reappraisal. Maybe
some of it will be allowed to slip back
to oblivion but only after it has been
given its second chance.
The value of this book
is in its evangelisation through knowledge
and reticence. It lacks excesses and
overt advocacy. We are not told what
to think. We are made curious, intrigued.
I hope that existing and new generations
will be encouraged to perform this music
and when it is recorded to buy the recordings
and listen with receptive appraising
Slake your enthusiastic
curiosity with this well informed and
poised book but be prepared to discover
new enthusiasms and the nagging grains
of a fresh curiosity. Pick this up as
a convenient quick read on Barber or
Bloch but do not be surprised if you
come away with questions seriously disturbing
to the concert and recording status
At the end of it all
you may well be demanding with me why
there are no commercial recordings of
Giannini's Medead, Psalm 130
for cello and orchestra or symphonies
4 and 5.