Why companion? Why
not dictionary? What’s the difference?
Essentially a companion must be companionable.
That person does not have to know everything
but you need to be at ease in their
company. As with any companion (even
with a friend) you must expect to be
stimulated by their viewpoints, opinions
and knowledge and to disagree without
wanting to walk off and never come back.
As for a dictionary it tends to be a
repository of factual material rather
than opinions. The character and preferences
of the compiler are revealed only rarely
in such cases and has to be implied
rather than inferred.
Griffiths has already
produced one major reference work on
modern classical music. It is therefore
no surprise to find entries such as
that for Conlon Nancarrow where the
writer opens up his opinions about the
music: ‘fascinating and entertaining
counterpoint using the rhythmic precision
and mechanical oddity of the pianola.’
This is just one example. There are
many others. This is valuable as it
should provoke you to explore and experiment
and then either to agree or disagree
I had never heard of
Tarnopolski but he gets an entry and
we are told that his music is polystylistic,
searching playful and grotesque.
In the same admirable
track is the entry for Ruggles: ‘a style
of unabashed dissonance and strong angular
melody a music of quiet exclamations
and rampant challenges.’ Fine writing
Of course there are
blindspots. I was astonished to discover
that there is no entry for Erkki Salmenhaara.
On the other hand both George Lloyd
and Jonathan Lloyd are in as is Robert
Saxton. Salonen is there as both conductor
Earlier composers are
of course covered as are the standard
Greats usually in very substantial readable
narrative entries. A large number of
Bachs appear. As do Muffat, Scheidt,
Sweelinck, Lanier, three different Martinis
and Taverner to name a few at browse-random.
Dates of birth/death
are given as full dates rather than
just the year. Composer entries in some
cases include worklists with dates.
There are quite a few of these and they
are a strength of the book.
More reactionary figures
such as Constant Lambert have a place
here but why no reference to major works
of his such as his Music for Orchestra
and Summer’s Last Will and Testament?
Miaskovsky and Langgaard are there with
highly detailed and dated worklists
for their 27 and 16 symphonies. Vladimir
Shcherbachev is present and is mentioned
as the only one not to condemn Shostakovich’s
Lady Macbeth when he discussed
the work in Leningrad. I was delighted
to see Boris Lyatoshinsky, Max Steinberg,
Shebalin and Shaporin putting in an
appearance as well as Rudi Stephan;
that expressionist-impressionist German
composer killed in the Great War. Ropartz
and Marcel Landowski are present.
Film music denizens
get their place so you can find information
on Korngold, Herrmann, Williams, Waxman
and Rozsa but not for Poledouris or
Friedhofer. I think they have struck
the balance reasonably well there although
I was sorry that their film music entries
tend to obliterate reference to their
concert works: thus nothing about Waxman’s
Joshua or Sinfonietta.
Errors? There are bound
to be a few. Go to the Lyapunov entry
and you will find that it is claimed
that his Symphony No. 1 was written
in 1917. That’s wrong. It dates from
1887. His Second Symphony was written
in 1917. Delight at seeing a reference
to T. Appleby Matthews as the first
conductor of the Birmingham Symphony
Orchestra was tempered by seeing Louis
Frémaux, a most unfairly neglected
conductor (he does not get an entry
of his own), spelt as Frémeaux.
Among musicians rather
than composers I was sorry to find no
reference for the conductor Vernon Handley.
There are entries for
subjects you might not expect to find
in a music companion: try the ones for
Sex and Madness. Hymns get a mention
as does the Bible. There are also sections
for Italy, Norway, Sweden and France.
Hyperion get their
own entry. That’s a new one: a record
company! Quite right too. Nothing for
ASV-Sanctuary. There is one for EMI,
Decca and DG.
The book appears to
be up to date as far as 2003. For example
the characterful entry for the pianist
Vladimir de Pachmann lists Mark Mitchell’s
2003 biography of de Pachmann. Some
websites are also cited.
Browsing or using this
delightful book as a reference work
is a pleasure. The font is on the larger
side and the grade of paper is substantial
and quite white. Definition of typography
is sharply focused; not to be taken
for granted I am afraid.
Penguin continue to
push out the boundaries of their reference
library and have done so successfully
and with distinct character in Paul