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Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers Hardcover – Jan 1 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Scarecrow Press (January 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810848848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810848849
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 658 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Format: Hardcover
I realize that my rating is not objective, as I am the author. However, I think readers might want to know that the six composers featured in this book are: Ernest Bloch, Howard Hanson, Vittorio Giannini, Paul Creston, Samuel Barber, and Nicolas Flagello.
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Amazon.com: 6 reviews
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Some pertinent information May 5 2004
By W. Simmons - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I realize that my rating is not objective, as I am the author. However, I think readers might want to know that the six composers featured in this book are: Ernest Bloch, Howard Hanson, Vittorio Giannini, Paul Creston, Samuel Barber, and Nicolas Flagello.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Great Survey of American Neo-Romantics May 13 2005
By Douglas Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was familiar with Walter Simmons writing from his magazine reviews, and I had found him an almost invariably trusted guide to good music. When I found that he had written a book focused on six of my favorite American composers, I was excited but dismayed by the price of the book. Nevertheless, I took the plunge, and the cost became immediately greater: Simmons led me to search out even more recordings by these composers.

Although I was already a devoted follower of the music of Paul Creston, Simmons' analysis added immensely to my understanding of the music. Flagello and Giannini had also been a passion, as had Ernest Bloch. I was forced to look overseas for a recordng of one Bloch work with which I had newly become familiar: "Helvetia: The Land of Mountains and Its People," a thoroughly enjoyable symphonic work.

Each section of Simmons' book follows a similar pattern: a BIOGRAPHY of the composer, followed by a discussion of the MUSIC, typically broken into three or more periods, a CONCLUSION, NOTES, SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY, and ESSNETIAL DISCOGRAPHY. For those intimidated by the cost of the book, consider the fact that it will serve as a constant reference and provide many many hours of absorbing reading. But be prepared to spend even more as you discover recordings of works you suspect you must have.

For those concerned about any technical jargon that might hinder comprehension, be assured that Simmons writes with eloquence in a way to help even the minimally musicologically educated reader to follow his analyses.

If you have even a minimal interest in American music, or in music that touches the heart while showing considerable knowledge of structure, you owe it to yourself to obtain this book. Make it number 1 on your wish list, or, as I did, take the plunge now. You won't regret it.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
An extraordinary work April 25 2005
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is the first of a projected series of books by the distinguished writer on music, Walter Simmons. I've admired his writings for many years and had heard about this book from several friends who recommended it highly. I now see why. Not only does Simmons have a particularly graceful writing style, he is able to explain with clarity some complicated matters, describing music in non-technical language that most reasonably educated readers would be able to understand. His contention that these six composers have been generally under-appreciated and misunderstood is argued cogently and convincingly, and he shares insights not seen anywhere else. There is a section on each of the six composers - Bloch, Hanson, Giannini, Creston, Barber, and Flagello (I was particularly heartened by the inclusion of the shamefully neglected Giannini and Flagello) -- that contains a brief biography and then a fairly detailed description of his major (and many smaller) works in the order they were composed. Recommendations are made for recordings for those wishing to explore the music itself.

I for one am eager to read each of the five prospective books to follow this one. The subjects of the remaining books will cover American neo-classicists, American opera composers, American nationalists and populists, three traditionalists of the Juilliard School, and American traditionalists of the post-1930 generation. When this series is finished it will, on the evidence of this first volume, comprise one of the very most valuable overall studies of American classical music in print.

Strongly recommended.

Scott Morrison
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Steve Wyzard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How can I not recommend this book? After all, where else can one read in-depth biographies and a comprehensive analysis of the works of Bloch, Hanson, Giannini, Creston, Barber, and Flagello? Author Walter Simmons does an outstanding job and is to be heartily congratulated for telling the story of American composers who refused to bow to the cynical intellectuals in university music departments and the media. As the pendulum of popular taste swings away from the ivory-towers of academia and self-regarding hipsters, these composers are being rediscovered by music-listeners and finding new audiences who are blissfully unaware that there ever was a "crisis of tonality". Simmons confesses that the six featured composers are not to be viewed as a school or movement, and that his selection is arbitrary and personal. His research on the subject of American Neo-Romanticism goes back to the 1960s and even includes personal correspondence with both Creston and Flagello. Yet while this book can be considered definitive on its subject and includes excellent bibliographical and discographical references, I would like to raise a few quibbles:

1. No one enjoys the music of the European-born Ernest Bloch more than I do, but I was very surprised to find him to be considered an American composer when he did not arrive in the United States until he was 36 years old. Simmons' reasoning for including him is a) "his musical output embodies.....central Neo-Romantic aesthetic values", b) "the overwhelming majority of his music was composed in the United States", c) he was "a seminal figure in the formation of two important conservatories", and d) "contributed significantly to music education in this country as well". All of these reasons are well and good, and in no way take away from an excellent biography and analysis of his works, but I couldn't help thinking that composers such as Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, and Korngold might also qualify as "American" along the same lines.

2. For each composer, Simmons includes a list of "Most Representative, Fully Realized Works". This is of course an excellent help to those wanting to explore a composer's sound world without knowing where to begin. While I myself am familiar with a large number of the recommended compostions, I was also surprised at the number of personal favorites that Simmons did not consider "most representative, fully realized". For instance, Bloch's Violin Concerto, Hanson's "Romantic" Symphony, Giannini's Piano Concerto, Creston's Toccata, and not one of Barber's concertos were considered worthy of designation. While I expect lists such as these to be entirely subjective, I was surprised that we agreed only occasionally. Perhaps terms such as "most representative" and "fully realzied" are not as self-descriptive as they seem.

3. Simmons writes in his Introduction that "the question of how much analytical detail is appropriate is difficult to answer" and that the use of "specialized terminology" will be minimized. While any author attempting to enlighten his readership by challenging the status quo will want to reach as large an audience as possible, the decision must be made somewhere along the line to appeal more to the scholar and connoisseur, or more to the general reader. With this book, the former receives much more recognition than the latter. Perhaps this is understandable as Simmons does have a master's degree in music theory and musicology, but the average music-lover might have to struggle through this text from time to time. For example, we're told that Hanson's Sixth Symphony "...lacks the qualities of organic development and dialectical continuity essential to a true symphony", that Giannini's Fourth Symphony has "a densely concentrated developmental fabric of contrapuntal interrelationships", and that Barber's Essay #2 owes its American flavor to "the pentatonic structure of the main theme and its emphasis on the intervals of the fourth and fifth". I certainly expect more of musical analysis than "it's a masterpiece" or "it sure is pretty", but the aforementioned examples (of which there are many throughout the book) seem to be written for graduate students writing dissertations on music theory.

I hope the preceding quibbles in no way deter any potential purchaser, as this is still an outstanding work that has something for almost everyone interested in the subject. My personal copy will no doubt be returned to time and time again, and I look forward to the possibility of future volumes, perhaps including Walter Piston, William Schuman, David Diamond, Frederick Converse, and Alan Hovhaness (admittedly these composers would stretch the concept of American Neo-Romanticism, but Simmons' biographical and analytical efforts would be greatly appreciated for these sorely marginalized composers).
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Introduction to Excellent Composers Sept. 12 2010
By Dennis Hanseman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Simmons' book is an interesting, and very well written, survey of the works of six neo-romantic composers: Bloch, Hanson, Creston, Giannini, Barber, and Flagello. Each gets a chapter and each chapter begins with a brief biography. The remaining text is devoted to an analysis of major compositions.
I have only two minor quibbles with this book. First, Simmons loves to use the terms "sensibility" and "temperament". To my mind, these are vague concepts. At least, I was never sure what he meant by them. The other difficulty is Simmons' penchant for dividing each composer's working life into periods. I was rather surprised to find that in five cases out of a possible six (Bloch was the exception), a composer's work could be divided into precisely three periods. Surely, that is either a huge coincidence or else forcing a convenient chronological straightjacket where it may not fit well.

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