Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review: An Imperishable Heritage: British Choral Music from Parry to Dyson


An Imperishable Heritage: British Choral Music from Parry to Dyson
A Study of Selected Works

by Stephen Town

Published by Ashgate (Surrey, England and Burlington VT); ISBN 9780754605362 (hardcover)
ISBN 9781409448792 (e-version), 327 pages


1. Hubert Parry and The Vision of Life Reconsidered “And we are faint with longing to hear the message clearly”
2. Voces Clamantium and Beyond These Voices There is Peace: The Embodiment of Parry's Character Polarities
3. Two Versions of The Three Holy Children by Charles Stanford: Context, Design, and Extant Sores
4. Elegiac Ode by Charles Stanford:An Inspired Setting, Influential Exemplar, and Filial Tribute
5. Flos Campi by Ralph Vaughan Williams: “From Raw Intimations to Homogeneous Experience”
6. “The light we sought is shining still”: An Oxford Elegy by RVW
7. “So great a beauty on these English Fields”: Requiem da Camerata and Gerald Finzi
8. “The Visionary Gleam”; Gerald Finzi, RVW, and Intimations of Immorality
9. Symphony No. 9, Sinfonia Sacra by Edmund Rubbra
10. The Morning Watch, Op. 55 by Edmund Rubbra
11. “A home of unfading splendour”: Quo Vadis by George Dyson

Stephen Town, Director of Choral Studies at Northwest Missouri State University and recipient of a Ralph Vaughn Williams fellowship, has written an incredibly thorough inspection of the English choral Renaissance of the early twentieth century through inspection of the genesis of works by Hubert Parry, Charles Stanford, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, Edmund Rubbra, and George Dyson. Town's book is scholarly in the grandest manner, yet very readable. There are vast amounts of well-organized historical and analytical material here to discover in Town's narrative, and copious footnotes and direction to further reading. Town masterfully crafts his narrative by closely examine two works by each composer; utilizing historical background, discussion of the texts and text choices, performance history, and then judging the ultimate strength and importance of each piece both in regard to each composer's evolution during their career as well as their importance by today's standards. 

Dr. Stephen Town

Town is an absolute master of the English language- even the most complex ideas are expressed clearly and persuasively, page after page. Town and his publisher Ashgate have produced not only a very readable narrative filled with mountains of facts and interpretation, but the entire book, from typeface choice to clarity of musical examples is very easy on the eye, something which many academic books fail to achieve. Town also includes full texts of almost every piece discussed, as well as exact instrumentation, information on manuscripts and the compositional habits of each composers and much more.

For anyone with an interest in English choral music, this is a must read. As I read the book I was saddened to realize that I have never heard some of these featured pieces or various other works by these composers mentioned in the narrative. I hope that in reading this book that some conductors may decide to program works such as Rubbra's Sinfonia Sacra, Stanford's The Three Holy Children, or Finzi's Intimations of Immortality.

Probably the most amazing chapter in the book is Chapter Eight, entitled “The Visionary Gleam”: Gerald Finzi and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Intimations of Immortality (another work [by Finzi] I would love to see programmed and studied). Town examines RVW's influence on Finzi and examines correlations between RVW's An Oxford Elegy and Finzi's Intimations. Town here proves he is a musician with a powerful understanding of the texts involved and their deepest meaning as set in these pieces. These twenty pages are masterfully written and could easily provide a months worth of study for any course on English music on the university level.

I would also like to point readers to chapter four for its wonderful indepth discussion and investigation of the influence of American poet Walt Whitman on a number of the English composers of this era.

In conclusion, Stephen Town's new book is a truly great achievement and is highly recommended.

NOTE: For anyone attending the ACDA Dallas conference this week Dr. Town will have a book launch and signing on Thursday, March 14 at 11am and 3pm in the Winispear Opera House at The Musician's Choice booth. Drop by and visit!

No comments:

Post a Comment