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In Singing in the Wilderness, his second latest book, Mellers starts with composers such as Wagner, Delius, and Koechlin and asks pertinent questions about their music and what it must mean. For example he says:

In all Frederick Delius' most typical music, tensions between the chromaticism of the harmony and the pentatonic aspirations of the melody induce a nostalgia that differentiates it from Wagner's late work, its ostensible source; it yearns for a lost Eden, rather than for Wagner's Paradise Regained.

In his eye- and ear-opening chapter of Koechlin, Mellers provides certain proof of his greatness as a composer, by drawing us into an understanding of Koechlin's inspiration and world view. Similarly, Villa-Lobos is given an investigation that makes one yearn to hear more of his music.

Mellers has also always been interested in popular music, straying far from the academic confines of 'Dead White European Guys'. His early interest and analysis of The Beatles earned him outrage, but his pioneering work has opened up a giant field of study. Non-European music is approached with respect and understanding and never condescension. Yet, it cannot be ignored that this particular book is exclusively male, and virtually European in outlook. There are no women composers and no other cultures discussed. Taken in itself this is a weakness, though compared with Mellers' output it is not terribly significant. Women and the rest of the world get their due elsewhere. It is likely that it is these composers that Mellers feels address his issues -- or that he knows best. Though his scope is gigantic, it is no sin for it to be less than universal. As a Sufi once said, 'It is not necessary to know everything in order to know something'.

And know something Mellers indeed does.

In chapters on Ellington and Gershwin Mellers far out-paces the jazz scholars because, not only does he know, understand and appreciate the music, but he can place it into a wider range of musical experience than those jazz pundits. By the time Mellers is finished discussing Porgy and Bess we are convinced of its cosmic significance. That is no joke. Read what Mellers has to say.

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Copyright © 28 November 2002 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


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