<< -- 3 -- David Thompson SIMPLE GIFTS?
The second section of the book turns logically to Copland in relationship
with his American musical peers. Howard Pollack gives us an interesting
head-to-head with Copland and Gershwin, arguably the greatest and most influential
musical names in twentieth century America. This is a deeper, darker study
than the obvious invitation to comparisons led me to expect, and Pollack
identifies how both composers, in their very different ways imbued their
work with the deep and serious reverberations of a young and developing
country and all the hopes and fears of its heterogeneous population. The
masterly comparison of the subtexts of Porgy and Bess and The
Tender Land is riveting, revelatory stuff.
Vivian Perlis, a voice of authority in this field, if ever there was
one, makes a welcome appearance in a brief and revelatory exploration of
the connection of Copland with the pianist and scholar John Kirkpatrick,
who so much pioneered the cause of Charles Ives. Copland's admiration
for Ives is the catalyst for a penetrating piece from Larry Starr, who suggests
that, perhaps, Ives' risk-taking, pioneering spirit in music, in which
he boldly maintained the courage of his convictions, inspired Copland to
follow his own star towards the ultimate truths that lay within him.
If the general reader has so far kept pace without too much difficulty,
he (or she) will have to work much harder in the third section of the book,
where the music itself occupies centre stage. This was, for me, the most
rewarding part of the book, in its 'hands-on' approach to Copland's
Each of the four articles takes us deep into a musical mind of complex
fascination. I decided to give myself a serious musical workout with Arnold
Whittall's penetrating analysis of the cryptic Piano Fantasy.
Preparing myself in advance, with CD and score, I embarked on a masterly
piece of exegesis. Whittall takes no prisoners, but, stay the course and
you will surely be rewarded with enlightenment. Those of us who have tried
to penetrate the often baffling complexities of modern music have often
had cause to be grateful to Arnold Whittall for unravelling its mysteries.
I can happily report that, here, his touch is as sure as ever.
Copyright © 23 February 2003
David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK