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<<  -- 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 true legacy.

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.

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Copyright © 23 February 2003 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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