Music and Vision homepage


<<  -- 2 --  Peter Dale    NO APOLOGIES


Hold makes no apologies either for his composers or for his book. He takes the stature and quality of the best of this music for granted, and so he should. He doesn't invite comparison with the likes of Duparc, Wolf or Ravel. He takes such matters as read and, such is the authority of his text, the reader does so too, grateful to leave behind (once and for all?) that silly, shallow, stunted stance of apology that has bedevilled or belittled criticism of English music for at least a century past. Having come of age, this book spares no tender sensibilities. Elgar, for example, is included not because he was a major (or even particularly good) composer of songs but because the influence and example of the man as a whole was so formative. His piano accompaniments are 'wooden', his choice of texts 'far from discriminating'. Elsewhere individual songs of other composers are candidly described as 'overblown', their piano parts clotted, their melodies banal. In short, Hold is blunt about failure. But by the same token, there is no question of mistrusting his judgement when it comes to success, and there is page after page of considered evidence for that.

Even before he embarks on his studies of individual composers, Hold writes an Introduction which is quite simply the most perceptive, most intelligent (and intelligible) essay on the very nature of song-writing you are likely to find anywhere. Lucidly, he puts his finger precisely upon what we should expect from a good song, what good song-writing actually entails, and, critically, what is the relation between text and music. He asks why, for example, so many of these song-writers preferred Elizabethan and Jacobean texts to eighteenth century poets, or first generation Romantic poets (Blake excepted) or cutting-edge contemporary poets. Though living for the most part well into the twentieth century, why (when they did set 'modern' verse) did they favour so overwhelmingly the frankly minor poetry of the Georgians? More interesting still, why were they probably right to have done so? He discusses what we may learn about song-writing from the particular cases of Gurney and Bax, composers who were also fine poets in their own right. What -- to go back to very first principles -- is at the heart of an art that is underwritten by no mere etymological coincidence: lyre as musical instrument; lyric as literary text? In fact, such is Hold's scrutiny of the relationship between text and music that you'd like to recommend his book to the literary scholar as well as to the musical.

Continue >>

Copyright © 18 February 2003 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK


 << Music & Vision home                  All Risks Musical >>