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The list of Mellers' books is long and shows incredible industry, especially after his retirement from York in 1981, and the latest collection of his writings, Between Old Worlds and New, emerged through the initiative of the American Fairleigh Dickinson University Press in 1997. Mellers' books are landmarks which qualify the whole picture of his output. He wrote the first study of François Couperin in 1950; he spotted the seminal significance of Erik Satie; and was the first British writer to take American music seriously in Music in a New Found Land (1964). This was completed after Mellers had spent two years as Visiting Mellon Professor at Pittsburgh. The importance he attached to all kinds of American music has been confirmed by the way American culture has moved to the centre of the international stage and by the techniques Americans now employ to study their own music. Mellers raised eyebrows at home when, as a university professor, he wrote Twilight of the Gods : the Beatles in Retrospect (1973). Undeterred he followed it with A Darker Shade of Pale: a Backdrop to Bob Dylan (1984) -- a subject now made fashionable by literary critic Christopher Ricks -- and Angels of the Night: Popular Female Singers of our Time (1986).

His mainstream interests were represented by more books -- Bach and the Dance of God (1980), Beethoven and the Voice of God (1983), Vaughan Williams and the Vision of Albion (1989), Percy Grainger (1992) and Francis Poulenc (1993) as well as studies of less familiar figures such as Frederic Mompou (1989). Some of these writings are of the low density that might be expected from a university teacher accustomed to oral delivery; certain socio-historical approaches become repetitive; but overall Mellers is one of the most consistently readable British writers on music of the last century. He penetrates the nature of the music he discusses more successfully than Virgil Thomson who, by comparison, makes arbitrary judgements and sometimes puts himself at the centre of the picture. Mellers' career has been a voyage of discovery, opening up new experiences in the manner of the best adult education of the kind for which he was renowned at the Extramural Department of the University of Birmingham.

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Copyright © 25 April 2004 Peter Dickinson, Aldeburgh UK


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