- Christopher Mark, University of Surrey, UK
How does one go about writing the history of musical composition in the late twentieth century when, on the one hand, so much of it seems impossibly fractured and disassociated, and, on the other, there has been so little certainty about what the notion of 'music history' might entail under the critiques of post-modernism? One of the most productive ways forward is to pursue case studies involving single composers whose music reflects several aspects of recent activity. This enables the discussion of broad issues in a relatively focussed way whilst avoiding the pitfalls of traditional narrative histories and the centrifugal tendencies of the relativistic approach that some have called for.
The music of the English-born (1943) and Australia-domiciled composer Roger Smalley is ideal material for such a study, because of his involvement with and response to an unusually large number of the myriad concerns and practices of post-1950s composition, including post-serial constructivism; parody; electro-acoustic composition and the electronic modification of conventionally-produced sound; Moment Form; aleatorism; minimalism; the use of non-Western resources (Aboriginal and South-East Asian sonorities); neo-Romanticism; and, arguably, the 'new classicism', as well as a brief flirtation with rock music in the late '60s.
Employing an interview with the composer as a kind of cantus firmus, the book – the first extended single-author study of Smalley's music to be published – incorporates critical commentary on the composer's major works in a chronological narrative that engages with broad issues of central relevance to Smalley's generation, such as the process of learning the craft of composition in the early '60s; the motivation behind the adoption of certain technical and aesthetic positions; the effects on technical and aesthetic orientation of both the changing relationships between composer, performer, and audience and technological change; and the distinction between 'late-' and 'post-' modernism in music.
Contents: Preface; Culminating moments: an interview with Roger Smalley; A child of Serialism (1961–65); Changing orientations (1965–74); In a new land (1974–88); Back to the future II (1988–99); Epilogue; Bibliography; Appendices; Index.
About the Author: Christopher Mark is Senior Lecturer in Musicology at the University of Surrey, UK, where he served as head of department from 2005 to 2009. He was a co-founder of the Cambridge University Press journal Twentieth-Century Music, of which he was editor-in-chief until January 2009, and founder of the Biennial International Conference on Music Since 1900. He is author of Early Benjamin Britten (1995) and of numerous articles, conference papers, and book chapters on Britten, Smalley, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Warlock and Tippett.
Reviews: 'Due attention, enhanced by a generous, well-reproduced collection of musical examples, is given to an impressive number of noteworthy scores … the first extended single-author study of Smalley’s music to be published, and Christopher Mark’s often penetrating treatment of his subject matter is extremely successful in reminding us of the depth and breadth of the composer’s creative achievements. There is much here to stimulate and enlighten readers with an interest in new music from the past six decades and as such this is a highly recommendable book, which I shall return to often'.
'Mark’s analyses are detailed and insightful'.
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