Voices of Stone and Steel–
This is a very useful book, a study of three contemporaneous American composers, which usually means these days that they spent a lot of their time in academe rather than writing music, which they ended up fitting around their day jobs.
But they make a good and suitable trio to be discussed together, and although all of them made significant contributions to the American symphony as a genre, it cannot really be denied that their best work as symphonists is to be found in their earlier and late music; for
Persichetti’s Fourth and Sixth Symphonies are probably his best, and Peter Mennin’s Third (composed when he was only 23) and Ninth are his finest contributions to the genre. Walter Simmons understandably tends to concentrate upon those larger-scaled orchestral works, without neglecting other scores, and his discussions of all three composers tend to be rather polemical rather than analytical in the generally accepted sense of the term.
There is sufficient material here on all three composers to form an insightful view of their lives and work – both administrative and musical – and one would have to seek far and wide for greater insights into the legacies of all three men, who – together with Copland, Bernstein, Harris, Piston, Thomson and Ives – constituted the bulk of important American music in the 20th-century up to, say, 1960, by which time their most valuable works had appeared.
The ‘free’ CD is particularly valuable, enabling us of course to hear a representative selection of the music of all three composers about which Mr Simmons has written so informatively and well.