Voices of Stone and Steel – Reviews – Carson P. Cooman

5.0 out of 5 stars
An accessible, engaging, and important study of three significant American compositional voices
February 10, 2011 
By C. P. Cooman (Cambridge, MA USA) –

Simmons’s superb first book (Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers) was a seminal study of American neo-romanticism in its treatment of five composers, ranging from the very familiar (Samuel Barber) to the largely unfamiliar (Nicolas Flagello). This book (his second) deals with three American composers he terms “modern traditionalists” (a term that is very carefully defined in the introduction): William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin. After a lifetime devoted to the study of this repertoire, Simmons presents a carefully-considered, thoroughly-researched, and extremely accessible overview of the life and output of these three important American voices. 

Perhaps one of the strongest properties of Simmons’s writing (notable because it is so rarely present in music writing) is a willingness to engage with the catalogs of these composers in a detailed and hierarchical way, by providing a map through the stronger and weaker works. Most books on composers treat every composition as if it were equally great (or important) — which is not only untrue, but supremely unhelpful when trying to get a handle on a body of work. 

I had the privilege of reading this marvelous book in its final draft, and I strongly recommend it to anybody interested in American music or in discovering (or simply learning more) about these three fine composers. Unlike “Voices in the Wilderness,” this book comes with a CD recording, providing a very convenient aural introduction to the music right in the back pocket of the book itself.