Review by Choice Review
Intended as a listener's guide to the broadest spectrum of contemporary composition, this work includes roughly 500 composers from all over the world, ranging from a handful of figures born in the last century to emerging composers. Although most of the composers listed are still living, a number of deceased figures have been included. Entries consist of three main sections: a brief biography that includes a contact address and music publisher(s); a list of works (the bulk of each entry), for each giving instrumentation, date of completion, and place and date of first performance; and a short article that attempts to locate each composer within contemporary styles and movements, discussing particular influences and innovations. Bibliographies and discographies are selective. Some entries also contain a short personal statement by the composer concerning his or her work. An appendix lists publishers, national music information centers, composers' organizations, and other groups. A valuable tool, recommended for all reference collections. K. A. Abromeit; Oberlin College
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review
Contemporary Composers fills a void in the world of art (or serious) music. Edited by two English enthusiasts, this international directory is "a listener's guide to the broadest spectrum of contemporary composition." The nearly 600 living composers depicted were suggested by an advisory panel but profiled only if the potential entrants supplied essential information. No other work of this scope exists. Each composer's entry consists of three parts. A brief paragraph of biographical basics in who's who style is first. The bulk of each alphabetically arranged entry is a chronological list (not a discography) of all known works classified in symphonic, chamber/instrumental, vocal/choral, operatic, and other categories. The dates of completion and initial performance are given for each work. Finally, a short assessment seeks to place each composer within the musical landscape of the times. The assessments are signed and are uniformly literate, succinct, and insightful. They are written mostly by academics who are as varied in nationality as the composers they describe. Not all are adorational, but no sharp axes gleam on these pages. As in all St. James Press directories, each entrant was invited to contribute a short personal statement introducing his or her work; while most preferred silence, those composers who did comment offer an invaluable perspective on their music. Renowned composers known even outside musical circles appear here, for example, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Virgil Thompson (all three died during this book's preparation). Such eminent figures as Oliver Messiaen, John Cage, Philip Glass, Morton Gould, Lukas Foss, and Pierre Boulez are all represented, too. One might cavil that Stephen Sondheim is included, but not Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the 1991 Pulitzer Prize winner for music, Shulamit Ran, is also missing. The large majority of entrants, however, will be unknown to even the most avid concert-goer; many of them probably are unfamiliar to most professional musicians. As Brian Ferneyhough observes in the preface, the chief value of this directory may be in publicizing "unknowns" to those musical groups who have an interest in supporting serious composition. In an age where the gap between experimental musical forms and the still prevailing vehicles of expression (symphony orchestra, chamber ensemble, etc.) is in danger of becoming unbridgeable, such a directory is definitely worthwhile. This work will be compared to Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians [RBB F 1 92] and to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980). Most of the composers found in Contemporary Composers are listed in Baker's but not in the New Grove. More specialized sources, such as Contemporary American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary (1982) and the International Encyclopedia of Women Composers (2d ed., 1987), do not have the broad coverage of the book under review. Also, those two books have no descriptive text. This directory will be most useful for libraries associated with schools or conservatories of music, but any large public or academic library that collects musical reference works will wish to consider it. (Reviewed Dec. 1, 1992)
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.