Melvin Berger

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Henry Leland Clarke

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Melvin Berger has presented his readers with the story of fourteen leading composers of the century [in Masters of Modern Music]. He has selected Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bartók to represent "Musical Explorers"; Richard Strauss, Sibelius, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Copland, and Britten, "Music in the Main Stream"; Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, and Menotti, "Music for the Many"; and John Cage and Vladimir Ussachevsky, "The New Music." All fourteen were born before the outbreak of World War I, and there is not a French, Yankee, or black composer among them. Within these limitations his list has been well chosen, despite a few possible objections. Surely, for instance, Webern should be added to the first three men, as one of the "composers who have pointed out the new directions of modern music."… [The author] has followed the present trend of placing Hindemith only among those "composers who have carried forward the musical traditions of the past." In addition, certain statements in the text raise the question of whether Richard Strauss and Sibelius are modern enough to be included at all. (p. 70)

In any case, the composers chosen are attractively presented. Each is introduced by a striking incident or characterization, which brings him close to the reader at the outset. The style is readable and especially appealing to the young person looking for a guide. One result of this format is that it makes the work suitable as a novel but not as a source book for specific data. Although the text is accurate in giving the general sense of things, the very cursive style that makes it move sometimes blurs particular points and allows years to slip into each other….

The last paragraph of the book raises a dated question: "Will the growth of electronic music mean the end of concerts and live performers?" When young Stockhausen swept the country with his tapes back in 1958, it was already apparent that the days of pure electronic music were numbered. Today, it is generally recognized that no matter how avant-garde a composition is, there has to be at least one live body on the stage along with the appliances.

The text contains no musical examples. Berger has provided a very short bibliography and discography, which are to be praised for their selectivity. The portraits of The Fourteen are fine if formal. The recommendation for Masters of Modern Music is read it, but don't lean on it. (p. 71)

Henry Leland Clarke, in Music Educators Journal (copyright © 1971 by Music Educators National Conference; reprinted with permission), December, 1971.

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