Noel and Cole

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the “Prelude” and “Postlude” of this dual biography, Citron is at some pains to draw parallels between the lives of his subjects, known for the brilliance and longevity of their musical creations, their similar subject matter, and, above all, their shared urbanity. Both were prolific, glib, cosmopolitan, irreverent. Both were openly gay. Nonetheless, as Citron is obliged to point out, there were as many differences between Coward and Porter as there were similarities, the main one being Coward’s greater reach as composer, lyricist, playwright and performer. Instead of trying to tie their lives together narratively, Citron alternates chapters devoted to each man, providing at the back of the book a five-part chronology that is meant to afford a sense of Coward’s and Porter’s shared times.

Indeed, Citron’s primary interest seems to be not his subjects’ lives but their songs. Also at the back of the book, he includes two long appendices, one devoted to a detailed analysis of some Porter songs and one to some of Coward’s, and a “Glossary of Musical Terms.” These items supplement the great amount of time spent on such musical dissection in the biographical narrative itself.

NOEL AND COLE doubtless will serve as an excellent resource for musicologists. Nevertheless, while it succeeds at conveying the elements of two biographies, Citron’s mode of presentation makes it hard to understand the rationale for presenting the details of these two lives—as opposed to those of the men’s musical output—under one cover.