Magazine article The Spectator

On Music: Essays and Diversions, 1963-2003

Magazine article The Spectator

On Music: Essays and Diversions, 1963-2003

Article excerpt

How to shut up and listen ON MUSIC: ESSAYS AND DIVERSIONS, 1963-2003 by Robin Holloway Claridge Press, Sunday Hill Farm, Brinkworth, Wilts SN 15 5 AS, Tel: 01666510327, £30, pp. 438, ISBN 1870626745

Stuck for the bumper Christmas gift? Try Robin Holloway's collected essays of music criticism. It is impressively big and will take about five years to read if you listen to the music discussed at the same time. Since that includes most of Wagner and Strauss and plenty of Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler, you will have little time left over to indulge in snooker or bridge. No thanks, you smirk. A brick would do better as a door-stop. That was certainly the attitude of at least two major publishing houses, including Faber, when they turned the manuscript down.

Fools. They should have known-better. This outstanding book, gathered to mark-Holloway's 60th birthday, is one of the most invigorating, elegantly written and passionate of its kind. Spurned and left homeless by the grandees, it has been taken in by a tiny independent publisher, Claridge Press, and dressed in a dry, sober jacket which gives little hint as to the trenchant and outrageous opinions contained within. Any curious music fan, except those whose taste ends c. 1700, which is about where Holloway's starts, can expect to have their ears briskly scoured by this caustic volume.

The rewards are immense. The tone is lively and if, as sometimes happens, the level of technical analysis goes over your head, you can fast forward. Each page is a fruit cake of concentrated thought steeped in years of incisive listening, occasionally heavy, always rich, sometimes nutty. I haven't enjoyed a book on music so much since a pivotal study on Debussy and Wagner - about whom enough, you would think, had been said - two decades ago. (Its author? Robin Holloway.)

Best known as a composer of lyrical orchestral and chamber works, Holloway has been a monthly contributor to this magazine since 1988. His Spectator columns form the backbone of this collection and gain immeasurably by being placed in context with more extended writings, acting both as light relief and contemporary commentary on a rapidly changing music scene. Not that much reprieve is needed. Holloway writes with wit and colour and has a penchant for inventing words. …

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