David Matthews: Essays, Tributes and Criticism

By Whitehouse, Richard | Gramophone, November 2014 | Go to article overview

David Matthews: Essays, Tributes and Criticism


Whitehouse, Richard, Gramophone


David Matthews

Essays, Tributes and Criticism

Edited by Thomas Flyde

Plumbago Books, HB/PB, 320pp, 45 [pounds sterling]/15.99 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-0-956-60076-9

The recorded coverage of David Matthews has become one of the most significant aspects of British contemporary music this past decade, confirming his substantial output as having few equals in terms of its eliding of tradition and innovation with an assurance matched by few of his peers--British or otherwise. That he remains a still underestimated figure (though no one should underestimate the principled tenacity with which Matthews has fought the corner of classical composers, notably their relevance in what is an increasingly indifferent and often hostile era) reflects his status as a composer who has strategically avoided both modernist and populist traits, intent rather on pursuing a creative path which has gained in expressive depth as surely as it has gained in formal (and, the composer would doubtless attest, tonal) clarity.

Issued to mark his 70th birthday, the present book is the first to be devoted to his music and its symposium format surveys the extent of Matthews's achievement not only in composition. Thus the first section takes in selected essays such as underline the breadth of his concerns--including numerous book reviews (Matthews has long been a mainstay of the Times Literary Supplement) and thoughts on those who helped shape his own identity. While Matthews on himself needs be taken advisedly (almost by definition, composers are seldom their own best judges, however well-reasoned their assessments might be), his observations as to working with Deryck Cooke on the latter's performing version of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, or of his visiting Mahler's birthplace and formative environs in what was then an inaccessible corner of communist Czechoslovakia, come as a salutary reminder of the composer's still recent rise to eminence; while those on the Sibelius tradition (as has latterly come to the fore in his own symphonic writing) or on Britten's late works underline the crucialness of such nominally disparate sources to the all-round richness of Matthews's own music. As the author of surely the best introductory monographs on both Britten and Tippett, and one able to evaluate the very different achievements of such as Berthold Goldschmidt or Bob Dylan, Matthews could have been (but fortunately has chosen otherwise) as substantive a writer as he is a composer. …

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