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The Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin


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About the Author

Walter Simmons has received the National Educational Film Festival Award and the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music criticism. He has contributed articles to The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, American National Biography, Fanfare, Music Journal, and Musical America. He is the author of Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (Scarecrow, 2004).


The most immediately striking characteristics of this volume are its comprehensiveness, thoroughness, and scholarship. Simmons seems to have read everything ever written by and about these composers. He has researched everything concerning each work from its genesis to the score to the premiere and the reactions, pro and con, of the public and the critics, repeat performances and reactions to them, recordings, critical reactions to them, and their current availability, all carefully documented in the end notes, and generally maintaining a scholarly distance and objectivity. He gives a detailed and penetrating analysis of each with a cogent evaluation of its merits at the end. I was repeatedly impressed with his obvious professional integrity, with one phrase jumping off the page at me, when he wrote: '. . . for reasons unknown to me' rather than its common form without the final two words; after all, someone might know the reason. The breadth and depth of his information are impressive. The chapter may not constitute the definitive study of the composer but it is surely the definitive summary of him, his work, and his importance. Simmons' writing is succinct, precise, and incisive; every sentence is packed with information with next to no excessive verbiage, and often in felicitously excessive phrasing. Each work is described blow-by-blow from beginning to end. He quotes heavily from critics as well as summarizing their evaluations. He describes objectively but also evaluates astutely himself both the works and the critics' writings about them, aiming for a synthesis viewpoint. His style is straightforward, eminently readable, and pleasant; no pomposity comes with his scholarship and erudition. * Cvnc: An Online Arts Journal In North Carolina *
Each chapter in Simmons's new book offers a detailed biographical sketch, a description of individual stylistic features of each composer, an assessment of the important and representative works that identifies both strengths and weaknesses, and a depiction of the larger social and cultural context out of which the music arose. There are many and extensive quotations from critical opinions (often at some variance with each other) and hundreds of citations in the notes for each chapter, as well as bibliographies and discographies for each composer-and even a compact disc with works by all three of them....Simmons's extraordinary ability to advocate for these composers yet see them whole, with all their virtues, difficulties, and failings, is a triumph of sensitivity and a lifetime spent in thoughtful listening, research, and adjudication. He loves these men and their music yet makes careful, nuanced discriminations about them, raises questions about their accomplishments (sometimes unanswerable), and gives full credit to the intricate and unfathomable workings of personality and circumstance that bring forth artistic creation. Together with the many detailed and perceptive analyses of individual works (strictly verbal-there are no music examples) it is this celestial balance of judgment and mercy, knowledge and enigma, light and dark, that makes Voices of Stone and Steel indispensable for anyone studying or simply curious about the achievement of these three distinguished and emblematic "modern traditionalist" American composers. * American Record Guide *
In his epochal study Voices in the Wilderness (2008), musicologist Walter Simmons charts the careers and assesses the achievement of six American "Neo-Romantic" composers.... Perhaps the important unstated thesis in Voices in Stone and Steel-a thoroughly readable, fascinating, and necessary book-is the de-vivifying effect of professionalization on all creative and visionary endeavors in the American world since World War II. What would Schuman, Persichetti, and Mennin have achieved composition-wise had they been as independent, both in their careers and their worldviews, as the great eccentrics who pioneered a genuine American art-music, such as Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, and Henry Cowell? Or what, simply, might the three men have achieved had they lived in a more human age than the Age of Ideologies? * The University Bookman *
Describing music with words is something every critic struggles with. Despite denying in his introduction that it can be done, Simons is a master at it. His analyses are consistently revealing, never too esoteric for the untrained reader (no scores, mere hints at harmonic analysis), nor too simplistic for the knowledgeable one. He advises us to listen as we read, yet-if one knows the music at all-it comes alive with only his descriptions. He devotes three dense pages to Schuman's Third Symphony, and every phrase, every note sounds and breathes. A well-loved symphony becomes all the more meaningful on next hearing. . . . One fervently hopes that Simmons' series will continue, and that he will champion neglected composers across the entire spectrum of American music. * Fanfare Magazine *
This book. . . has been a labour of love for the author. Walter Simmons starts from the premise that the high watermark of American symphonic music in the years following the Second World War passed relatively unnoticed and undocumented, and that the vast contributions to American musical literature of three major figures during that period have largely been eclipsed by their other important, but less enduring, lifetime achievements... In this most interesting and absorbing book Simmons emerges as a persuasive advocate for those, myself included, who feel that the past few decades have witnessed unprecedented growth in American musical culture, the effects of which are only now starting to be assimilated. -- Bret Johnson * Tempo *
Through careful analysis of their music and insightful appraisal of their achievements, interspersed with enough biographical information to humanize his subjects, Simmons makes a solid case for their work and provides an enjoyable read in the process. . . . Overall the balance between biography and analysis is well judged. Simmons shows us enough of his subjects' feet of clay to remind us that composers are people, too, in a book that is primarily about absolute music. . . . With enticing recent recordings readily available. . . . there surely exists a new audience for this period of American music-an audience with open ears and fewer preconceptions. For them Simmons' book will be a godsend. * Fanfare Magazine *
A valuable book....What is of great value here is: first, the brilliant summaries of the style and substance of the considerable musical output of these composers; second, the many detailed descriptive analyses of individual compositions; third, historical reports of the critical and popular reactions to these musical works when first performed; fifth, information about the recording history of many of these works; and, finally, Simmons' highly informed evaluations of the strengths and weakness of the many works he writes about. . . . Highly recommended. * Classical Net *
At a time when these composers were all active, Stanley Cavell observed in a famous essay called "Music Discomposed" that "the task of the modern artist . . . is to find something he can be sincere and serious in; something he can mean" ("Music Discomposed," in Must We Mean What We Say? [New York: Scribner, 1969], p. 212). Schuman, Persichetti, and Mennin succeeded admirably in this task. Simmons's book is a wonderful invitation to these composers and helps reclaim their reputations for a contemporary audience. * The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism *
There is sufficient material here on all three composers to form an insightful view of their lives and work - both administrative and musical - and one would have to seek far and wide for greater insights into the legacies of all three men, who - together with Copland, Bernstein, Harris, Piston, Thomson and Ives - constituted the bulk of important American music in the 20th-century up to, say, 1960, by which time their most valuable works had appeared. * Musical Opinion *
This new contribution is most welcome. . . .There is still much to be gained from these musical examinations. . . .Voices of Stone and Steel is . . . a valuable entryway into a varied, compelling, and satisfying body of music. * American Music *
There is much in this book that will be of distinctive value to either laymen or scholars, and indeed any work that tries to walk the line in this way will be certain to frustrate both groups to some extent. Regardless, Simmons' work is crucially important to filling out the canon of American music history, and he has produced a well-conceived and thoughtfully organized reference that will hopefully provoke further scholarly research. * Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association *
In The Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin: Voices of Stone and Steel the insightful critic and musicologist Walter Simmons has taken on the cause of three remarkable but neglected mid-20th-century American composers-William Schuman, Peter Mennin and Vincent Persichetti. This ambitious book provides a detailed study of their music, along with incisive summaries of their lives and careers; it also reveals the personal and professional links between the three men and places their various accomplishments in context of their era. In careful, clear prose, the author presents deft, scholarly analyses of most of his subjects' works, ranging through the genres-from symphonies to songs. He assumes the role of counsel for the defense, but doesn't hesitate to note the occasions when his composers fell down on the job. As Edmund Wilson once did with literature, here Simmons provokes a desire in the reader to hear the music about which he writes so compellingly. I can think of only one adjective that adequately describes this important book: magnificent. -- Phillip Ramey, Composer, Former Annotator and Program Editor of the New York Philharmonic, author of the award-winning biography Irving Fine: An American

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