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July 14, 2008


Andrew Druckenbrod


Your blog post jumped out at me more than your NY Times article because it is a compelling example of "championing the composition, not the composer," or perhaps better said, "championing the composer through a piece" -- an approach to music I have lately been trying to abide by and advocate.

Too often, critics and the folks in the concert music biz try to interest people in a composer with an approach that looks at the bio first, style (or school) second and historically famous works third. I think it’s much more effective to start with a compelling work and move outward from there to bio, style, other works and more. And I'd argue that describing a work that moves you as the critic or advocate is the best one to start with, not necessarily what has been in the canon or more recorded.

Few readers are going to jump on a 30-disc Vaughan Williams set or even watch a (usually intriguing) Palmer film on the basis of hearing about his life or history's negative view in an article. But hearing an impassioned case for a single work, something graspable in a single sitting, can make a convert out of a casual listener, especially if it is one of the composer's best. It’s a fairer way to begin to explore any composer, in my opinion, and prone to fewer distortions.

I have never been much of a VW devotee, but I must admit, I don't know Symphony No. 8. Now I am seriously concerned I have missed something! I plan on putting it to my ears soon because of your post. Who knows? It may lead me to more of VW I don't know, even if I will continue avoid a few works I know too well.

I realize that in one medium (Times), you are a reviewer and in the other (blog) you can be an advocate, but I wonder if the latter model isn't just the better way to talk about music and composers in general.

-- Andrew Druckenbrod
Classical Musings
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Doug Gary

Hi Steve. I loved your NYTimes and blog piece on Williams. You've educated and intrigued me yet again. I hesitate to admit that I have zero Williams in my collection. So, I'll get the 8th for sure. Might you have another one or two "desert island" Williams CDs you'd suggest? Your recommendations continue to add deeply to my collection. Many thanks! Doug Gary


These two pieces on Vaughan Williams are the best pieces you have ever written. I enjoyed them immensely.

I see from one of your disc lists that you recently have been listening to the Haitink Sinfonia Antartica.

I share your assessment of the Haitink Vaughan Williams cycle, but Haitink's Seventh is superb, I think. It is the odd man out in that set.

I am curious what you think about that particular performance.

Anthony Mason

From across the pond, can I thank you for this blog? As others have said, approaching a composer's work through one piece can make the initial step much less daunting.

Can I extol the virtue of the piece that lies behind your blog title - the opera, the Pilgrim's Progress? Based on John Bunyan's allegory of the Christian journey through life, RVW spent the majority of his adult life developing this - his most complex and, arguably, least stageable opera - but it contains the essence of his music and is his magnum opus in my view.

In the UK, I recommend the Boult recording from the 1970s - not sure if this is available in the States.

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