Composers & Their Measure by James A. Altena

Review

Composers & Their Measure

Surprised by Beauty: A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music by Robert R. Reilly with Jens F. Laurson

reviewed by James A. Altena

Robert J. Reilly is definitely a man on a mission—a laudable one at which he generally succeeds, albeit with some significant missteps. That mission is to document what he terms the "recovery of modern music"—more specifically, the recovery of beauty in modern classical music from a prolonged era in which any concern for beauty was not just ignored, but overtly and emphatically rejected by academic mandarins who effectively dictated the acceptable parameters of compositional style and techniques for a period of thirty to forty years after World War II, a period that composer Robert Muczynski aptly describes as the "long-term tyranny which has brought contemporary music to its current state of constipation and paralysis" (430). However, the last twenty to thirty years has witnessed a return from the wilderness, as many new composers have once again openly embraced tonality and melody as foundational aspects of music and sought to create works that prize beauty and appeal to the hearts and not just the minds of hearers.

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James A. Altena is the associate editor of Fanfare magazine, a comprehensive bimonthly periodical for reviews of classical music recordings. He is a member of St. Mark's Reformed Episcopal Church in Rydal, Pennsylvania, and is working toward a Ph.D. in church history at Westminster Theological Seminary.


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