Here at the Pendlebury we’ve been busy adding heaps of fascinating new scores and recordings by composers who have historically been underrepresented in the world of classical music. This large influx of new material has been the exciting first step of a long-term plan to improve and diversify the music collections at Cambridge.
The new scores encompass a wide range of compositional styles and backgrounds, and there’s just too many new items to list them all here, so I will only mention a handful of the main composers included in this effort and would encourage you to explore the new acquisitions further at your own leisure.
Errollyn Wallen (1958-)
Cambridge alumnus Errollyn Wallen MBE is one of the most prominent British composers alive today. She draws on a great diversity of influences in her music, yet expressive lyricism and a delight in vibrant rhythms are threads that run throughout all her work. She is as much respected as a composer of contemporary classical music as well as a singer-songwriter of pop-influenced songs, and the very large number of new scores reflect the whole range her compositions, including numerous operas, chamber works, songs and orchestral pieces.
Florence Price (1887-1953)
Price is a composer of gorgeously lyrical, romantic music, often working with traditional spirituals or song-settings of works by black poets. She was the first African American woman to win widespread acclaim as a composer of symphonies, rising to prominence in the 1930s. Her works list is extensive and varied, and the new library holdings attempt to capture something of this abundance with a great deal of music for solo piano, voice and piano, violin and piano, symphony orchestra and more.
Julius Eastman (1940-1990)
For me, Eastman is one of the most fascinating figures in 20th century music. He first came to people’s attention primarily as a talented vocalist, with notable performances including the lead in Peter Maxwell-Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King and a notorious performance of John Cage’s instructions to ‘perform a disciplined action’, which outraged the composer. But Eastman’s story ended in tragedy and almost saw his extraordinary compositional output lost forever as his later years ended in isolation, homelessness and an early death. His work has survived only as a result of the tireless work of those who knew him (in particular composer Mary Jane Leach) to piece together whatever scraps of his work remained. But despite the patchiness of what has survived, his music has begun to gain some of the attention it deserves, with more and more recordings steadily beginning to appear in recent years, several of which are now available in the library’s collection. Often characterised as a minimalist, I think this label fails to do justice to the highly idiosyncratic, intense, pulsating, organic quality of his works.
Eleanor Alberga (1949-)
Alberga is a British composer of Jamaican origin whose music, although taking in a range of styles, is often characterised by a sense of rhythmic drive and energy, whilst always remaining strongly structured. New scores include a wealth of pieces for solo piano, piano duo, string quartet, as well as other chamber works and concerti, including her 2015 Last Night of the Proms opener ARISE ATHENA!
Alvin Singleton (1940-)
An American composer of international renown whose honours include the 1974 Darmstadt Kranischsteiner Musikpreis, an 1981 NEA grant and multiple commissions from orchestras around the world. His compositional style has been influenced by contemporary European musical practices as well as jazz and his American roots. His harmonic language is often based on triads, sometimes make extensive use of triadic harmonies punctuated by outbursts of dissonances, or vice versa.
Anthony Davis (1951-)
Perhaps best known as an operatic composer, his works exemplify a desire to use vernacular musical styles to create an authentic American operatic art form, as well as an attempt to break down the divisions between popular culture and serious art. Davis’s earlier orchestral works also often share in the angular musical style of his operas, but later orchestral works are less hard-edged, and at times use harmonies and textures evoke an impressionistic atmosphere or elegiac mood. His chamber music is also much in demand, with a violin sonata commissioned by Carnegie Hall and works in which Davis reveals his roots in jazz and an interest in the continued exploration of extended improvisation.
George Lewis (1952-)
Lewis is an American improvisor, composer and scholar. From 1980-1982 he was the music director of the famous avant-garde New York cultural centre The Kitchen, and as a performing musician and improviser, he has collaborated with a huge range of artists, from the Count Basie and Gil Evans jazz orchestras, to Anthony Braxton, Derek Bailey, John Zorn, Yuji Takahashi, Richard Teitelbaum, Frederic Rzewski, and others. Lewis’s musical interests generally encompass three main areas: improvisation, new media and experimental music history.
To Be Continued…
I have only really touched on a handful of the composers at the centre of this recent drive to increase the scope and diversity of the music collections at Cambridge. Some other key figures included in this effort include Amy Beach, David Onac (another Cambridge alumnus), Elaine Mitchener and Pauline Oliveros. We’ll be continuing to add the work of similarly varied and fascinating composers to the catalogue as these, so keep your eyes out for many more exciting new additions still to come.