Uneasy listening

A caricature guide to 20th-century composers
by John Minnion

Blurb from the book cover:

If composers could choose their times, how many would have opted for the twentieth century, with the disruptions of two world wars and a Russian revolution, the proliferation of muzak, pop music and traffic noise, the woeful decline of concentration spans.

Everything you wrote would run the risk of going out of fashion by the end of the year, or being played to empty houses because everyone was at home listening to recordings of music from other centuries. And God help your reputation if you wrote tunes.

It was the century when pieces of music became less like stories, more like paintings. When composers went one way, in search of textures and soundworlds, and listeners went the other way in search of easy listening and background music.

Mahler, Debussy, Stravinsky Bartok, Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Messiaen, Boulez… John Minnion’s collection of caricatures and captions provide a fascinating view of the protagonists and an insight into what they were up to.

Published UK 17 March 2003
112pp 110 illustrations
ISBN: 978-09544499-1-9
Dimensions: 20.6 x 19.6 x 1.2 cm
£7.99 UK

The Twentieth century is my favourite musical century. Several reasons: Jazz. Recording. Electrification. The blossoming of popular music. In classical music, innovations in orchestration; Debussy’s harmonies; Stravinsky’s rhythms; receptiveness to influences from other cultures, and the expansion of sound worlds generally.

From a caricaturing point of view, 20th-century composers have all been photographed, offering us reliable references to draw from. Whereas images of many earlier composers are not always to be trusted for true likeness.

In Uneasy Listening I tried to make a simple guide to a complex subject. I learned so much as I put this book together that only as I finished it did I have the understanding to begin it… if you see what I mean.

Francis Poulenc, Erik Satie and Darius Milhaud
Stravinsky meets Rachmaninov
Edward Elgar struggling to finish his Third Symphony. (He didn’t.)
Anthony Payne, who kindly finished Elgar’s Third Symphony for him, some years after Elgar’s death.