The Lieder of Brahms by A. Craig Bell Grain-Aig
Darley, Harrogate, 1979
This book's sound qualities are rather obscured by its tone, which tends to oscillate, jarringly, between a call to prayer and a call to arms. Mr Bell writes, very properly, in love and admiration' for the music; but his feelings for other critics and commentators are notably less warm. Listeners and performers are patronized, while personal opinions are advanced as indubitable fact or even “universal consent”. For my taste the prose style savours too much of harangue and cliché (thus “no greater contrast could be found” than that on p.39, except presumably those so described on other pages). By any standards there are far too many printing and other errors. The press often seems to have mislaid its Umlaut; the interpretation of op.32 as a personal document was not “originated by Friedländer”; and so on. In the circumstances, the announced attempt at a reference book sounds invincibly over-optimistic; thus the dating of the lieder by opus number, as offered in Appendix I, actually contains far less detail about each song than can be found in either Friedländer (1922) or Kalbeck (1912-14).
But when all the inevitable discounts have been made, there is still some good value here; the book is an interesting and sometimes rewarding introduction to its subject. The author himself feels that if it introduces or recalls readers to the songs, it will have been well worth while. Then so it is, in my judgment. But I fear that Mr Bell has been too modest. If he had applied his critical and expository skills to his own work as diligently as to Brahms's, he would have served both causes far better.
The Musical Times, Feb. 1981 (p. 107) © the estate of eric sams