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As we know, critics sometimes stand accused of reviewing the books they wish authors had written, rather than the ones they clearly chose to. So, first, what Em Marshall (founder-director of the English Music Festival) chose not to write in this attractive volume: Apart from the occasional passing idea, Music in the Landscape doesn’t set out to philosophise at the deepest ‘scientific’ level on the psychological effects the British landscape has had on composers and just how landscape converts to sound in their works. And there’s no serious discussion of whether English composers display a type of affinity with the landscape that marks them off from their foreign counterparts.

Fine. No problem. What Marshall sets out to do, pure and simple, is to follow her long list of landscape-loving composers (from Elgar and Vaughan Williams to Finzi, Bantock and Howells) over hill and dale, giving a full picture of where they went, when, and as often as not (of course) to what musical end-result.

On these terms, Marshall has been wholly successful, providing a must-have reference book for any lover of British music. There are far too many images in the brain remotely to recount, but Holst’s extraordinary walking exploits right to the end of his life were especially poignant: in the modern medical age he would doubtless have been tramping the countryside into his nineties. Marshall’s pursuit of Bax around Ireland haunts the mind, and lesser-known composers like EJ Moeran and Rutland Boughton will come alive for readers in a special way.

Maybe Marshall is over-zealous in adding an additional ‘Other Composers’ chapter in order to mop up (in such short form) many names not otherwise mentioned, but that’s a minor gripe set against so much magic. Most importantly, this is a book that will surely prompt plenty of listening. The host of fabulous photos (a real selling-point) were largely taken, we assume, by Marshall herself.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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