Discourses in Music: Volume 3 Number 3 (Spring 2002)

Robin Elliot and Gordon E. Smith, eds. Istvan Anhalt: Pathways and Memory.
Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001. xx, 475 pp. ISBN 0-7735-2102-X (hardcover).

Istvan Anhalt: Pathways and Memory is the first publication to focus entirely on the career of Istvan Anhalt, one of Canada's foremost composers. The format of the book is unique in the literature of Canadian composer studies - it has the comprehensive scope of a traditional 'life and works' publication, but the variety in contributors and approaches of a festschrift-style collection. The reader is thus presented with all the main components of Anhalt's biography and compositional output, but sees these components from a range of vantage points. It is this combination of breadth and variety that makes the book a success.

Since the multiplicity in voices, style and content is one of the defining attributes of this book, it may be helpful to outline briefly the sections of the book. The first six chapters give an overview of Anhalt's biography and compositions. The biography is divided into three main components: "Life in Europe" (Robin Elliot), "Life in Montreal" (Robin Elliot) and "The Kingston Years" (Gordon Smith). Similarly, a survey of his compositional output is treated in three separate articles: "Instrumental Solo and Chamber Works" (Robin Elliot), "Orchestral Works" (John Beckwith) and "Electroacoustic Music" (David Keane). To this assortment is added further diversity: a detailed analysis of two substantial orchestral works, Symphony (1958) and SparkskrapS (1987) to illustrate the shift that has taken place in Anhalt's approach to composing (William Benjamin, "Alternatives of Voice: Anhalt's Odyssey from Personalized Style to Symbolic Expression"), an exploration of Anhalt's use of text in his compositions (Carl Morey, "Words for Music: The Composer as Poet"), a description and analysis of Anhalt's writings about music, particularly his publication Alternative Voices (Austin Clarkson, "Between the Keys: Istvan Anhalt Writing on Music"), a summary of the contents of the Anhalt fonds at the National Library of Canada and some suggestions for research that may result from them (Helmut Kallmann, "The Istvan Anhalt Fonds at the National Library of Canada"), a picture of Anhalt as a friend (George Rochberg, "Reflections on a Colleague and Friend"), and finally, a collection of essays which explain the origins and substance of some of Anhalt's later works by the composer himself.

Assembling this array of perspectives on Anhalt not only gives the volume variety, but allows the reader to view certain works, events, themes, and aspects of Anhalt's style in many different contexts, offering a rich, multi-layered understanding of them. For example, the work SparkskrapS is first presented in the context of the flurry of compositional activity which occurred after Anhalt's retirement from Queen's ("The Kingston Years"), and next, as part of the survey of Anhalt's entire orchestral output ("Orchestral Works") and finally, a thorough analysis of the work's symbolic meanings and musical materials is given to show Anhalt's creative evolution as a composer ("Anhalt's Odyssey"). Similarly, Anhalt's interest in electroacoustic music is seen as part of his career at McGill ("Life in Montreal"), and later, as a significant portion of his compositional output and a chapter in the history of electroacoustic music in Canada ("Electroacoustic Music").

By placing Anhalt in a variety of different contexts, this volume not only allows us a deeper understanding of the multifaceted composer, but also informs us as to the environments in which he found himself. The chapters dealing with Anhalt's biography, for example, also explore the worlds that Anhalt lived in: the cultural and political climate of inter-war Hungary, post-war Montreal, and Kingston from the 1970s onwards, the musical nationalism underlying his training at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music under Zoltan Kodály and others, the changes which occurred at the faculty of music at McGill University during the 1950s and 60s, and the individuals who shaped the music faculty at Queen's University in the 1970s and early 80s. The descriptions are fascinating and full of poignant details, such as the harsh segregation in Anhalt's school gym class in Hungary, whereby "the Jewish boys were segregated and they exercised with shovels, while the Christians boys were given wooden rifles" (8-9); or, an account of the bewildered custodian at McGill who was asked to play his vacuum cleaner for the composers in the new Electronic Music Studio (50). For those interested in the history of music in Canada, the book offers a veritable who's who of CanMus personalities, as well as numerous non-Canadian notables, such as Stockhausen, Cage, Babbitt, and Takemitsu.

The chapter dealing most extensively with Anhalt's position in the context of twentieth-century Western art music is that by William Benjamin. This analytical tour de force, spanning 143 pages and taking up more than one fourth of the book, shows a deep admiration for Anhalt's works in every aspect - in the tone of homage, in the depth, length, and breadth of the study itself, and the conclusion that Anhalt is a skilled composer of culturally relevant works. The detailed analysis, although impressive, did not interest me as much as Benjamin's conclusions. First, he argues that between the writing of the Symphony in 1958 and SparkskrapS in 1987, Anhalt's composing changed from a personalized version of the serialist style to a personal musical expression all his own - an expression rooted in past musical languages but with its own logic and set of symbols. Second, Benjamin asserts that twentieth century composers can be placed in two categories: those who have learned to master a kind of personal expression, and those who have traveled other paths (i.e., finding a personalized version of older styles, as Anhalt did originally, or trying to create styles "from scratch"). Benjamin believes it is the former group of composers who are culturally relevant, who express and communicate narratives successfully, and whose works will stand the test of time, and he places Anhalt firmly in this élite group of composers.

Not surprisingly, in working through these various narratives the reader also begins to form a picture of Anhalt as composer and person. Two of the most striking aspects of his compositional behaviour are his deliberate and self-conscious use of music to explore ideas, and his systematic compositional method. Although the contributors portray a great diversity in Anhalt's compositional output, almost all the works are discussed not only in terms of their musical materials, but also in terms of the ideas informing those works. It is also striking that all the contributors who deal specifically with Anhalt's works (as well as Kallmann, the archivist), mention his neat, carefully organized, elaborate compositional sketches, and comment on the analytical mind that produced them. Reading Anhalt's own words on his music reinforces the picture of a thoughtful and deliberate composer; they are careful, step-by-step explorations of his works and the ideas behind them, almost in the style of a Socratic dialogue - indeed, the composer's lecture "On the Way to Traces: A Dialogue with the Self" is written entirely in a question-response format.

More general themes relating to Anhalt's life are also woven throughout the various narratives of the book: the effects of growing up in an anti-Semitic culture, experiencing the horrors of World War II, an interest in spiritual traditions including Jewish mysticism, and a preoccupation with language and linguistics, to name a few. The most personal aspects of these themes are discussed by George Rochberg. His "reflections" are the least academic in tone (a refreshing change), and cover experiences which Rochberg and Anhalt share: an Eastern European background, surviving WW II, grappling with Jewish identity, and responding to the culture of 20th century music making. Perhaps for this reason, the reflections are as much about himself (or even more so?) than they are about Anhalt, and they are generously sprinkled with his own unapologetically brazen views on Canadian politics, American politics, European society, musical modernism and other subjects. Although perhaps not intended this way, this piece presents a personality that acts as a foil for that of Anhalt. Where Rochberg appears fiery and extroverted, we call to mind the thoughtful and introverted Anhalt.

In general, my reaction to this book is a positive one. Not being familiar with Anhalt's works (compositions or writings) on an intimate plane, I was more interested in the historical contexts the book offered than the descriptions of his output (particularly "Chamber Music," "Orchestral Works," "Composer as Poet," and "Between the Keys"). But I suspect that with such a wide variety of styles and subjects, the book will have divergent points of interest for each reader. For any study of Anhalt's works, for example, the above-mentioned articles will be of invaluable assistance. The book as a whole will be particularly appealing to anyone interested in twentieth-century music history, twentieth-century composition, compositional processes, or musical biography, and is a must for those with any interest in Canadian music history, and, of course, Anhalt.

As a student of Canadian music history, I was especially pleased with the format of this book, an unique methodology in the slowly growing body of Canadian composer studies. Indeed, approaching the subject of Anhalt using this multiplicity of voices does not only, as Smith suggests in the introduction, "[test] the borders of scholarly discourse in Canadian music" (xx), but provides an effective model for such discourse. I will not be surprised or disappointed if future Canadian composer studies adopt this approach.

-Benita Wolters-Fredlund