It is one of the ironies of our so-called "postmodern" age that, though all our artistic judgments are supposedly equally valid, we seem more than ever intent on making such judgments.
This seems especially true of contemporary music where the relative merits of different composers have inspired heated, not to say vitriolic, debate. To the uninitiated, such disputes may seem bewildering and, worse, offputting, in view of the richness and diversity of 20th century music.
Such a book as THE BLACKWELL GUIDE TO RECORDED CONTEMPORARY MUSIC (Blackwell Pounds 14.99) is thus warmly to be welcomed. In it, editor Brian Morton selects 74 composers from 1940 to 1990, choosing one piece to represent each.
Post-war "greats" such as Ligeti and Berio rub shoulders with the less familiar Theo Loevendie and Einojuhani Rautavaara, each entry giving detailed information on recordings and further reading. But this is far from just a dry catalogue of works. Writing accessibly and yet displaying considerable erudition, Morton conveys an immense amount of information while maintaining personal preferences.
You will not always agree with them, of course. For me, Rituel is the last piece I would use to introduce Boulez' music - I find it very dour - while (perhaps more seriously) minimalists such as John Adams and Steve Reich are passed over. These are minor quibbles, however.
Beautifully presented and complete with helpful glossary, this book will be extremely useful to those GCSE music teachers new to contemporary music and provide food for thought among the cognoscenti as well.