Book Review — Accompanied Voices: Poets on Composers: From Thomas Tallis to Arvo Pärt

Accompanied Voices by John Greening

Accompanied Voices: Poets on Composers: From Thomas Tallis to Arvo Pärt by John Greening. Greening studied at the universities of Swansea, Mannheim and Exeter. He reviews for the TLS and has written twelve poetry collections.

The concept is sound and exciting. Combining poetry and classical music together seems like a great match. The poetry supports either the composer or a piece of his work. The poets range from well-known to obscure and old to new. The composers likewise. The problem I encountered is not being familiar with classical composers. Although the introduction claims prior knowledge is not necessary, it is very helpful. At times, I was a bit lost in connecting the poetry to a composer I did not know. Most poetry seems to relate to a large audience. Even when it doesn’t, it is something a reader can relate to like the Grecian Urn in Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. We may not have a Grecian urn, but we all know what one looks like.

In this book, I really enjoyed the poems on Holst. “The Planets” is one of my favorite pieces in classical music. The Tchaikovsky pieces were also excellent. However, many times I felt like I was dropped into a middle of a calculus class. I could understand the pieces, but the whole escaped me. In the appendix, there is a section giving a brief biography of the poets and the composers for those who need refreshing, but not enough for the unindoctrinated.

I think this book is much more suited for those who are familiar with classical music and not familiar with poetry more so, than with the opposite. The poetry is very well done, but the reader without classical music experience will be missing a great deal. It is an enjoyable collection of poetry and a pleasant way to combine two arts.

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