Notice of the Beckford Edition in Early Music Review - 55 - November 1999
William Beckford [Complete works] edited by Maxwell Steer. Beckford Edition, 1998. 5 vols, £170 (comb bound), £195 (perfect bound), £240 (bound in buckram).
Beckford (1760-1842) is a familiar enough name thanks to his significance in the gothic revival as author of Vathek and creator of Fonthill. His music, however, is less well known no entry in New Grove, though 1 suppose that there is just time to squeeze him into Newer Grove, due in a year's time. Maxwell Steer supplies a fine introduction, which is included in each volume if you buy them separately. The classical style is probably the easiest, until the post-modern, for a littletrained enthusiast to master its technicalities. Although Mozart's supposed visit to Fonthill in 1764-5 and the even younger Beckford's supposed lessons from him have long been debunked (Music and Letters 47, 1966, pp. 110-115), he took music seriously at some periods of his life, and his compositions are competent, sometimes more than that: the editor has shown that much here is worth reviving. The most substantial piece is his Arcadian Pastoral, written in 1782 to words by Lady Craven, which was performed, with a cast formed chiefly by children. The spoken text does not survive, but the substantial music - over 200 pages of score in this edition - certainly shows promise. But there is nothing else of this scale: Beckford didn't progress from it. This pastoral occupies the second and largest volume. The first is mostly devoted to an overture Phaeton (published in Paris in the 1780s) plus a march and a rondo for wind octet, vol. 3 has a few pieces for voices and instruments, vol. 4 songs with continuo and vol. 5 a few short keyboard pieces. Vol. 6, not yet published, will contain Modinhas Brasilieras (what are they?) It was certainly worth assembling the music, and it is reassuring to know that the job has been done comprehensively. 1 like the way that every otherwiseblank page is filled with an apposite illustration. Individual items are available separately, with the necessary performance material. I have doubts about the economics. The editor rightly wants to get some income from the time he has invested in the project, but only a very few libraries will pay the prices listed (£12, for instance, for the 16 pages of piano pieces in vol. 5), even though the system of printing two pages on a landscape A4 sheet means that your are getting more music than the volume would seem to contain. 1 hope for the editor's sake that 1 am wrong, since his work has drawn attention to another talent of a significant, if odd, contributor to our cultural history.