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The Ingenious Mr. Avison:
Making Music and Money in Eighteenth Century Newcastle
Roz Southey, Margaret Maddison & David Hughes

Tyne Bridge Publishing 2009 (Paperback: 156 pages)

Charles Avison (1709-1770) was a Tyneside musician who became England's most important 18th-century concerto composer. This first full-length biography tells how, through enterprise and determination, he made Newcastle upon Tyne England's greatest provincial music center of the time. This is a scholarly survey written collaboratively by "a college of authors" who bring different skills to their endeavour - within the book itself nothing is to be found about them individually, so click on the links above!

I have since learned that Dr Roz Southey, lecturer at Newcastle University and a writer of crime novels, has written widely on music making in the northeast during the eighteenth century. Margaret Maddison is a retired librarian who has studied many aspects of the cultural and social history of the region. David Hughes, a founder member of the Avison Society, has lectured extensively on Avison and his place in the cultural life of the area.

This elegantly produced and lavishly illustrated book is a pleasure to handle, being printed on thick glossy paper. It is supplied with details of all Avison's published works, a discography, and extensive notes. It is a brilliant piece of work on several levels and held my attention cover to cover, unexpectedly.

I endorse its claim to be "essential reading for students of English music" and that it is "an informative and entertaining window onto provincial musical life in the 18th century". Avison was a disciple of Geminiani and held to an ideal of simple, direct expression as against the prevailing increase of complexity and elaboration. His Essay on Musical Expression (1752) was the first work on musical criticism published in English.

Avison's concertos have been recorded extensively by the eponymous Avison Ensemble. With e.g. Divine Art dda21211 offering the twelve concerti grossi of Op 9 and the six of Op 10, their CDs are really for specialist collectors of intégrales. They should be taken no more than a few at a time; Avison's music is better served in a mixed programme, such as that in the recent Greenwich Early Music Festival.

Peter Grahame Woolf