Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Composer and Critic. By Suzanne Robinson. (Music in American Life.) Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019. [xi, 314 p. ISBN 9780252042560 (hardcover), $110; ISBN 9780252084393 (paperback), $30; ISBN 9780252051401 (e-book), price varies.] Music examples, photographs, endnotes, bibliography, index.
This is the long-awaited, definitive biography of the Australian-American composer and critic Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990) by the University of Melbourne musicologist Suzanne Robinson. Begun in the 1990s, the book proves to be well worth the wait. Thoroughly documented and beautifully written, it tells the fascinating story of a woman who survived--and thrived--in the professional music world of New York City in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
Robinson's is the fifth book about Glanville-Hicks but the first full-length scholarly biography. My Peggy Glanville-Hicks: A Bio-Bibliography (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990) contains a section of biography. Wendy Beckett's Peggy Glanville-Hicks (Pymble, NSW: Angus & Robertson, 1992) is essentially Glanville-Hicks's own account, a mixture of fact and fiction, as told to Beckett, a Sydney playwright. Peggy Glanville-Hicks: A Transposed. Life by the Australian arts activist James Murdoch (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2002) contains some of the fiction along with authentic material from private papers found in her house after her death--and a fter the bio-bibliography was published. The fourth book, Victoria Rogers's The Music of Peggy Glanville-Hicks (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), traces the evolution of the composer's style through analyses of selected works.
In twenty-two chapters, arranged chronologically, Robinson shows "the life as it was lived, how life and composition were intertwined, and the highs and lows of a mid-twentieth-century career" (p. 4). Glanville-Hicks recounted a different version of her life. In her "carefully molded image" she was autonomous and independent, associating only with great men (p. 2). She told embellished stories of her successes while suppressing evidence of hardship for the sake of appearances (like other women of her generation, Robinson notes). If that image and the autobiographical "fairytale" are not faithful to the facts, they are nevertheless "true to her impression" of her life. In hindsight, "her achievements are more momentous than she seemed to realize" (p. 258).
Robinson builds upon previous studies, corrects errors that have persisted in the literature, and expands the...