I’m absolutely thrilled by this review by Rose Dodd of Louise Talma: A Life in Composition in Tempo, Volume 70, Issue 275 (January 2016, pp 109 – 111. DOI: 10.1017/S0040298215000844, Published online: 07 December 2015).
Kendra Preston Leonard’s book is densely packed with a level of detail that, for a single volume, is comprehensive to say the least. Many new sources have been drawn upon that are more easily accessible due to transformation in digital archiving procedures, notably Talma’s personal archive which has, since her death, been partially catalogued by the Library of Congress. Her work is scrutinised for its personal, musicological and political stances. Also included within the text is a detailed analytical unpicking of works salient to this variety of approaches. The intellectual rigour behind the volume is dexterous and impressive, and the intermingling of analytical approaches could well be adopted for many more biographical and musicological studies. Viewing a composer and their work at a distance and separate from what has informed their work is anachronistic, so it is a pleasure to discover that so many narratives within Talma’s creative life are made transparent to the reader.
A characteristic of Kendra Preston Leonard’s writing throughout could be said to be the quality of the ‘yarn’. Put simply, each chapter draws you in. The author’s writing style is such that at the beginning of a chapter, one is not entirely sure what road it will take; where we, the reader, will end up. It is a stimulating read, a book not easily put down, which hopefully signals the advent of more vibrant musicological writing that tells a story for now, rather than brushing off some dusty old documents found in a university library and remodelling those into a worthy tome.
The strength I most admired in the writing style was the gentle prodding and nudging around boundaries of gender and queer politics. The autobiographical is clearly present through- out – Leonard gently scrutinises issues that sub- tly raise complex and contentious issues of personal politics. There is a clarity, poise and maturity in the writing which serves with vitality the advancement of Talma’s work: I hope this book will reach a wide readership and lead to a resurgence of interest in the music of Louisa Talma.