In American music, honors are always more attractive than performances. Honors mean piety, publicity, and parties; performances mean hard decisions about repertory, personnel, box office, rehearsals, and concerts—and then (God rest our busy souls) an audience actually has to be assembled to listen to the music. Indeed, so much is this the case across the contemporary serious music scene that a rule can be drawn from all the evidence: composers are more honored in the speech than they are in the hearing.

Something of the truth of this rule can be gathered from events of the last New York musical season. Two of our most honored composers, Virgil Thomson and Roger Sessions, turned eighty-five during this period. Both were given the usual rounds of compliments, celebrations, and media coverage proper to their age and eminence. Sessions was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his Concerto for Orchestra. This...


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