Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


Crisis Music

The Life-and-Times of Six Twentieth-Century Composers

John Caps is the author of a 2015 book in the Univ. of Illinois “Music in American Life” series, articles for the New York City Opera and magazines like High Fidelity / Musical America, and liner notes for such recording labels as Harmonia Mundi; he holds an M.Ed. from American International College producing multi-media classroom curricula in mental health topics and was a classroom teacher of deaf-blind students at The Perkins School for the Blind near Boston.

Story-like chapters profile six twentieth-century “reactive” composers; not the most famous pillars of the period but lesser-known, perhaps more approachable, characters whose stories span that 1900–2000 period from decadent fin-de-siècle Vienna (Alban Berg, Alexander Zemlinsky) to war-torn Paris (Olivier Messiaen, Arthur Honegger) to the Cold War tensions of East vs. West (Toru Takemitsu) and late-century Communism (Arvo Part). Their stories were all very different crises, and they produced very different kinds of music; each very “telling” of their composer’s life and times. Crisis Music presents each brief biography almost like a detective story looking for motives, then spotlights one particular piece of music from each composer that emerged directly out of hard times – maybe a political crisis at the time of composition (Hitler marching into Paris or later Communist crack-downs); or some personal angst such as illness or scandal – and how that music contains and expresses crisis. In short, the subject for discussion is how context influences content. Such troubled and especially vivid composition, “crisis music,” can often be most compelling and meaningful for its composer and for its time. Indeed, their music also seems to have a special resonance to share with our own crisis-prone times.

And meanwhile, Western music history played-out its own story from late-romantic style to Serialism and Minimalism to the anything-goes Pluralism we hear today. Crisis Music sparks the discussion about how history, biography and music intersects. At the behest of music teachers at secondary and tertiary levels, Crisis Music contains substantive Discussion Questions geared for classroom use.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78976-146-7
Paperback Price: £29.95 / $39.95
Release Date: January 2022
Page Extent / Format: 240 pp. 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes




A Proposition:


A Century of Crisis

Music of a Certain Age – Contents in Context

About This Book


Six 20th Century Composers:


Alexander Zemlinsky:  Waiting in the Wings


Alban Berg:  The Sensualist


Arthur Honegger:  The Protestant Ethic


Olivier Messiaen:  The Catholic Imperative


Toru Takemitsu:  A Gardener, West of Eden


Arvo Part:  Keeper of the Key



The Special Case of Crisis Music



Selected Bibliography

Acknowledgements/Photo Sources

Author Note


Review Quotes to Follow

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
Direct sales tel.: (800) 888-4741
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab

eBook Ordering
e-Book type availability can be sourced via by book title. Kindle availability is via Amazon .com and sites.