The book drifts to a close with extended extracts from question-and-answer interviews Morley conducted with Eno, John Adams and Harrison Birtwistle. The latter conversation ends abruptly when the composer announces: “I’ve said enough.” This epic attempt to demystify classical music might have benefited from that kind of brevity of thought, but, for all its tangential wandering, it is a constantly surprising read. You may want to pace yourself, though.
Admittedly you can sometimes hear that clock ticking as you unpick the knots in one of Morley’s more looping, digressive sentences, or work out what “allochthonous” means when applied to Andrew Lloyd Webber. In Halberstadt, Germany, he writes, there’s a Cistercian convent where a prepared medieval organ has been playing John Cage’s 1985 composition ASLSP since September 2001. It is scheduled to end in 2640, and there are moments when you believe it will still be over before this book. Yet at his best, and there’s a lot of that here, Morley remains a brilliant conductor — of music, of ideas, of inexplicable flashes of lightning. He knows the score.