The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

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Belle
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The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:51 pm

I've just found this "New Yorker" article but I don't know how to separately download the text as others seem to do here.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultur ... ckbait-age

lennygoran
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by lennygoran » Mon Mar 13, 2017 5:04 pm

Belle wrote:
Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:51 pm
I've just found this "New Yorker" article but I don't know how to separately download the text as others seem to do here.
Belle I left click on the article and hit select all-then I copy it and put it in notepad where I try to edit out the extra material. Then I copy and paste it from the note pad page to this message. Regards, Len



The Fate of the Critic in the Clickbait Age
By Alex Ross 12:00 P.M.


In 1992, when I moved to New York and began to write about classical music, every major city newspaper had at least one writer covering the field, sometimes several writers. I would see knots of critics at performances, gaggles of them at big premières. In the intervening years, the ranks of the profession have steadily dwindled, to the point where fewer than ten American papers have full-time classical critics on staff. Longtime colleagues have taken buyouts. Last year, Timothy Mangan, who had been at the Orange County Register for eighteen years, was let go with two weeks’ severance. It’s like being in an exceedingly dull, slow version of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”

You could argue that classical critics are an endangered species because the art form has lost its place in mainstream culture. Indeed, we no longer live in a world where the conductor Sarah Caldwell could make the cover of Time. Yet critic-free cities still have well-attended opera houses and orchestras, which loom large in local cultural economies. Last season, in Dallas, I witnessed a sold-out house for the première of Jake Heggie’s opera “Great Scott.” Not long before that, in Houston, Wagner’s “Die Walküre” drew a capacity crowd. Presumably, most of those in attendance subscribed to the Dallas Morning News or the Houston Chronicle, but neither paper has a full-time classical critic.

And classical music is hardly alone in witnessing a dying-off of critics. Colleagues in other disciplines—dance, theatre, visual arts, books, even movies and pop music—report similar struggles. Over the past decade, dozens of arts critics have lost their jobs or been demoted to freelance status. John Oliver, in a brutally brilliant takedown of the journalism business, concocted a mock trailer for a film called “Stoplight,” in which an investigative reporter is waylaid by inane clickbait assignments. The trailer included this line: “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution raves, ‘Actually, we had to get rid of our full-time movie reviewer nine years ago . . . so we haven’t seen it yet.’ ” That seemingly throwaway joke was precisely sourced. In 2007, the Journal-Constitution made sweeping cuts to its arts-writing staff. Pierre Ruhe, who had been the classical critic, subsequently left journalism and now works for the Alabama Symphony.

Criticism of any kind is increasingly unwelcome at the digital-age paper. Consider a controversy that flared up in Canada last year. Arthur Kaptainis, who had long been the critic of the Montreal Gazette and more recently had been writing freelance for the National Post, reviewed a Canadian Opera Company production of Rossini’s “Maometto II.” The Canadian Opera asked for a couple of corrections, whereupon the Post took the bizarre step of removing the review from its Web site. Amid the resulting hubbub, a Post arts editor was quoted in an e-mail: “I really hate running reviews for performing arts. They simply get no attention online, and almost always end up as our poorest performing pieces of digital content.” The same mantra is heard at culture sections across America. Reviews don’t catch eyeballs. They don’t “move the needle.”

The logic seems irrefutable. Why publish articles that almost nobody wants? On closer examination, some shaky assumptions underlie these hard-nosed generalizations. First, digital data, in the form of counting clicks and hits, give an incomplete picture of reading habits. Those who subscribe to the print edition are discounted—and they tend to be older people, who are also more likely to follow the performing arts. A colleague wrote to me, “The four thousand people reading your theatre critics might be extremely loyal subscribers who press the paper on others. People in power often speak of ‘engagement’ and ‘valued readers,’ yet they still remain in thrall of the big click numbers—because of advertising, mostly.”

Also, even if the data could measure every twitch of every eyeball, should that information control editorial choices? Foreign reporting often draws fewer readers, yet the bigger papers persist in publishing it, because it is felt to be important. One guesses that play-by-play accounts of baseball and football games receive relatively few clicks, yet the sports section is considered sacrosanct. It’s in the cultural field that editors are willing to let online traffic dictate coverage. The spirit seems to be: O.K., we’ll still let you write about this stuff, but you’ve got to make it more topical, more digestible.

The trouble is, once you accept the proposition that popularity corresponds to value, the game is over for the performing arts. There is no longer any justification for giving space to classical music, jazz, dance, or any other artistic activity that fails to ignite mass enthusiasm. In a cultural-Darwinist world where only the buzziest survive, the arts section would consist solely of superhero-movie reviews, TV-show recaps, and instant-reaction think pieces about pop superstars. Never mind that such entities hardly need the publicity, having achieved market saturation through social media. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a tax cut for the super-rich.

The drive to revamp cultural coverage has overtaken major newspapers, including the New York Times, just as the wider public has been rediscovering the virtue of traditional reporting. In the wake of the 2016 Presidential campaign, with its catastrophic feedback loop of fake news and clickbait, people have subscribed in surging numbers to so-called legacy publications. Do these chastened content-consumers really want culture pages dominated by trending topics? Or do they expect papers to decide for themselves what merits attention? One lesson to be learned from the rise of Donald Trump is that the media should not bind themselves blindly to whatever moves the needle.

Cultural criticism is a form of journalism—odd journalism, but journalism nonetheless. The Times film critic A. O. Scott mounted a vibrant defense of this sour science in his recent book “Better Living Through Criticism.” He writes, “As consumers of culture, we are lulled into passivity or, at best, prodded toward a state of pseudo-semi-self-awareness, encouraged either toward the defensive group identity of fanhood or a shallow, half-ironic eclecticism.” The role of the critic, Scott says, is to resist the manufactured consensus—to interrogate the successful, to exalt the unknown, to argue for ambiguity and complexity. Virgil Thomson immortally defined criticism as “the only antidote we have to paid publicity.”

Criticism can assume many forms: essays, profiles, reported pieces, opinionated rants. Ultimately, though, the review is the grounding of what critics do and is the source of whatever authority they possess. Furthermore, criticism is cumulative: its impact can’t be measured by however many hits one piece receives. One common complaint in newsrooms is that reviews—especially reviews of one-off events, like concerts—appear after the fact. Readers can’t act upon such writing as they do with, say, movie or food criticism. Yet reviews are the shoe-leather journalism of the cultural sphere: they convey what happened, however subjectively or impressionistically. No editor would ask that political reporters deliver forecasts of what might happen in a debate, or candidates’ assessments of how they will perform, in place of accounts of the debate itself. This is the ridiculous position in which the non-criticizing critic is placed.

Admittedly, criticism is a strange business—perhaps, on some level, a sinister one. Judge not, lest ye be judged, a wise man said; the implication is unfavorable for those of us who imagine taking a seat behind Bach in heaven’s concert hall. Critics can, however, do a certain amount of good on their way to perdition. They can open new worlds in the minds of readers; a passing phrase may spur a lifelong love. When Roger Ebert died, I recounted how his reviews of “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” “Badlands,” and “The Sacrifice” led me toward the deepest kind of moviegoing pleasure. Almost everyone who cares about culture has had that kind of encounter with critics. Perhaps the profession is destined to fade away, but others will have to take up the critic’s simple, irritating, somehow necessary job: to stand in a public space and say, “Not quite.”

Alex Ross has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1993, and he became the magazine’s music critic in 1996.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultur ... ckbait-age

Belle
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Mon Mar 13, 2017 8:34 pm

OK, got it now! Thanks very much.

So, what is the role of the critic in the classical music world in the modern media? Ross alludes to film critics and there are famous ones from the past like Bosley Crowther, James Agee, Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris who have had a very real and lasting influence which has become part of the academic discourse.

Mention has been made of the fact that some criticism of classical performances has occurred after the event and that raises issues of relevance.

I'm sure the bright sparks here have lots of ideas on this!!

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by lennygoran » Tue Mar 14, 2017 7:41 am

Belle wrote:
Mon Mar 13, 2017 8:34 pm
So, what is the role of the critic in the classical music world in the modern media?...I'm sure the bright sparks here have lots of ideas on this!!
Belle I try to read some critics to at least determine if it's an opera I want to go to-for example I just sent out a thread with a review of a Meistersinger-those who like updates will be thrilled but by reading this review I know this is a production I will never attend. So critical articles have value for me. The more reviews the better but the thing is-all the experts always seem to disagree. Take Anthony Tommasini from the NY Times-I like reading his reviews but I've strenuously disagreed with him on more than one occasion. Regards, Len

maestrob
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by maestrob » Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:19 am

The problem with critics is that music is such a subjective experience. It is quite impossible to objectify one's reaction to a concert or an operatic production, because one's reaction is based on taste, which is different from one person to the next. Therefore, one must know the individual critic's biases in order to translate the review into one's own world.

While I take most critics seriously, I must hear a recording or concert myself before forming an opinion. This, I think, is the proper way to approach music criticism.

Describing music is very much like the three blind men describing an elephant by touch only: each will have something different to say.

Finally, I think it's horrendously sad that music critics in major markets are disappearing at an alarming rate. One explanation in my mind is that the proliferation of recordings has given the average music consumer a wealth of knowledge impossible in previous generations, giving members of the public the tools to decide for themselves whether to attend certain performances or not. This trend has, I think, put critics at a disadvantage and perhaps is rendering music criticism in itself obsolete. Sad, nonetheless!

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Tue Mar 14, 2017 1:51 pm

I think the role of the critic in all fields is and always has been to inform and educate the public, and also to hold a place for the arts in the public's day-by-day attention. By dropping its reviews of classical music and the other arts, a newspaper is making a judgment that the arts are not important to the society in which its readers live - and I don't see how the newspaper publisher is qualified or has the right to make such a judgment. For a newspaper in Vienna, Paris, or Berlin to do such a thing would not only cause a scandal but would hurt its circulation. But then, the people there care about classical music more than we Americans do.

Secondarily, the record reviewer can serve the public as a consumer's guide, helping us to choose among an immense and growing number of alternatives. These reviews aren't just based on the reviewer's personal taste but should also on knowledge - of the music, of the available recordings, and perhaps also of recordings that are no longer available. The first records I bought were influenced by a 1955 paperback by Warren DeMotte, "The Long Playing Record Guide," and ever since then I've often bought unheard records on the advice of others, whether in print or in CMG. These reviews undoubtedly helped to sell classical records and therefore to get more recordings made, so however negative some might be, they served an essentially constructive purpose.
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Tue Mar 14, 2017 3:25 pm

Len: you obviously have a practical use for music critics as an active opera-goer. But if a review of an upcoming production was particularly bad would you still attend? You raise the issue of disagreement with critics. In my case, and particularly with film, if I find a disparity of views between myself and a critic it often puts that critic at further arms length for me and makes ME more critical of the reviewer.

maestrob: we are in danger of losing the art of real, informed criticism generally. My experience shows me that eloquent criticism is an art in itself. The pleasure of reading an excellent critique of a work (a concert/opera/recital, a film or book) can often reveal much more about the work rather that just function as an appraisal. And I have sometimes bought a book on the basis of intelligent reviewing, especially when it comes to gifts. Recently we had to find a gift for the convener at Music Appreciation I was replacing. My colleague and friend Max and myself decided to buy a book and I was charmed to find Max could produce a wealth of reviews from our national newspaper that he'd read and kept! He asked me to look over 3 or 4 of them and we made a joint decision, though I preferred another one (a biography of Alma Mahler). So, this is where criticism can become important. Music criticism is more problematic because the way these kinds of reviews are often constructed demands more knowledge and experience from the reader.

John: I agree the job of the critic is to inform the public, but I wonder about the effectiveness of this for a one-off performance. If a work on a particular program interests me I'll sometimes read the criticism, otherwise I don't bother. More likely I'll go to international news/websites to read their criticisms. In a magazine like "The New Yorker" you'd likely find something you know is authoritatively written, even if you disagree. So, I think authority is important, as well as reader knowledge and the importance invested in the arts - as has been suggested about Europe - is reflected in its sister-art, music and theatre criticism.

There are many 'citizen critics' such as here on CMG and places like Amazon. It's good to read those written by experienced music-lovers, but a major news outlet needs to have authoritative cultural criticism to justify its value as a sophisticated source.

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by lennygoran » Tue Mar 14, 2017 7:31 pm

Belle wrote:
Tue Mar 14, 2017 3:25 pm
Len: you obviously have a practical use for music critics as an active opera-goer. But if a review of an upcoming production was particularly bad would you still attend?
Belle I try to read the description of the set--let's take the Tristan the Met did recently-I was skeptical from the description-didn't buy a ticket to hear it live but saw it HD style-I feel I made the right choice-the actual set was ridiculous-the update with the Nazis absurd--the singers otoh were superb. Bottom line-I didn't need Met tickets or a hotel room, much less traffic to get home-saw if HD style and I would say I saved a few hundred dollars and avoided a lot of traffic aggravation and was much closer to home. Regards, Len

John F
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Tue Mar 14, 2017 9:04 pm

Belle wrote:I agree the job of the critic is to inform the public, but I wonder about the effectiveness of this for a one-off performance.
Why? One need not have attended a performance, or have otherwise heard the music, to learn from reading about it. Maybe you're thinking about the immediate consumer reports aspect, but really that's the least important function of critical writing, helpful as it may sometimes be. Rather, one can learn how to talk about music, which helps build a community of music lovers such as ours here, and even how to think about it. And of course also to think think and write about musical performance and performances.

When Andrew Porter had a weekly column about classical music in the New Yorker, I read it for whatever I might learn from it, which was almost always a lot, and when his columns were collected into books, I bought the books which I still have and reread. I also have, read, and reread the collected reviews by Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune, though I was too young to have seen anything he wrote about. And I have the 4 volumes of Bernard Shaw's collected reviews for various London papers. More than a century out of date, if you think that way, Shaw's commentaries are not only a delight to read but can still impart things worth knowing.

I use the word "reviews" rather than "criticism" to make a distinction between musical journalism, which reports and comments on specific performances soon after they happen, and essays and books of broader and deeper significance, whether intended for lay readers like us or professionals such as music historians and musicologists. Anthony Tommasini writes reviews in the New York Times; Joseph Kerman and Alfred Brendel wrote critical essays and books for a general audience, Heinrich Schenker and Leo Treitler for more specialized readers.
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Tue Mar 14, 2017 9:44 pm

Points taken about the opportunities to learn something new from critics writing reviews and, as you rightly suggest, there is that significant difference between criticism and reviewing. Ross is referring to the latter because we wouldn't call Kerman, Robbie-Landon, Rosen et al critics!

But I really wonder, given your comments about the value for you personally, how many people do actually read those reviews from the critics about one-off performances for what they may glean about music. Most people wouldn't have your enquiring mind (is it "e" or "i" - I'm driven mad by the American spellcheck!?). Is it not a fact that we live in the age of dimishing rigour and epicureanism more generally. Having said that, I would very seldom read "The Australian" newspaper for the arts reviews - unless it's for an international artist or group.

In the age of economic rationalism and fierce media competition one of the first things to feel the cut of the razor is invariably the fine arts. And I don't see that we can do much about that.

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by maestrob » Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:39 pm

Belle, I often read reviews of performances just to keep up with what's going on, plus, I'm sure the concert and opera-going public read the review of the first performance in a series (the Philharmonic here gives three performances of the same program each week during the season) just to decide whether to attend a later version of the ongoing program, as would opera-goers at the MET. So there's your value. I sorely miss the frequent NY Times reviews of the past and appreciate those written and posted here.

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Wed Mar 15, 2017 12:57 am

Belle wrote:we wouldn't call Kerman, Robbie-Landon, Rosen et al critics!
Good heavens, why not? People who write criticism are critics. Robbins Landon was a reviewer, he wrote record reviews for High Fidelity magazine in the 1960s, but Kerman and Rosen never did. Critics they certainly were, and of course much else besides.
Belle wrote:I really wonder, given your comments about the value for you personally, how many people do actually read those reviews from the critics about one-off performances for what they may glean about music
A question without an answer. But since performance and record reviews are the writing about music that most people see and read, along with program notes for those who actually attend performances, they are the most likely means of education about music, whatever the readers' purpose.

As for that "fierce media competition," newspapers and news magazines are not bought for what they leave out. It's the decline of print newspaper readership generally in favor of other media that squeezes stuff out in favor of ad space and keeping the number of pages and the cost down. The NY Times web site has material that doesn't make it into print, blogs and such. But since the print edition is where journalistic prestige resides, these add-ons don't matter.
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Belle
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Wed Mar 15, 2017 3:42 pm

I tend to think of those people you mention as primarily musicologists who also wrote music criticism!! :D

Schumann's journal from the mid 19th century saw wonderful writing on the subject of music, but I don't think he'd want to be remembered as a music critic and writer!! :roll:

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:05 am

I get the feeling that you regard the word "critic" as a putdown. And of course you aren't the only one. There's an exchange of insults in "Waiting for Godot" that goes like this:

Vladimir: Ceremonious ape!
Estragon: Punctilious pig!
Vladimir: Moron!
Estragon: That's the idea, let's abuse each other.
Vladimir: Moron!
Estragon: Vermin!
Vladimir: Abortion!
Estragon: Morpion!
Vladimir: Sewer rat!
Estragon: Curate!
Vladimir: Cretin!
Estragon: [With finality] Crritic!
Vladimir: Oh! [He wilts, vanquished, and turns away]

Lots of people equate criticism with making negative judgments. Creative artists and performers often do, so they disparage critics and criticism. But that's a bum rap. Criticism in the sense I'm talking about is the intellectual pursuit of understanding in depth, from an individual song or poem or painting to a theory of music or literature or art. It may or may not involve qualitative judgments, positive and negative, but they must be informed and reasoned, not simply an expression of the critic's personal taste. Those writers I've named, and Robert Schumann too, were unquestionably critics in that sense, and I mean this as a compliment, not an insult. :)

Musicology is something entirely different. Wikipedia defines it as "the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music." Some critics have also been musicologists, just as some have been composers or performers, but these activities are distinguished from each other.

You say you don't think Schumann would want to be remembered as a music critic and writer. Do you think he wanted his writings to be forgotten? Surely not. Of course they aren't all he is remembered for, and nobody thinks they are his most important work. But the man who recognized the genius of Chopin on very slender musical evidence, and applauded the length of Schubert's then little known 9th symphony as "heavenly," was a very perceptive critic indeed.
Last edited by John F on Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Belle
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:42 am

I do know what a musicologist is because I've studied that discipline myself. Wiki can't tell me anything about it I don't already know.

Quoting the violence and ugly aggression of Beckett was just a turn-off. I did not say I disliked or discredited critics.

And it was Schumann's genius as a composer which helped him identify the genius in both Chopin and Brahms.

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Thu Mar 16, 2017 7:15 am

Belle, sorry if you're upset, but what you said made me wonder. "I tend to think of those people you mention as primarily musicologists who also wrote music criticism!!" But Charles Rosen was never a musicologist, not in any way. Neither were Andrew Porter, Virgil Thomson, and Bernard Shaw. Joseph Kerman's criticism outweighs his musicological work (mainly on the Elizabethan madrigal) in both quantity and importance; his book "Opera as Drama" is one of the most influential works of music criticism in our time, owing nothing to musicology. So I thought it necessary to clarify what we're talking about, which is not musicology but critics and criticism. And of course I'm not writing just for you but for anyone who is reading this discussion or may read it in the future.

(Kerman's book, "Contemplating Music," is about musicology versus criticism, the gulf between them, which he hopes will narrow. "Musicology is perceived as dealing essentially with the factual, the documentary, the verifiable, the analysable, the positivistic. Musicologists are respected for the facts they know about music. They are not admired for their insight into music as aesthetic experience." That's how I perceive it, anyway.)

It's true you didn't say in so many words that you dislike or discredit critics, but what you did say leaves a very strong impression that you do, for example in your comment about Schumann's criticism. Which is OK, of course, if that's how you feel.

As for "Waiting for Godot," it's a comic scene. People always laugh at it in the theatre, as Beckett gets in a dig at his critics including any who may happen to be in the audience. Vladimir and Estragon are passing the time any way they can while waiting for Godot, and right after this exchange follows another in which they express affection for each other in just as exaggerated a way.

P.S. Joseph Kerman wrote a short piece about Carlos Kleiber that you'll probably find interesting. It's included in his collection "Opera and the Morbidity of Music," which is only the title essay and doesn't describe the scope of the book, which has critical essays ranging from William Byrd to Wagner.
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by jserraglio » Thu Mar 16, 2017 9:20 am

Samuel Johnson, distinguishing between critic and author wrote:There is no proportion between the two men; they must not be named together. A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Thu Mar 16, 2017 9:55 am

And yet Dr. Johnson was himself a critic, one of the greatest - a greater critic than an author, I think, though he was both.
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by jserraglio » Thu Mar 16, 2017 10:03 am

He was also wise and humble enough to know that flies that try to pass for stately horses expose themselves to ridicule. Great critics, like great dictionary makers, are akin to "harmless drudges".

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Thu Mar 16, 2017 10:36 am

Wrong on two counts. Many authors and composers might dispute that "harmless"; that's why they dislike critics so much. And criticism can itself be inspired, as for example T.S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" or, closer to home, Kerman's "Opera as Drama." No one would call these drudgery who has actually read them. Both, and many other critical works, perform the invaluable function of making us think about their subjects in ways we hadn't thought before.
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by jserraglio » Thu Mar 16, 2017 11:30 am

One can intone the word "wrong" if one likes. It amounts to no more than a harmless scribble.

In contrast, Johnson, no fan of the self-serving, nailed down the paradox and applied it to himself: harmless drudge. Great as a critic may be, as an interpreter he is only great among his own kind, his greatness not proportional with that of a great creative artist. Still, a critic does no great harm with his scribbling so long as, like a good servant, he knows his place and keeps to it.

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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:38 pm

Wrong again. Dr. Johnson's "harmless drudge" is not about critics but is in his dictionary's definition of "lexicographer": "a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words."
jserraglio wrote:Great as a critic may be, as an interpreter he is only great among his own kind, his greatness not proportional with that of a great creative artist.

Of course. Who would claim otherwise? Certainly not me.
jserraglio wrote:A critic does no great harm with his scribbling so long as, like a good servant, he knows his place and keeps to it.
I don't understand what you think a critic's "place" should be, and who or what you think he should serve. As for harm, adverse criticism can damage an artist's reputation and lessen the audience for his work, as was the case in America and the U.K. with the music of Mahler until the 1960s. An example: in Penguin's popular guide "The Symphony," the 1956 edition's chapter on Mahler is dismissive and uncomprehending, while the 1967 edition is positive and helpful.
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Thu Mar 16, 2017 3:17 pm

John F wrote:
Thu Mar 16, 2017 7:15 am
Belle, sorry if you're upset, but what you said made me wonder. "I tend to think of those people you mention as primarily musicologists who also wrote music criticism!!" But Charles Rosen was never a musicologist, not in any way. Neither were Andrew Porter, Virgil Thomson, and Bernard Shaw. Joseph Kerman's criticism outweighs his musicological work (mainly on the Elizabethan madrigal) in both quantity and importance; his book "Opera as Drama" is one of the most influential works of music criticism in our time, owing nothing to musicology. So I thought it necessary to clarify what we're talking about, which is not musicology but critics and criticism. And of course I'm not writing just for you but for anyone who is reading this discussion or may read it in the future.

(Kerman's book, "Contemplating Music," is about musicology versus criticism, the gulf between them, which he hopes will narrow. "Musicology is perceived as dealing essentially with the factual, the documentary, the verifiable, the analysable, the positivistic. Musicologists are respected for the facts they know about music. They are not admired for their insight into music as aesthetic experience." That's how I perceive it, anyway.)

It's true you didn't say in so many words that you dislike or discredit critics, but what you did say leaves a very strong impression that you do, for example in your comment about Schumann's criticism. Which is OK, of course, if that's how you feel.

As for "Waiting for Godot," it's a comic scene. People always laugh at it in the theatre, as Beckett gets in a dig at his critics including any who may happen to be in the audience. Vladimir and Estragon are passing the time any way they can while waiting for Godot, and right after this exchange follows another in which they express affection for each other in just as exaggerated a way.

P.S. Joseph Kerman wrote a short piece about Carlos Kleiber that you'll probably find interesting. It's included in his collection "Opera and the Morbidity of Music," which is only the title essay and doesn't describe the scope of the book, which has critical essays ranging from William Byrd to Wagner.
Charles Rosen may not have been employed as a musicologist but I assure you his writings on music are more aligned to that art than they are to criticism because they discuss the mechanics of music and make historical connections. That's musicology. Same for Robert Levin - another fine performer/musicologist. Indeed, one of the major criticisms of musicologists is that most are not actually performing musicians!!

We'll have to disagree about Beckett. I taught that play for high school drama and I always felt it was angry, aggressive and unfunny. I just don't like that kind of shtick, except if it's the "Bugs Bunny Show"!!
Last edited by Belle on Thu Mar 16, 2017 3:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

jserraglio
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by jserraglio » Thu Mar 16, 2017 3:20 pm

John F wrote:
Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:38 pm
Wrong again. Dr. Johnson's "harmless drudge" is not about critics but is in his dictionary's definition of "lexicographer": "a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words" . . . . etc.
Without responding to the the rest of this message except to note its hectoring tone, I will say that when I wrote:
Great critics, like great dictionary makers, are akin to "harmless drudges".
I was applying Johnson's definition of dictionary-makers to critics figuratively.

Belle
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Sun Mar 19, 2017 4:34 pm

JohnF, thanks for the heads up on Joseph Kerman's piece on Carlos Kleiber. I'm not sure where I can get that book but would like to do so. The University Conservatorium library here may have it. (I would have been back here earlier but my daughter has been in a car accident in Sydney; head-on into a tree in wet weather. She wasn't driving but she's OK.)

John F
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by John F » Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:56 am

Belle wrote:
Thu Mar 16, 2017 3:17 pm
We'll have to disagree about Beckett. I taught that play for high school drama and I always felt it was angry, aggressive and unfunny.
Have you actually seen "Godot" in the theatre? I think that would give you quite a different impression of the piece. I've seen it several times, most recently as directed by Peter Hall in London and by Dublin's Gate Theatre at the Lincoln Center Festival, and the laughs were frequent, often hearty, sought by the actors, and when they came, justified by the text. So often, reading a play doesn't convey its tone. Tom Stoppard's plays are always funnier on the stage than on the page. Likewise some of Shakespeare's.

An example from "Hamlet," and from "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."

KING CLAUDIUS: Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz.

On the page this makes no effect. But when acted, it's always made clear that Claudius has forgotten which of them is which, or doesn't care, and Gertrude is correcting him. And in both plays it gets a laugh, though in Stoppard's play a different kind of laugh than in Shakespeare.

As for musicologists, Robert Levin certainly is one, as well as a composer and performer. His book on the authorship of Mozart's wind sinfonia concertante is an outstanding work of creative musicology. But I never said he wasn't, indeed I hadn't mentioned him. And just because Charles Rosen bases his criticism on verifiable fact, as well as on his perceptions, this hardly make him a musicologist. All serious criticism begins with the facts, but when these are not merely presented for their own sake but are used in support of aesthetic conclusions and judgments, that is criticism, and that's what Rosen always did.
John Francis

Belle
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Re: The fate of the critic in the clickbait age

Post by Belle » Mon Mar 20, 2017 1:15 pm

The paradigms are not as straightforward as you point out. Musicology is not just facts but also aesthetic judgment, as you will see if you read Robbie Landon or any of the experts who study the work of a composer - or any particular work - and place him in his milieu, or who extrapolate a new theory about a composer or his work - with evidence and judgment.

I notice that Americans seem to have more of a problem with the term "musicologist" than Europeans. In the films "In Search of....", most like Cliff Eisen et al were referred to as 'music historians'. That used to get up my nose because they are not just speaking facts but also analysis and explaining WHY something works or does not work. To suggest that it's even possible to objectify musical study into 'facts' (just as it is with the study of History) is missing its core rationale. All musicologists analyse music and play off one work against another, one composer against another. You're suggesting this is the work of the music critic; I'm suggesting this is the essential work of the musicologist. I would certainly rank Rosen as a musicologist because of his profound knowledge of a musical milieu, his grasp of facts and his analytical ability. Where I have a problem is with his prose!!! :roll:

I have seen "Waiting for Godot" on stage, of course, otherwise I could hardly teach it effectively. I always taught my students that a play script or a musical score were actually very different to a novel because they required the work of an intermediary - an interpreter.

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