The function and value of music criticism

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John F
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The function and value of music criticism

Post by John F » Mon Jul 30, 2018 5:24 pm

That is, reviews in newspapers and magazines. The original context is an article about Bernard Shaw's criticism; I'll keep back the author's name for now. What do you think?

"Journalistic criticism is essential to the economy of music. Public concerts take place in order to permit musicians to make a living at what they love best. The fact that the public wants to hear music is really a secondary matter. The public, in fact, has to be persuaded to go to concerts - that is why criticism exists. The critic informs the public of musical activity; ideally, he communicates professional opinion to a lay audience. The greatest critics communicate advanced and enlightened professional opinion to the public. The fact that the system functions badly most of the time should be no cause for surprise."
John Francis

Belle
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by Belle » Mon Jul 30, 2018 5:33 pm

In some ways it becomes a chicken and egg argument. Criticism was an integral part of 19th century music-making and classical music thrived during that century thanks to a growing middle class of educated, more affluent music-lovers - particularly in Vienna. Some composers were also music critics (Schumann). Like the concert hall itself, music criticism is part of the 'infrastructure' of western art music; the 'hard' infrastructure is the 'plastic materials' and the 'soft' infrastructure is the talent and intellect behind it all.

I'm unsure whether music criticism is part of the culture in Asian nations which have seen a burgeoning of interest in our beloved art.

jbuck919
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jul 31, 2018 6:54 am

Not to lay flattery too thickly, but I think I would trust John F's learned opinion about most things before I would pay attention to a journalistic critic.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by John F » Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:58 am

Thanks for the compliment, but at best I'm not on a level with such journalistic critics as Bernard Shaw in his time and Andrew Porter in ours. The New Yorker's Alex Ross could be an outstanding journalistic critic but the magazine no longer gives classical music the space every week that it always did for Porter and Winthrop Sargeant and it still does for theatre, and the occasional feature article Ross gets to do isn't what the author of my quotation (Charles Rosen, of course, in his essay collection "Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen") and I mean by journalistic criticism.

There have been fine critics at the Times, such as Will Crutchfield before he left to conduct and teach, and if there are none at present and the system is functioning badly, that's not surprising. At other newspapers, critics have been laid off and there's no coverage of classical music at all except for the occasional scandal. If Rosen is right, this unforeseen development is not only a result of the shrinking American audience for classical music but a cause of it as well.
John Francis

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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jul 31, 2018 11:59 am

John F wrote:
Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:58 am
Thanks for the compliment, but at best I'm not on a level with such journalistic critics as Bernard Shaw in his time and Andrew Porter in ours. The New Yorker's Alex Ross could be an outstanding journalistic critic but the magazine no longer gives classical music the space every week that it always did for Porter and Winthrop Sargeant and it still does for theatre, and the occasional feature article Ross gets to do isn't what the author of my quotation (Charles Rosen, of course, in his essay collection "Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen") and I mean by journalistic criticism.

There have been fine critics at the Times, such as Will Crutchfield before he left to conduct and teach, and if there are none at present and the system is functioning badly, that's not surprising. At other newspapers, critics have been laid off and there's no coverage of classical music at all except for the occasional scandal. If Rosen is right, this unforeseen development is not only a result of the shrinking American audience for classical music but a cause of it as well.
Well of course, if you want to be historical about it, there are great writers like Rosen who blurred the distinction between criticism and music theory. Another is Donald Francis Tovey. I've read everything he ever published (yes, the Brittanica articles too), and at his mightiest he rises almost to the level of Heinrich Schenker. Yet he also wrote reviews of works by composers who are entirely forgettable, which he himself must have known at the time. Even Schumann, whom Belle mentioned, is most famous for introducing Chopin (who did not return the compliment) and Brahms, but between the two he also wrote about composers no one would care about today.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

maestrob
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by maestrob » Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:09 pm

You're right about this, JohnF, as usual. Interestingly, though, I think that the "power" of the music critic has diminished abruptly during the past decade with the explosion of youtube, where audience members can search for and listen to almost everything important and make up their own minds. Due to a century of recordings and broadcasts, we now have an audience, however diminishing, that is far more sophisticated than when we were in our formative years. Rosen's piece was written probably half a century ago, and he's still right, if you add in the internet nowadays as source material. That said, I still read critics to guide me in selecting the CDs I buy.

As for China, Belle, that country is becoming a mecca for Western classical music simply because our music is universal in its appeal. Back when I had recordings of my singers on a paid download website nearly 20 years ago, when China was easing internet restrictions, the Chinese rang up about 250,000 paid downloads in just a year, which astonished me. 8)

John F
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by John F » Tue Jul 31, 2018 3:49 pm

Journalistic criticism - timely reviews of music and musical events in daily or weekly news publications - is one thing, the kind of criticism that Rosen and Tovey wrote is another. (Neither ever reviewed a concert.) Rosen's point is that the former is important to the vitality of our musical life, especially when done superbly by the likes of Shaw, Porter, Virgil Thomson, etc. He makes no such claim for critical essays and books such as his own, which are a different kind of critical writing.
John Francis

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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by barney » Tue Jul 31, 2018 5:51 pm

John F wrote:
Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:58 am
There have been fine critics at the Times, such as Will Crutchfield before he left to conduct and teach, and if there are none at present and the system is functioning badly, that's not surprising. At other newspapers, critics have been laid off and there's no coverage of classical music at all except for the occasional scandal. If Rosen is right, this unforeseen development is not only a result of the shrinking American audience for classical music but a cause of it as well.
How true this is, and how ineffably sad. An example of the power of the press came a few years ago in Melbourne when the Australian National Academy of Music was playing Mozart's C major mass. They had sold very few tickets. I wrote an article in The Age in advance of the concert, and when I attended it was sold out, with people standing around the walls. This, of course, has nothing to do with me, but with the reach the paper had to the people who care about music. I'm gone, the paper doesn't have a classical music writer, and the arts page (which used to be pages) is q quarter the size of even a decade ago. There is no room for articles about music, and no money to pay freelancers for them. The glorious symbiotic relationship between arts organisations and the paper is long sundered. The Age also runs far fewer reviews, let alone other music articles. It is a function of the broader crisis in the print media.

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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by Lance » Tue Jul 31, 2018 9:57 pm

One of my most favourite music critics of all time was Virgil Thomson. He was fair, and one could always learn something from him. I enjoyed Schoenberg, too. In magazines, I always felt pianist/critic Harris Goldsmith to be among the best reviewers of, especially, piano music. But newspapers across the country are doing less and less insofar as reviews of classical music concerts, opera, ballet, recitals of all kinds. Even our own Gannett group newspaper no longer does reviews. Indeed, the newspaper has become one full of advertisements and little else of interest. No doubt the Internet has played an important part of this major change. What's even worse with regard to advertisements is television with one commercial after another between movie segments, etc. It is appalling. I now subscribe to the local paper just to keep up with obituaries. And every few months the subscription price goes up. More and more people are also canceling their subscriptions.
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John F
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by John F » Wed Aug 01, 2018 2:58 am

Fewer people read ink-on-paper newspapers and news magazines, but there are other news sources today that are just as worthwhile and actually offer more than print can. I subscribe to the New York Times online, which not only includes everything in the print edition except the space ads, but also audio and video material as well as instant links to related articles in the Times and elsewhere. And I don't have to deal with pounds of paper when I'm finished.

Newspapers and magazines rarely print record reviews, and this is an indicator that record reviewing is not journalistic criticism but something else. Records are, well, records of past events, and are more like history than news. They also enable the critic to listen repeatedly and make direct comparisons with other recorded performances, which the journalistic critic can't do. Andrew Porter said that when reviewing a new piece of music, he tried to obtain the score and, if possible, a rehearsal recording from the performers so he could make a better informed judgment. But most music in most concerts is not new and the professional critic will already know it, or can easily acquaint himself with it through scores and recordings.

The basic definition of a professional is one who is paid for what he/she does. For my short time reviewing records for "Fanfare" I was a professional critic, since I wasn't doing it for free. (Almost for free; Joel Flegler paid his reviewers $2 for reviewing a single LP, $3 for a multi-record set.) "Professional" does not equate to "excellent" or even "competent"; some journalistic critics seem to have gotten their jobs because they could write well by journalistic standards, without any special expertise in classical music. (Bernard Holland of the New York Times was one, Chicago's infamous Claudia Cassidy was another.) And I've read critical opinions in blogs and online forums, often by professional musicians (though they're usually reluctant to criticize their colleagues publicly, whatever they may say in private), that are as good as print criticism or better. The problem for lay people is distinguishing the good stuff from the other kind.

This was not Rosen's concern, writing in 1981 about Bernard Shaw, but anybody writing about that topic today would find it much more complicated to deal with.
John Francis

Belle
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by Belle » Wed Aug 01, 2018 3:27 am

I used to get "Fanfare" magazine delivered for quite a few years. I never got through each edition - there was just too much reading and I had ankle-biters. But it really impressed me and I took a great deal of notice of its reviews. One of the reviewers was Royal S. Brown who wrote the book about music for Hitchcock's films, which I have on my bookcase.

John F
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by John F » Wed Aug 01, 2018 3:39 am

If you read "Fanfare" in the mid-'80s, there's a chance you might have come on some of my stuff. :)
John Francis

Belle
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by Belle » Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:04 am

John F wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 3:39 am
If you read "Fanfare" in the mid-'80s, there's a chance you might have come on some of my stuff. :)
Very possibly. From about 1985 till after 1990. Excellent journal. I kept the copies for years afterwards but too many moves saw them gone, eventually.

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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by lennygoran » Wed Aug 01, 2018 5:02 am

Belle wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:04 am
John F wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 3:39 am
Excellent journal.
Belle a very nice woman in Sue's garden club worked for Fanfare for many years as some sort of editor--she spoke to me several times about the owner-I see from googling his name is Joel Bruce Flegler. Regards, Len

John F
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by John F » Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:55 am

I got my "job" at "Fanfare" by sending in a sample record review (it was Curzon and Britten in Mozart concertos). Flegler didn't know me from Adam, he didn't ask about my background etc. or apparently care, but I guess my sample passed his test whatever that may have been, because he printed it even though he already had a review of the same record from one of his regulars saying much of what I did. I guess his purpose was to fill as many "Fanfare" pages as possible. So if any CMGers feel they want to write record reviews for publication, now you know how to get into print. :)
John Francis

maestrob
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by maestrob » Wed Aug 01, 2018 11:07 am

John F wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:55 am
I got my "job" at "Fanfare" by sending in a sample record review (it was Curzon and Britten in Mozart concertos). Flegler didn't know me from Adam, he didn't ask about my background etc. or apparently care, but I guess my sample passed his test whatever that may have been, because he printed it even though he already had a review of the same record from one of his regulars saying much of what I did. I guess his purpose was to fill as many "Fanfare" pages as possible. So if any CMGers feel they want to write record reviews for publication, now you know how to get into print. :)
Well......

I consider our thread "What new discs/music are you adding to your collection" to be a mini-magazine, searchable and with nearly 500,000 hits so far!

John F
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Re: The function and value of music criticism

Post by John F » Wed Aug 01, 2018 11:27 am

Yeah, but it's not paid and it's not in print... :mrgreen:
John Francis

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