The Faustian Bargain

A blog about life outside the academy

Entries in criticism (2)


Haydn Alone, Today

I recently finished a review (for the summer issue of Tempo) of The Way We Listen Now, a collection of Bayan Northcott's essays and columns. Northcott's writing is a model of lucidity and precision in a field cluttered with metaphors and technical jargon and in my review I recommend the book as a guide for any aspiring music critic.

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What makes a good music critic?

The New Statesman have just launched a competition to find the UK's best young classical music critic. I'm no longer young, but the introduction page is well worth reading for the judges' summaries of the critic's art.

Here's Alex Ross:

Critics are, first of all, journalists, and while there is no such thing as an objective, just-the-facts-ma'am description of music, a good review ought to give a sense of what it was like to attend a certain event. It should have atmosphere, human detail, a sense of context and history. The review must rest on a strong foundation of musical knowledge, yet that knowledge should not be shoved in the face of the reader. And there must be a certain music in the prose. Dull, awkward, or jargonistic writing is a betrayal of the art. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to remain passionately engaged over the long term – not to become jaded, politely accepting, cynical, or, worst of all, nostalgic. To the end, critics must remain open to the possibility of being totally undone by what they hear.

And here's Roger Scruton:

A critic should be able to recognise all of the following: pretentiousness, insincerity, bombast, kitsch. And he or she should be familiar with all of the following: singing, dancing, smiling, weeping, praying, kissing.

Words for Red Pen, Blue Pen to live and work by.