The Faustian Bargain

A blog about life outside the academy

Entries in music (4)


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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Looking for ways to break down barriers

One of the greatest difficulties faced in the promotion of new music is a widespread perception of composers as aloof, sadistic and unsympathetic to the needs of listeners and performers. The first task of anyone writing promotional texts has to be to find a way to dissolve those perceptions without at the same time watering-down the intellectual content of the music.

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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.


How to sell music through words

Writing about music is hard, and I’m not sure many people go about it in the right way. I don’t think I do either, most of the time. Unless I’m in the (padded, soundless) anechoic chamber of analysis I’m rarely completely happy with how I’ve described musical events, processes or periods of time. But I’ve come to two tentative conclusions, so far.

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