James O. Tate

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The Lady of the Camellias

I once asked a most discriminating gentleman, who had studied singing, which opera he would call his favorite. He named  La traviata. Since then, René Weis has lent support to his opinion at fascinating length in his book, The

Opera Managed and Mismanaged
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Opera Managed and Mismanaged

Heidi Waleson’s Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America (2018) is a challenging and enlightening work—one which dares much and succeeds remarkably well.  We must concede that

Opera Near & Far
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Opera Near & Far

My relationship with Barnes & Noble is fraught with emotion simply because it is a big bookstore, among other things.  And I am one of those types—an inveterate reader—who is easily hooked.  I was once embarrassed when a lady told

Hell Man
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Hell Man

From the June 2000 issue of Chronicles.        

“My views on Hammett expressed [above]. He was tops. Often wonder why he quit writing after The Thin Man. Met him only once, very nice looking tall quiet gray-haired fearful capacity

Opera Without Meaning
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Opera Without Meaning

Last year, in a January 3 review published by the Daily Telegraph, Hannah Furness made some remarkable assertions concerning the presentation of traditional operas on the modern stage.  Furness quoted the tenor Michael Fabiano, then playing the Duke in

The Carnaval Prank Was On Me
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The Carnaval Prank Was On Me

Sometimes the best things come in distorting packages, no matter how good they are.  And sometimes that good is itself misleading when it has great appeal, or even particularly then.

I was not yet a teenager when I stumbled into

Chopin’s Life and Times
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Chopin’s Life and Times

Alan Walker has insisted, at the very beginning of his massive new biography of Chopin, that the composer has today a unique global reputation and appeal.  And when we consider the evidence that justifies his claims, we must admit that

A Tour of Overtures
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A Tour of Overtures

We somehow owe it to ourselves to contemplate the useful word sinfonia, one that once denoted the overture to an opera and suggested a pleasing combination of sounds.  So yes—the term that denotes the tradition of symphony is derived

The Legacy of Leon Redbone
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The Legacy of Leon Redbone

Leon Redbone left the scene in 2015—I don’t mean that he expired, but simply that he retired.  There was mention at the time of health concerns, but he was through with television appearances and concerts and touring, and with recording

The Pavarotti Effect
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The Pavarotti Effect

I have been told that there is something called the “Pavarotti Effect,” and that this phenomenon is observable and definable.  Perhaps sometimes the Pavarotti Effect was an affect, or perhaps it was subsumed by the “Superstar Effect,” as Sherwin Rosen

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Simon Pure and Impure

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The other day I came across the pianist Simon Barere on YouTube, and I was glad to see him there—the recognition he has received is certainly deserved, though it is hard to know what would be the appropriate reward to

Those Oldies But Goodies
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Those Oldies But Goodies

An Italian-American restaurant I count on features sound reasons for my presence there, and that of others.  I like the tone in that environment.  There is an aspect of 1950’s atmosphere—the place is quiet, the lighting subdued, and the manners

Adolf Busch & Colleagues
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Adolf Busch & Colleagues

Some two decades ago, I found myself preparing for a trip to Niagara Falls, where I was to meet a lady.  I had not been to Niagara Falls before, though I was familiar with the movie Niagara (Hathaway, 1953), which

The Electric Conductor
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The Electric Conductor

Back in the day, was there anyone more famous than Arturo Toscanini?  Everyone knew who he was, what he did, and what he looked like.  He was more famous than Walt Disney and got coverage like a movie star.  And

The Lowdown on Music Appreciation
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The Lowdown on Music Appreciation

Music Appreciation is a revealing phrase: It doesn’t mean what it says.  It doesn’t mean that music is getting more expensive, though it is true that music is appreciating.  It doesn’t mean even a proper regard, as in “I appreciate

The Two Lhevinnes
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The Two Lhevinnes

Though too many years have gone by since I last crossed paths with Robert K. Wallace, that doesn’t mean I have forgotten that gifted and accomplished man.  I remember him well from sites and scenes in graduate school at Columbia

“The World’s Greatest Pianist”
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“The World’s Greatest Pianist”

The lives of musicians can be more than a bit repetitive.  The same patterns are repeated again and again, as is the case with athletes—with all people who master a particular art or calling.  The gifted one excels and develops

My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!
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My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!

History is rewritten, memory is transformed, recognition is withdrawn, and the cultural context is recast.  The recent toppling of historical statues has proceeded so effectively that we can hardly remember a previous period of statue erection or insertion in Richmond,

Maria Callas, Four Decades On
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Maria Callas, Four Decades On

Many’s the person who can tell you what he was doing on November 22, 1963, when he heard the news.  Many more can tell you what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001.  And there are also

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The Vocal Scene

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photo of Rosa Ponselle as Reiza in Oberon

Of course my account of “the vocal scene” is not by the late George Jellinek—that cultured gentleman of Hungarian background.  He had an extensive, even encyclopedic knowledge of the history of singing. 

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The Romantic Revival

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The first thing to say about the Romantic Revival is that the phrase itself is a bit ambiguous, though I haven’t meant to be misleading.  Romanticism originally had an aspect of revival of the medieval, as in the Gothic revival

Eine Kleiber Ist Genug—Nicht
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Eine Kleiber Ist Genug—Nicht

When Carlos Kleiber died in 2004, the world didn’t find it out until he had been gone for six days.  The elusive maestro/uncanny conductor had escaped the exploitative notice of the press for one last time.  There were the predictable

The Reminiscences of Earl Wild
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The Reminiscences of Earl Wild

I was thinking recently about Earl Wild for several reasons: his achievement as a pianist; his substantial and extended contribution to the “Romantic Revival” through his performances and recordings; and my own memories of exchanges with him after three of

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Rambling Rose

As a literalist of the imagination, I have somehow supposed that the fall equinox on September 22 meant that according to astronomical rules, the roses would—with a clunk—stop blooming.  But when last December, I saw many rosebushes still going at

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The Bruckner Problem

There is a Bruckner Problem, yes, or there are even Bruckner Problems, but I think that the longer we consider these problems, the less problematical they are.  The first problem is, where to start?  We might suppose that Anton Bruckner

There Will Be Brahms
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There Will Be Brahms

The subject of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major (Op. 77) is fitting because we are talking about a work that is respected, which is one thing, but also loved, which is more.  I had some special times with

Doktor Faust und Der Busoni
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Doktor Faust und Der Busoni

When they are so easily available for free, the opportunities on YouTube don’t leave much excuse for not taking advantage of them, even though in one particular case at least, the musical presentation is puzzling or unidiomatic or off-putting.  But

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Opera: Grand and Not So Grand

People sometimes seem to be prejudiced against opera for reasons that are arbitrarily unconvincing.  These reasons turn out to be an antipathy based on class (opera is the province of the privileged), or antipathy resulting from sheer musical ignorance.  (Trained

The Twilight’s Last Gleaming
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The Twilight’s Last Gleaming

There are so many difficulties with our National Anthem that it’s hard to keep up with them all.  But the explicit question that it asks—whether we see the Stars and Stripes still flying after the twilight’s last gleaming—is actually a

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Their Record Is Scratched

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A jolt, a blast, even a high like the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land is something to be savored while the euphoria lasts. And before the bliss fades, this would also be the time

Music Sounded Out
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Music Sounded Out

Now, you know I am indulging myself when I think of the nominated topic and come up with examples that are all piano recordings!  That’s a limitation within a limitation, and I admit it.  And I am also aware that

All That Jazz
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All That Jazz

Extraordinary writing about music doesn’t come along very often, as I have been forced to notice by my own experience—as have my own put-upon readers!  But in the realm of classical music, I would suggest that Donald F. Tovey’s Essays

Another Touch of the Bubbly
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Another Touch of the Bubbly

Well, after 50 years and more in New York, I have heard the fat lady sing, and I know what that means.  There have been some issues as the decades have zipped by, I must say; and I have dealt

Get in Deep
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Get in Deep

Although music doesn’t have an obvious link with golf, I say it does, so that I can contradict myself immediately.  The late Sam Snead was and still is well known for his beautiful swing, which he related explicitly to waltz-time,

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Homeland, Homesick, Homework

In 1836, Robert Schumann told the composer who had dropped by that his favorite of Chopin’s compositions was the Ballade in G minor, Op. 23, and the composer agreed with his judgment.  Anton Rubinstein thought that everything to be revered

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A Monumental Proposal

I was recently perplexed to see in the news that Harvard, the oldest institution of higher learning in the nation, had declared that, though master has no etymological relation to slavery (but rather to magister), the word would nevertheless

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Snobs and Slobs

How very vulgar I have been—I am sorry, and I apologize!  I am just terrible, and it is all my fault.  And I accept the responsibility.  And how could I accept my own shame if I had not done so

There’s More Where That Came From
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There’s More Where That Came From

When I first heard chamber music, it seemed an acquired taste, and subsequently a taste I acquired.  So I will recite some personal history without any illusion that it matters because it was my experience.  On the contrary: I

Music and the Tooth Dentist
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Music and the Tooth Dentist

As my many devoted readers have already noticed and let me know, though I do love good music, it’s hard to convey the intensity of that devotion.  So it occurred to me to write about abject rather than exalted musical

First Hearings
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First Hearings

Some years ago a fellow told me that I should put my money in CDs, and I did, to my regret in one sense.  I thought he meant Compact Discs.  Silly me!  But maybe not altogether.  Since those days, things

Come Into the Garden, Maud
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Come Into the Garden, Maud

A year after the American debut of Jascha Heifetz in 1917, James Huneker wrote an interesting sentence in the New York Times: “Much has been said of Heifetz and his musical gifts compared with great violinists of the time—Ysayë,

Her Master’s Voice
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Her Master’s Voice

Recent publicity to the effect that not one but even two films about Florence Foster Jenkins are in the pipeline sends us what I think is a very ambiguous alert.  Florence Foster Jenkins is an arresting subject, no question—but it

Henry Radetsky and Fritz Kreisler
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Henry Radetsky and Fritz Kreisler

Tossing around a word like music is problematical—and culture is even harder to deploy meaningfully.  Nevertheless, I am going to give both a try in a revealing juxtaposition that was brought to my attention by that world-traveling anthropologist Henry Radetsky,

How Long Has This Been Going On?
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How Long Has This Been Going On?

We live in revolutionary times of rapid technological change, and yes, it is a little disconcerting when the rules morph and the practices mutate.  But I did predict years ago that vinyl would be back, and so it is.  This

Doing Music Wrong
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Doing Music Wrong

National Public Radio is a bad idea, as you can tell from the name.  But the specific reality is even worse, though I suppose it comes in different forms.  The service is varied in that local stations can tailor themselves

Quiet, Please
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Quiet, Please

Silence can be a bad thing if there is too much of it, but today that is not often the case, for we live in a noisy world.  The postindustrial era promised to turn down the volume, but it didn’t—too

To Begin With
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To Begin With

In response to numerous entreaties, private demand, and the obligations incurred by untold knowledge, I have reluctantly agreed to undertake this Music Column; and I will only continue to inscribe it as long as those three particular conditions remain