Category: The Music Column

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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 Real Traviata: The Song of Marie Duplessis (2015). In demonstrating the worth and intensity of Verdi’s...

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 we do not often find a work of expository prose to be as appealing as...

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 me that she had caught herself reading soup-can labels: As one who had done the...

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 a Royal Opera House production of Rigoletto, to the effect that “the treatment of women in...

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 called it in a paper published in The American Economic Review in 1981.  Rosen insisted...

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Simon Pure and Impure

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 a performer who never got his due.  And just when he seemed to be getting...

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 polite.  The menu is gratifying when the garlic is held in control, and the service...

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 has sometimes been called the best Hitchcock movie not by Hitchcock.  I didn’t want to...

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 even the sight-challenged were aware of his performances and recordings.  The first recording I ever...

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 reactions to the passing of the mystery man, but there was a difficulty in comparisons,...

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 his appearances in New York City. When I beheld him backstage, standing far away from...

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Dance With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight

There was a notable convergence some decades ago, one that was noticed musically as two separate and distinct phenomena, but not as a convergence—or even as a conspiracy, or a rivalry.  I never heard or saw any acknowledgment that two of the foremost instrumentalists in the world were fiddling around pretty much at the same...

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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 it even in a northern clime, I had to amend my faith in the lovely...

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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 (1824-96) is remarkable in the fascinating quality of his work.  Hardly any composer except Mahler...

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 the Brahms Violin Concerto, even some special bad times, but I always come back to...

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 even there, gradually, the realization sets in—the realization that one hears the distillation of a...

From This Culture, They Say You Are Leaving
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From This Culture, They Say You Are Leaving

The statistics that break down the consumption of music into types and groups are not very comforting to consider.  But if we really want to know what the musical situation is, rather than to entertain a fantasy of what it ought to be, we would have to acknowledge the realities of musical art in our...

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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 voices don’t appeal to the contemporary ear.)  These two specious reasons are important because the...

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 pertinent question today, and not only one about the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814....

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 when we talk about sound, I am supposed to make noises like a hi-fi buff,...

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 in Musical Analysis is an imposing composition, a stunt of writing—the freight of its assertions...

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 with the problems seriatim—riots, street crime, altercations, the murder of an elderly benefactor, and other...

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, and more than once.  Tempo and rhythm were aspects of motion, as he saw the...

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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 in music died with Chopin in 1849, and for this declaration, he has been condemned...

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, an academic colleague and a valued friend.  Henry is a cultured man I have learned...

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 year’s junque is next year’s antique.  And I remember back even to Before Vinyl. A...

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 differently.  But I believe that my take on NPR is basically true about the “NPR...

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 often, we are ourselves directly responsible for a lot of noise.  But not all of...

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 in full force.  Yet I do not conceive The Music Column to be self-preoccupied—rather, it addresses...