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Music at the Limits

Music at the Limits

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Music at the Limits
    Book Description:

    Music at the Limits is the first book to bring together three decades of Edward W. Said's essays and articles on music. Addressing the work of a variety of composers, musicians, and performers, Said carefully draws out music's social, political, and cultural contexts and, as a classically trained pianist, provides rich and often surprising assessments of classical music and opera.

    Music at the Limits offers both a fresh perspective on canonical pieces and a celebration of neglected works by contemporary composers. Said faults the Metropolitan Opera in New York for being too conservative and laments the way in which opera superstars like Pavarotti have "reduced opera performance to a minimum of intelligence and a maximum of overproduced noise." He also reflects on the censorship of Wagner in Israel; the worrisome trend of proliferating music festivals; an opera based on the life of Malcolm X; the relationship between music and feminism; the pianist Glenn Gould; and the works of Mozart, Bach, Richard Strauss, and others.

    Said wrote his incisive critiques as both an insider and an authority. He saw music as a reflection of his ideas on literature and history and paid close attention to its composition and creative possibilities. Eloquent and surprising, Music at the Limits preserves an important dimension of Said's brilliant intellectual work and cements his reputation as one of the most influential and groundbreaking scholars of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51155-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Daniel Barenboim

    Edward said was a scholar with a remarkable breadth of interest. In addition to being well versed in music, literature, philosophy, and the understanding of politics, he was one of those rare people who sought and recognized the connections between different and seemingly disparate disciplines. His unusual understanding of the human spirit and of the human being was perhaps a consequence of his revelatory construct that parallels between ideas, topics, and cultures can be of a paradoxical nature, not contradicting but enriching one another. This is one of the ideas that I believe made Said an extremely important figure. His...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Mariam C. Said
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)

    • CHAPTER 1 The Music Itself: Glenn Gould’s Contrapuntal Vision
      (pp. 3-10)

      Glenn gould is an exception to almost all the other musical performers in this century. He was a brilliantly proficient pianist (in a world of brilliantly proficient pianists) whose unique sound, brash style, rhythmic inventiveness, and, above all, quality of attention seemed to reach out well beyond the act of performing itself. In the eighty records he made, Gould’s piano tone is immediately recognizable. At any point in his career you could say, this is Gould playing, and not Alexis Weissenberg, Vladimir Horowitz, or Alicia de Larrocha. His Bach stands in a class by itself. Like Gieseking’s Debussy and Ravel,...

    • CHAPTER 2 Remembrances of Things Played: Presence and Memory in the Pianist’s Art
      (pp. 11-22)

      Pianists retain a remarkable hold on our cultural life There are the crowd-pleasing “superstars” as well as a somewhat lesser order of pianists who nevertheless have sizable followings. Recordings enhance and amplify out involvement in what the performing pianist does: they may evoke memories of actual recitals—live audiences coughing and clapping, live pianists playing. Why do we seek this experience? Why are we interested in pianists at all, given that they are a product of nineteenth-century European culture? And further, what makes some pianists interesting, great, extraordinary? How, without being either too systematic or absurdly metaphysical, can we characterize...

    • CHAPTER 3 Pomp and Circumstance (on Musical Festivals)
      (pp. 23-28)

      Reading the brief but intelligent article on festivals in Grove’s Dictionary, you become aware of the deep divergence between premodern music festivals as symbolic rituals connected with religion and agriculture and modern music festivals as commemorations of great composers or as commercial and tourist attractions. From the great theatrical festivals of fifth-century Athens to the druidic Eisteddfod and the thirteenth-century Puy in France, the first type has now receded into a dim anthropological past. The second type is very much with us, too much so. With a few exceptions, its extraordinary proliferation and degradation have further weakened a musical life...

    • CHAPTER 4 On Richard Strauss
      (pp. 29-35)

      Nearly half a century after his death, Richard Strauss’s role in twentieth-century music remains an unresolved matter. No one disputes his talents, his professionalism, his often unusual musical imagination. Yet his work, after an initial flirtation with advanced chromaticism, remained solidly within the tonal tradition established by Wagner and Brahms, even though it is also true that he elaborated that tradition as no one else could or did. He went on writing songs, operas, chamber music and occasional orchestral pieces well into and even after the Third Reich, leaving questions as to his complicity with or his innocence about the...

    • CHAPTER 5 Die Walküre, Aida, X
      (pp. 36-42)

      While it is true that grand opera is essentially a nineteenth-century form, and that our great opera houses now resemble museums which preserve artifacts by Wagner and Verdi for twentieth-century spectators, it is also a fact that some of the nineteenth-century repertory was already reactionary in its own time, whereas some was musically and theatrically revolutionary. In either case, however, nineteenth-century performances maintained vital contact with the cultural and aesthetic practice of the time: composers like Verdi, Wagner and Puccini were often around to influence what was done to their work, audiences and performers usually understood the language in which...

    • CHAPTER 6 Music and Feminism
      (pp. 43-47)

      It is an interesting fact about feminism, and about the place of music in contemporary culture, that very little has been done to map the female role in the production and performance of music. Mainstream classical music is dominated by men in almost every economic, political and social respect, yet women play prominent and varied roles in the artistic sphere. The most traditional is that of inspirational muse, and later helpmeet, adjunct, adoring (but lesser) partner, to some prominent male composer: Clara and Robert Schumann, Cosima and Richard Wagner. The figure of woman as unattainable ideal preoccupied Beethoven; its obverse,...

    • CHAPTER 7 Maestro for the Masses (review of Understanding Toscanini)
      (pp. 48-51)

      The selling of classical musicians by record companies and concert hall managers is an enormously lucrative business—which, however, is bound to affect standards of performance adversely. In 1964 the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who had been extremely successful as a concert musician, retired from live performing; until his death in 1982, he confined his work to records, radio and television. One of the reasons he gave for his decision was the distorting effect of the audience on his playing; he felt he had to keep wooing its attention by forcing the classical restraint of Bach’s polyphony into rhetorical emphases...

    • CHAPTER 8 Middle Age and Performers
      (pp. 52-56)

      Middle age, like everything that stands between more clearly defined times or things, is not an especially rewarding period. One is no longer a promising young person and not yet a venerable old one. To be a rebellious child after the age of forty is frequently silly, and yet to assume the authority of old age prematurely is to risk the awful pomposity and rigidity of an institution. Dante produced his greatest work out of the crisis of the middle years, but so grand and detailed is his vision as to reduce the crisis of lesser people to a piddling...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Vienna Philharmonic: The Complete Beethoven Symphonies and Concertos
      (pp. 57-61)

      Toward the end of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, as the spiritually exhausted Fielding is sailing home, he comes through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, “The human norm.” The relief he feels derives from that region, where “harmony between the works of man and the earth that upholds them” has been achieved. It is an insidious comparison that Forster intends between India, all muddles and unsatisfying mysteries, and Europe, a “civilization that has escaped muddle, the spirit in a reasonable form.”

      Something like that experience of Fielding’s (minus its offensive aspects) occurs in anyone who tries to grasp...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Barber of Seville, Don Giovanni
      (pp. 62-67)

      Much of the great outburst of intellectual energy in recent literary criticism has focused on the difficulty, even the impossibility, of interpretation. Psychoanalysis, semiotics, linguistics, deconstruction, feminist theory and Marxism have so expanded our notions of what a text or an authorial performance is that buying what was meant in King Lear or Ulysses is now an enormously complex enterprise. At its best, interpretation has therefore become inventive, a form of deliberate misreading, supplying all sorts of frankly conjectural possibilities as a way of rendering the work’s historical distance, the author’s silence, the critic’s manifest power over the work. Texts...

    • CHAPTER 11 Glenn Gould at the Metropolitan Museum
      (pp. 68-71)

      On September 26 and 27, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City screened eight one-hour television films of Glenn Gould playing a wide range of repertory. Arranged by the Met’s concerts and lectures manager, Hilde Limondjian, this was the third such screening in New York since Gould’s death in October 1982. Judging by the healthy turnout, Gould remains a compellingly attractive figure. He was that almost impossible creature, both a pianist of staggering talent and a man of effortlessly articulate opinions, some so arguable as to seem merely quirky, others profoundly insightful and intelligent. His work invariably offers...

    • CHAPTER 12 Giulio Cesare
      (pp. 72-76)

      Of all the great Western classical composers Georg Friedrich Handel has been the most consistently misrepresented and generally underestimated. An exact contemporary of J.S. Bach, Handel has routinely suffered in comparison with him. I recall frequent discussions with a musicologist friend who used Bach’s elevated polyphonic style, his apparent intellectualism and severity, his affecting religiosity, to denigrate Handel’s less complex style and his irrepressible, thumping floridity. Certainly one senses Handel’s music a certain worldliness and even courtliness of a sort not likely to engage contemporary audiences. But taken on his own, extraordinarily complex terms, Handel is certainly Bach’s equal in...

    • CHAPTER 13 Bluebeard’s Castle, Erwartung
      (pp. 77-81)

      Béla bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung make for an unusual and often gripping evening at the Metropolitan Opera House despite their flawed production. Their relatively unfamiliar and specialized idioms are rarely encountered in a house that is, ironically, better placed to produce twentieth-century opera than the rigorously mediocre verismo repertory it seems always to prefer. Both these works date from about the same period, Erwartung (Expectation) from 1909, Bluebeard’s Castle from 1911; both had to wait several years before they were performed. They are what have loosely been called expressionist or symbolist works in that both are antirealistic,...

    • CHAPTER 14 Extreme Occasions (on Celibidache)
      (pp. 82-86)

      The two-hour classical concert performance has solidified into an unchangeable commodity, bought and sold by managers, performers and audiences alike. One reason for this development is that the performance and composition of music have been severed from each other almost completely. Since Georges Enescu, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Ferruccio Benvenuto Busoni earlier this century, the performer has become a specialist only in performing, the composer only in composing (although composition has become even more specialized, confined by and large to a comparatively small, often academic audience). Pierre Boulez and Leonard Bernstein are the only two major performers today who are also...

    • CHAPTER 15 Peter Sellars’s Mozart
      (pp. 87-90)

      Peter sellars’s detailed scene-by-scene notes and interpretive essays on Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro were handed out at his productions of those works at Pepsico’s Summerfare at the State University of New York at Purchase. This unusual and commendable practice not only helped the audience to understand what the director had in mind but was also part of the difficult job of persuading audiences to accept extremely uncommon views of these very commonly performed masterpieces. I had seen and written in these pages about Sellars’s earlier productions of Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte [September...

    • CHAPTER 16 András Schiff at Carnegie Hall
      (pp. 91-96)

      The frenetic clarity and prodigious technical dexterity of Vladimir Horowitz have been much talked about in the wake of his death on November 5. Nevertheless, he rarely seemed to be interesting or arresting because of what he did musically; rather it was his crescendi, or his capacity for steel-like and massive sonority, or the sheer speed and accuracy of his octaves, thirds or scales that drew attention. Of course, in his later years it was the dreadful cloying image of “Volodya,” the national asset celebrated in the White House, seen on television with worshipful commentators and reporters in tow. He...


    • CHAPTER 17 Richard Strauss
      (pp. 99-104)

      In his brilliant New Yorker profile of Johnny Carson, Kenneth Tynan came to the conclusion that whatever it was that Carson actually did, he alone did it, and always did it perfectly. He may be part stand-up comic, part talk-show host, part Hollywood celebrity, but the Carson phenomenon, which has endured for longer than two decades, is more than any one of those things, and more than their sum.

      And so it is, toutes proportions gardées, with Richard Strauss, whose astonishingly long career (1864–1949) paralleled and in strange ways touched many of the major changes in twentieth-century music without...

    • CHAPTER 18 Wagner and the Met’s Ring
      (pp. 105-114)

      This is the second spring in a row that the Metropolitan Opera has mounted three cycles of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (the “Nibelungen” in the title is not a plural and does not refer to the tribe of Nibelungs but to one Nibelung, Alberich, who steals the gold in the first scene of the first work in the gigantic tetralogy). It is an odd and certainly an unexpected feature of New York musical life that so large, risky and improbable a venture would be attempted by a house so addicted to the routine and the safe, but the cycles...

    • CHAPTER 19 Opera Productions (Der Rosenkavalier, House of the Dead, Doctor Faust)
      (pp. 115-121)

      Although he conducted only seven performances of Der Rosenkavalier (1911) at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera this past fall, Carlos Kleiber nevertheless made a stunning impression. The opera is the best known and most palatable of Richard Strauss’s works: Its Viennese setting, its charming waltzes, the bittersweet romance between an older woman and a young man and, above all, the unthreatening, chatty zest of its music and its Hofmannsthal libretto working together brilliantly have kept Rosenkavalier near the forefront of the Met’s repertory. Yet it is difficult to overstate the extraordinary transformation in the score that was accomplished by Kleiber....

    • CHAPTER 20 Style and Stylessness (Elektra, Semiramide, Katya Kabanova)
      (pp. 122-127)

      Among the unending complaints made by critics about opera directors like Peter Sellars who supposedly distort the classical composer’s intention, I’ve never heard any objections to the even greater distortions involved in so-called concert performances of operas. Somehow it is claimed that if you reduce an opera to its alleged musical essence and put it on a concert platform, you serve both work and composer better. But if you let singers wear lavish evening dress and bellow out at the audience with no acting, stylistic principles or dramatic gestures to restrain them, you not only distort, you also mutilate an...

    • CHAPTER 21 Alfred Brendel: Words for Music (review of Alfred Brendel’s Music Sounded Out: Essays, Lectures, Interviews, Afterthoughts)
      (pp. 128-130)

      Musicians are silent on the whole, since audiences are there to witness their virtuosity and interpretive skills, not their ideas or brilliant conversation. There has always been something odd, even comic, therefore, about talking performers. Like the late Leonard Bernstein, for instance, or Vladimir de Pachman, the early 20th-century Polish pianist who would interrupt his recitals with admiring commentaries on his own skill. A silent performer is somehow a guarantee of musical seriousness and commitment, as if only the music counted, only its sound was important. When they have broken the spell in recent years musicians have written either gossipy...

    • CHAPTER 22 Die Tote Stadt, Fidelio, The Death of Klinghoffer
      (pp. 131-139)

      “The center cannot hold,” Yeats said apprehensively and cosmically in “The Second Coming.” When the metaphor of a world falling apart is applied to the rather less grand realm of institutions that have put themselves in charge of performances of Western classical music, it is not entirely so bad a thing as that. Still, there is a much greater likelihood of adventure and exploration at the peripheries. Better the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) than the New York Philharmonic or the Metropolitan Opera; and where choice of repertory, if not always successful realization, is concerned, better the New York City...

    • CHAPTER 23 Uncertainties of Style (The Ghosts of Versailles, Die Soldaten)
      (pp. 140-148)

      The recent storm of controversy—first over the “West as America” exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art and later over Oliver Stone’s JFK—suggests an extraordinary public insecurity about the past. This uneasiness is evident in institutions where public representations of the past are supposed to deliver authoritative images not only of what America is (or was) but also of what America should view or listen to. It is a sure sign of imperial ascendancy in crisis, what with the economy a shambles, the official culture under attack and the old formula about American exceptionalism, innocence...

    • CHAPTER 24 Musical Retrospection
      (pp. 149-156)

      András schiff, the remarkable Hungarian pianist, dedicated his February Avery Fisher Hall recital to the memory of Rudolf Serkin, who had died the previous year. Along with the recent passing of Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau and Wilhelm Kempff, Serkin’s death represents the end of a musical era that had gloriously survived World War II. Music and mourning are frequently allied, but it was during the nineteenth century that the art of mortuary music really became an important and independent genre (yet to be studied as such). The difference between Mozart’s “Trauermusik” (K.477, composed in 1785) and, two decades later the...

    • CHAPTER 25 The Bard Festival
      (pp. 157-165)

      Most summer music festivals originate in celebration and commemoration that later harden into routine and become unashamed touristic promotion. This has certainly been true of Salzburg, which began (as Michael Steinberg’s book on its origins amply shows) as a Mozart festival whose aim in the post-World War I period was to revitalize the idea of Austria as the home of a Catholic Baroque world view and to give Austria a new sense of international mission. The works of Mozart, von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss were the core of its repertory and, until World War II, it succeeded quite brilliantly albeit...

    • CHAPTER 26 The Importance of Being Unfaithful to Wagner
      (pp. 166-174)

      ‘The bewildering variety of interests and standards in Wagner scholarship (or what passes for it) is congenitally resistant to study’. Thus John Deathridge, the leading Wagner scholar of the English-speaking world, at the beginning of his chapter on Wagner research in the Wagner Handbook. If so learned and au courant a scholar as Deathridge is daunted by trying to make sense of Wagner research and interpretation, what about the rest of us? For not only was Wagner both contemptuous of history in general and constant re-maker of his own history, but the enormous range of materials that have survived him...

    • CHAPTER 27 Music as Gesture (on Solti)
      (pp. 175-181)

      For an audience, watching as opposed to only hearing a musical performance is very much part of the whole experience. What we see can either enhance such qualities as elegance and clarity or it can startlingly dramatize faults inherent in the performance. This is especially true of conductors, at least half of whose effort is bodily gesture as well as baton waving. I have seen and heard Georg Solti for at least twenty-five years, but it wasn’t until his Carnegie Hall appearances last February with the Vienna Philharmonic—in a bewilderingly spotty and even incoherent performance of the Bruckner Eighth...

    • CHAPTER 28 Les Troyens
      (pp. 182-188)

      For sheer grandeur of scale, elevation of style and audacity of conception, Berlioz’s last opera, Les Troyens (1863), is The Ring of the Nibelung’s only nineteenth-century competitor. Yet whereas Wagner actually lived to see his tetralogy staged and indeed canonized in his own specially built opera house in Bayreuth, Berlioz saw only the second part of his great two-pan adaptation of Books I, II and IV of Virgil’s Aeneid realized in a shoddy, skimpy condensation at Paris’s Théâtre Lyrique. Indeed, it wasn’t really until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Germany, not France, that the complete Troyens was...

    • CHAPTER 29 Child’s Play (review of Maynard Solomon’s Mozart: A Life)
      (pp. 189-194)

      “The child Mozart,” as Maynard Solomon, his latest biographer, aptly calls him, is the image of the composer that has entered Western civilization: no one was more precocious than he, no one more able from infancy to produce music with such extraordinary ease and of such astonishing quality. Solomon quotes Daines Barrington, the English scholar who witnessed the wunderkind’s talents and then reported on them to the Royal Society: “Suppose then a capital speech in Shakespeare never seen before, and yet read by a child of eight years old, with all the pathetic energy of a Garrick. Let it be...

    • CHAPTER 30 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould
      (pp. 195-197)

      The film you are about to see tonight is quite unusual, beginning with its title 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. It was directed by François Girard, a French-Canadian director and is about the remarkable Anglo-Canadian pianist Glenn Gould who died in the fall of 1982 aged almost exactly 50. Gould first came to prominence with a couple of recitals in New York and Washington in 1955: I was an undergraduate at the time and although I didn’t attend either recital I did read about both of them and then a year later bought the record that Columbia Records made...

    • CHAPTER 31 Bach’s Genius, Schumann’s Eccentricity, Chopin’s Ruthlessness, Rosen’s Gift (review of Charles Rosen’s The Romantic Generation)
      (pp. 198-205)

      Charles rosen’s new book is about the group of composers who succeeded the great Viennese Classicists Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn, and the aesthetic movement they represented. The Post-Classicists emerged for the most part during the period from the death of Beethoven (1827) to the death of Chopin (1849). A substantially expanded version of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures given at Harvard during 1980–81, The Romantic Generation, which follows in the path of its distinguished predecessor The Classical Style, is a remarkable amalgam of precise, brilliantly illuminating analysis, audacious generalization, and not always satisfying—but always interesting—synthesis, scattered over...

    • CHAPTER 32 Why Listen to Boulez?
      (pp. 206-211)

      Pierre boulez is 70 this year, and is now the only major composer-performer of Western music appearing in public. Earlier in this century there were several such figures—Rachmaninov, Bartók, Messiaen, Prokofiev, Britten, Strauss and others. The split between the platform star and the serious composer has become almost complete, the result of the economics of record production and virtuoso careers, as well as the difficulty for the average concertgoer of understanding much less liking, most contemporary music as it is usually represented (misrepresented is the more accurate word). Aside from a few “postmodern,” not to say reactionary, composers like...

    • CHAPTER 33 Hindemith and Mozart
      (pp. 212-215)

      Paul hindemith began working on Mathis der Maler (Mathis the Painter), his finest opera, in his early 50s. How he actually arrived at the finished work, which was banned by the Nazis and subsequently premiered in Zurich in May 1938, is a complicated and tangled story, although it is apparent that he had no very clear idea of what he was trying to do until two or three years into the work’s composition. Hindemith was attracted to the figure of Matthias Grünewald, sixteenth-century painter of the Isenheim altar triptych, partly because of his solitary, somewhat obscure artistic eminence, and partly...

    • CHAPTER 34 Review of Michael Tanner’s Wagner
      (pp. 216-219)

      Michael tanner’s Wager is a very curious performance indeed. It isn’t just a chip that Tanner carries on his shoulder but a large bundle of resentments and petulant dislikes, with which he proceeds to a laborious reinterpretation of Wagner’s life and work. This is surely the first book that suggests that Wagner was not such a bad fellow after all, his anti-semitism, egregious narcissism, stupendously demanding character and remarkably irregular, even abnormal, life notwithstanding. In effect Tanner manages to downplay all that, accommodating what is still unassimilable and difficult about Wagner to a string of resourceful, sometimes ingenious, interpretations of...

    • CHAPTER 35 In the Chair (review of Peter Ostwald’s Glenn Gould and the Tragedy of Genius)
      (pp. 220-228)

      One of the most talked and written about musicians after World War Two, Glenn Gould quite consciously set about making himself interesting and eccentric. Most performers do, but Gould went beyond anyone. It helped a great deal that he had a phenomenal digital gift, a perfect memory, a very high intelligence, but in addition he was self-conscious and self-observant to an extent most other performers would scarcely be able to imagine. This was not just a matter of takes and re-takes of everything he played, but also of imagining and thinking about himself playing in the greatest detail. In 1964,...

    • CHAPTER 36 On Fidelio
      (pp. 229-241)

      Fidelio is the one opera in the repertory that has the power to sway audiences even when it is indifferently performed. Yet it is a highly problematic work whose triumphant conclusion and the impression it is designed to convey of goodness winning out over evil do not go to the heart of what Beethoven was grappling with. Not that its plot is complex, or that, like many of the French operas of the day which influenced Beethoven and whose brilliance he admired, it is a long and complicated work: Fidelio’s success in the theatre derives in part from its compactness...

    • CHAPTER 37 Music and Spectacle (La Cenerentola and The Rake’s Progress)
      (pp. 242-246)

      Stagings of opera are made out of a set of compromises among performers, directors, conductors and, especially now, the economics of audiences, sponsors and ticket sales. There seems to be a general consensus that the classical music business is in a bad way because of corporate greed, a declining audience for the musical canon, increasingly overpaid stars (like the Three Tenors) and an unimaginative, not to say downright reactionary, attitude on the part of performers and impresarios who prefer a diet of safe masterpieces to contemporary or out-of-the-way repertory.

      And yet opera continues to draw in young people, experts in...

    • CHAPTER 38 Review of Gottfried Wagner’s He Who Does Not Howl with the Wolf: The Wagner Legacy—An Autobiography
      (pp. 247-249)

      Gottfried wagner is Richard Wagner’s great-grandson, and an extraordinarily unhappy fellow. So unhappy in fact that his book is an unrelieved jeremiad against his family, especially his father Wolfgang, now the head of the Wagner establishment in Bayreuth, as well as his great-grandfather the composer, a loathsome anti-semite; Gottfried’s English grandmother Winifred, an arch-reactionary pro-Nazi admirer of Hitler, and pretty much everyone who has had anything to do with the performance of Wagner’s operas in the twentieth century.

      No one seems to sympathise with or understand poor Gottfried, whose wish somehow to atone for his family’s ghastly history leads him...

    • CHAPTER 39 Bach for the Masses
      (pp. 250-256)

      For a little over an hour a day in two consecutive weeks recently, British artist Christopher Herrick sat at the Tully Hall organ and played through Bach’s staggeringly vast output for what his contemporaries considered his main instrument. (The fourteen-concert series of Bach’s complete organ works was a noteworthy presentation in the otherwise haphazard confection of events that constituted this summer’s Lincoln Center Festival, which seems to be shrinking in quality and quantity. This year the cancellation of a much-touted Shanghai opera left a ragged program of New York Philharmonic concerts, a lamentably uninteresting Leonard Bernstein series, assorted undistinguished plays...


    • CHAPTER 40 Daniel Barenboim (Bonding Across Cultural Boundaries)
      (pp. 259-264)

      Standing behind me in a London hotel lobby was an unmistakably familiar figure who had bobbed up to ask for something at the reception desk. June 1993: I was there to give the BBC Reith Lectures but had coincidentally bought a ticket to hear Daniel Barenboim play the First Bartók Concerto with Pierre Boulez and the London Symphony Orchestra. And suddenly there was Daniel himself in the same queue. I’m not one for importuning celebrities and, to be honest, he was so identified as an Israeli musician that the barrier for me as an Arab was hard to overcome—but...

    • CHAPTER 41 Glenn Gould, the Virtuoso as Intellectual
      (pp. 265-277)

      Only a few figures in the history of music, and only a small handful of performers, have had as rich and complex a reputation outside the musical world as the Canadian pianist, composer, intellectual Glenn Gould, who died of a stroke in 1982 at the age of fifty. The small numbers may have something to do with a growing gap between the world of music itself (excluding “the music business” of course) and the larger cultural environment, a gap that is much wider than, for example, the fairly close proximity of literature to painting, film, photography, and dance. Very likely,...

    • CHAPTER 42 Cosmic Ambition (review of Christoph Wolff’s Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician)
      (pp. 278-289)

      The core repertory of Western classical music is dominated by a small number of composers, mostly German and Austrian, mostly of the 18th and 19th centuries. In their work, perfection—of form, melody, harmony and rhythm—is common; in fact it occurs in their music with a frequency unimaginable in painting (except perhaps for Raphael) or literature. Yet even in such extraordinary company Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) stands in solitary eminence, at the very pinnacle of the art. A large number of his works are still quite regularly performed and, since last year marked the 250th anniversary of his...

    • CHAPTER 43 Barenboim and the Wagner Taboo
      (pp. 290-298)

      Afuror has erupted in Israel which deserves very close attention. I refer to the case of the remarkable pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim—a close personal friend of mine I should say at the outset—and a performance he gave on July 7 in Israel of an orchestral extract from one of Richard Wagner’s operas. Since that time, he has been subjected to vast amounts of commentary, abuse, and amazed expostulation, all of it because Richard Wagner (1813–1883) was both a very great composer and a notorious (and indeed deeply repulsive) anti-semite, who well after his death was known...

    • CHAPTER 44 Untimely Meditations (review of Maynard Solomon’s Late Beethoven)
      (pp. 299-306)

      Beethoven has been particularly fortunate in his recent critics and biographers. As a start, Elliot Forbes’s revised edition of Alexander Thayer’s standard early-twentieth-century five-volume Life appeared to great acclaim in 1964 and was further revised by Forbes in 1967. This was followed by a spate of biographical and critical studies of a very high order, including works by Joseph Kerman, Scott Burnham, Charles Rosen, William Kinderman, Martin Cooper and Lewis Lockwood, the senior figure in Beethoven studies, whose magisterial Beethoven: The Music and the Life, the culmination of years of monographic studies, has also just appeared. But for sheer interpretive...

  9. APPENDIX: Bach/Beethoven
    (pp. 307-310)
  10. Index
    (pp. 311-326)