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The Pianist who Killed Stalin

In his 2017 film “The Death of Stalin,” Armando Iannucci links the titular event to a letter penned by pianist Maria Yudina: “Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, you have betrayed our nation and destroyed its people. I pray for your end and ask the Lord to forgive you. Tyrant.” In Iannucci’s history-as-farce, the dictator reads this note […]

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Engineered Consent

In 1905, two years after his Met debut and two minutes into an interview with the New York Times, Enrico Caruso came tantalizingly, presciently close to coining the term “fake news.” Over oysters and martinis, the first question launched, the Neapolitan tenor looked at his interviewer incredulously: “Dolls? Dolls? Ma che? What dolls do you […]

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The Smoldering Progressive

Pity Paul Dukas. For most listeners—even serious music lovers—his work is the mere soundtrack to the anthropomorphic avatars of the Disney corporation. Despite floating in the same fragrant creative broth of early 20th-century Paris as Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy he has been rather overshadowed by both, to say nothing of his twelve-tone contemporaries in […]

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My Racist Kentucky Home

In July 1957, Frank Chelf, a Democratic congressman from Kentucky brought his harmonica to the Capitol. As members of the House Rules Committee (and a photographer from the Associated Press) looked on, Chelf played “My Old Kentucky Home,” a 19th-century ballad his state had adopted as its official song. “The sun shines bright in the […]

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Self-Sufficient Sound

On the Music of Roland Kayn By · Title Image via kayn.nl · Date 09/21/2017 Roland Kayn was a composer who pushed his music to the furthest extremes he could reach while doing his best to remove himself as completely as possible from the work. Kayn composed what he called “cybernetic music,” building elaborate electronics […]

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Pieces of History

On The Stradivarius Myth By · Title Image (modified) Steve Cohen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) · Date 06/08/2017 In 2011, the Stradivarius violin known as the “Lady Blunt” sold for $15.9 million—four times the amount for any previous Stradivarius. The hefty price tag for these instruments is commensurate with their reputation. The Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, […]

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Drama Queens and Fever Dreams

By the time we get to Munich, the cold sopping spring has turned to a sultry summer—in like a lion, out like a lamb shank, meat falling right off the bone. Sunbathers in the Englischer Garten lie sanguine and naked in the grass. But instead of joining them in Edenic glory, my boyfriend Nick and […]

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Siegfried Idyll

Some babies are put in swaddling clothes. Others are born into families where expectations are so great that they begin to resemble similarly physical restrains. Siegfried Wagner, the only son of Richard, was born in 1869. Richard wrote the “Siegfried-Idyll” to mark the occasion, a work with and flashes of mesmerizing genius. As the male […]

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Bells

By · Illustrations · Date 09/29/2016 When you think of small towns in rural England, you envision medieval stone buildings, carefully manicured gardens, and tearooms with Thomas Hardy-esque quietude, serenity, even sleepiness. That is, until you hear the bells. In every church. Ringing every hour, on the hour. Every Sunday morning, I remember incessant calls […]

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Scores on the Sidewalk

In late 1981 or early 1982, the composer and vocalist Julius Eastman was evicted from his apartment in New York City. City marshals placed his belongings on the sidewalk, including all of his scores, and Eastman walked away, leaving everything behind. After years of drifting in and out of homeless shelters and bumming money from […]