Posted inReview

The Society of the Spectacle

Modernist literature has a special fascination with Wagner. The voices of “Das Rheingold” and “Tristan und Isolde” drift across T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Virginia Woolf’s The Waves bears the imprint of the composer’s motivic method, along with the symbolism of the “Ring” Cycle and “Parsifal.” A lusty Wagnerian atavism is stamped all over […]

Posted inInterview

Healthy Confusion

Alex Ross’s Wagernism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music was released in September to wide acclaim. In VAN, Alison Kinney described the book’s complex, nuanced approach to art and morality: “Ross recognizes, and reshapes, the world of Wagnerism as it is, for good and for bad, and makes room for the inadequacy of […]

Posted inReview

The Ecstasy of Knowledge

Early in Wagnerism: Art and Politics In the Shadow of Music, a history of the cult of fandom devoted to the operas of 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner, Alex Ross drops a charming anecdote from the 1850s. Poet and critic Auguste de Gasperini told of being “subjugated” by Wagner’s music, suffering what Ross calls “an […]

Posted inRankings & Roundups

Piano Entanglements

In the spring, while stuck at home avoiding the coronavirus, I read Lea Singer’s forthcoming novel, The Piano Student, which tells the story of Vladimir Horowitz’s affair with a 23-year-old male protege, Nico Kauffman. Drawing from Horowitz’s actual letters to Kauffman, Singer depicts a forbidden relationship in which Horowitz vacillates between ardently declaring his love […]

Posted inRankings & Roundups

Keyboard Warriors

Stravinsky puts it pithily enough: Music “expresses nothing outside of itself.” It’s a dictum that puts critics like me on the back foot, accusing us of peddling only a pale and inadequate imitation of the thing itself. Those who can’t, write. But it also describes a deeper sense of music as incommensurable, elevated by thinkers […]