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 […]

Posted inReview

Transformed By Absence

As the Midwestern fall turned into a frigid, icy winter, I listened to Glenn Gould playing Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” and read Philip Kennicott’s Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning. Alternating between listening and reading, I found myself overwhelmed by emotion and flooded with the desire to do something. I wanted to clean house, dance […]

Posted inEssay

End Transmission

Early on in her debut essay collection, Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession, Alice Bolin gives us a definition of the Dead Girl genre: highlighted by the dark specter of a deceased female character—more often than not murdered—who is depicted with an alternating degree of mature sexualization and infantilizing naiveté that earns her […]