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 inInterview

The Cloudily Divine

The English writer Alan Hollinghurst is one of the great chroniclers of musical experience and anal sex. His characters don’t simply hear music; they live with, through, inside it. I met Hollinghurst one bright afternoon at his home in Hampstead. VAN: There are many classical music-related jokes in your novels. In The Swimming-Pool Library, a […]

Posted inInterview

Winter Words

Garth Greenwell is a remarkable novelist. Like vocal lines, his sentences explode with vibrating, irrepressible energy while still assuming classically beautiful forms. What Belongs To You (2016), his debut novel, about collisions between guilt, grief, desire, and openness in the relationship between an American high school teacher and a Bulgarian hustler, was long-and short-listed for […]

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 […]

Posted inInterview

The Human Comedy

“The dirty world printed in the newspapers is our own,” wrote Thomas Bernhard in his final novel, Extinction. The same might be said of Norman Lebrecht’s blog Slipped Disc, perhaps the only publication to write about classical music the same way people in the industry speak about it in private. Though the site has been […]

Posted inInterview

Aesthetic Responsibility

Daniel Mendelsohn is a writer, translator, and professor of literature at Bard College. His most recent book is An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic which, along with the memoir The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity, are personal favorites of mine. He is also deeply attuned to classical music. I […]

Posted inPlaylist

A Women Film Composers Playlist

“If I may be so honored,” said Frances McDormand in her acceptance speech for Best Actress at last Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, “to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me tonight,” and they did—actors, directors, writers. But how many standing were composers? Although there were three women nominated for the original song […]

Posted inEssay

Marble and Marzipan

40 years ago, Wolfgang Hildesheimer wrote a long-form essay, Mozart, that freed his namesake from the marble of statues and the marzipan coatings of candies. The open-ended structure of the work makes so much new writing look older than its years. Every time a new book comes out, it eclipses 10 older ones. One may […]