Posted inOpinion

Classical Complacency

The time is in the street you know, Us living as we do upside down. And the new word to have is “revolution.” People don’t even want to hear the preacher spill or spiel Because God’s hole card has been thoroughly piqued And America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey  —Gil […]

Posted inHistory

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 […]

Posted inReport

Long Time Passing

An old Pete Seeger song that ran through my head in the autumn of 2016 ends with the lines: “And by union what we will can be accomplished still. / Drops of water turn a mill; singly none.” In 2020, I’m listening to folk singer Lee Knight sing that same song (“Step by Step”) on […]

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 inProfile

Once More Unto the Breach

On New Year’s Eve, 1991, the Berlin Philharmonic gave its annual New Year’s concert in the city’s Schauspielhaus. The Wall was still fresh in the minds of Berliners from both the former West and East; the two cities had only resorbed as one a little over a year earlier. Under the baton of Claudio Abbado, […]

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 inHistory

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 […]

Posted inInterview

Space for the Wrong

On a recent evening in Berlin, the pianist and composer Frederic Rzewski performed his virtuosic variations on a Chilean protest song, “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!” Physical and mental exhaustion are composed into the piece, and watching Rzewski play, I was struck by the similarities between the musical obstacles in his work and […]