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 inEssay

Universal Partisanship

“I am a child of Europe, I am a liberal cosmopolitan. My family is the genetic equivalent of a UN peace-keeping force. I can read novels in French, and I can sing the ‘Ode to Joy’ in German…[encouraging shouts from audience] ‘Freude, schöner Götterfunken’…” This from a bitter “Remoaner,” lamenting the UK’s dismal exit from […]

Posted inReport

Sounds From Nowhere

On September 15, 2001, the flutist Klaus Holsten was in the German village of Klein Jasedow, a short drive from the coast of the Baltic Sea, when a truck accidentally unloaded the herbicide Brasan onto 5,000 lemon balm plants. The organic herbs were growing in a garden belonging to Holsten; his wife Beata Seemann, a […]

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 […]

Posted inEssay

Political Rites

For the past 80 years, I have started each day in the same manner,” Pablo Casals told his biographer when he was 93. “It is a sort of benediction to the house. I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach.” Then, Casals would stretch his legs, admire the dew […]

Posted inReport

Sonic Eviction

On August 17, Germany’s state-owned railway company Deutsche Bahn announced the launch of a new initiative that aimed to sonically evict “homeless people and drug users” at its Hermannstraße station, a story that caught the attention of virtually every news outlet in Germany, as well as the New York Times. (The project has since been […]