Opera and the Morbidity of Music cover
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Publication date:
April 8, 2008
New York Review Books
Visual & Performing Arts

The death of classical music, the distinguished critic and musicologist Joseph Kerman declares, is “a tired, vacuous concept that will not die.” In this wide-ranging collection of essays and reviews, Kerman examines the ongoing vitality of the classical music tradition, from the days of Guillaume Dufay, John Taverner, and William Byrd to contemporary operas by Philip Glass and John Adams.

Here are enlightening investigations of the lives and works of the greatest composers: Bach and his Well-Tempered Clavier, Mozart’s and Beethoven’s piano concertos, Schubert’s songs, Wagner’s and Verdi’s operas. Kerman discusses The Magic Flute as well as productions of the Monteverdi operas in Brooklyn and the Ring in San Francisco and Bayreuth. He also includes remembrances of Maria Callas and Carlos Kleiber that make clear why they were such extraordinary musicians.

Kerman argues that predictions—let alone assumptions—of the death of classical music are not a new development but part of a cultural transformation that has long been with us. Always alert to the significance of historical changes, from the invention of music notation to the advent of recording, he proposes that the place to look for renewal of the classical music tradition in America today is in opera—in a flood of new works, the rediscovery of long-forgotten ones, and innovative productions by companies large and small. Written for a general audience rather than for experts, Kerman’s essays invite readers to listen afresh and to engage with his insights into how music works. “His gift is so uncommon as to make one sad,” Alex Ross has said.


Kerman’s subjects range widely, from book reviews through several obituaries (Maria Callas and Carlos Kleiber), essays on various topics, discussions of recordings, and even some commentary on individual compositions.— The Examiner

One of the most frequently quoted writers about opera…— Globe and Mail

Makers of Modern Architecture: From Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry Martin Filler

Martin Filler’s Makers of Modern Architecture…should eclipse other works in the field. He incisively places many 20th-century architects and their work in a social context. He is also a refreshingly colorful, on-target observer, as when he limns, hilariously, the agonizing approach to (and his disappointment in) Richard Meier’s Getty Center in Los Angeles, or notes that Louis Sullivan “sometimes edged toward the crackpot in the relentlessness of his passionate obsessions.”— House & Garden

Imagine a Vasari’s Lives for architects, ranging from Louis Sullivan to Gehry, Piano, Calatrava. That’s what Martin Filler has written with vivacity, concision, and encyclopedic erudition in Makers of Modern Architecture. If you’re an old architectural hand, you’ll need this book as an essential point of reference; if you’re an avid amateur who wonders about the built world, you’ll find it the best college course you never took. Filler’s passionate observations on architecture and art, morality, commerce, and politics will ignite debates for years to come.— John Guare

Most of these 17 short essays by Filler…originally appeared in The New York Review of Books; some have been expanded and updated. They touch on aspects of the work and lives of 20-plus giants of modern architecture (e.g., Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier) as well as contemporary practitioners (e.g., Frank Gehry, Richard Meier)…Filler’s engaging observations and insights are worth reading.— Library Journal

Arriving in time for the dog days, Filler provides something to sink our teeth into. Delicious!…Filler’s essays consist of a rich amalgam of biographical analyses, emphasizing each individual’s career trajectory, with some formal analysis of the architects’ built work. Refreshingly, he avoids too much of the latter, preferring to delve into matters often unexplored in the popular press….Ultimately, Filler’s engaging book entertains and informs as it opines; then the language ceases, leaving us hungering for more of this piquant, yet savory intellectual dish.— Architectural Record