Joseph Kerman is emeritus professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley. He began writing music criticism for The Hudson Review in the 1950s, and is a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books and many other journals. His books include Opera as Drama (1956; new and revised edition 1988), The Beethoven Quartets (1967), Contemplating Music (1986), Concerto Conversations (1999), and The Art of Fugue (2005).

Playing in Time

Oblivious of logjams looming in the future, Paul Griffiths begins A Concise History of Western Music in a leisurely, almost lyrical fashion. Music’s prehistory can be inferred not only by studying the remains of ancient flutes, but by listening to “the archaeology in our own bodies”; as our hearts beat …

Mozart’s Magic Marriage

It is hard to experience or even think about Mozart’s The Magic Flute without a sense of wonder at how much it differs from all his other operas, ranging from The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, the opera of choice today, to less frequently performed works …

The Voice of Masters

In his recent book Classical Music in America, Joseph Horowitz devotes several chapters to “Offstage Participants,” his name for people who work away from the footlights and make up the support system of musical life, as he sees it, rather than in the spots as singers, players, or conductors. One …

Mystery Man

A shilling life will give you all the facts, wrote Auden, and many have echoed him, including more than one writer in The New York Review, but when it comes to Johann Sebastian Bach what you get for twenty-two dollars in the Cambridge Musical Lives Series is a tissue of …

On Carlos Kleiber (1930–2004)

When Carlos Kleiber died this summer, at the age of seventy-four, the obituaries made it clear that the musical world had lost an extraordinary figure. What made him so extraordinary as a musician they did not say, and indeed one can hardly conceive of a pithy characterization of his distinction …

That Old Labyrinth Song

Most musicologists are blinkered souls (or whatever the right word might be: ear-plugged, perhaps)—so it was no great surprise that I knew nothing about labyrinths before reading The Maze and the Warrior by—and this was the surprise—another musicologist, Craig Wright of Yale University. Since then I have been to San …

Beethoven the Unruly

Lewis Lockwood is a leading musical scholar of the postwar generation, and the leading American authority on Beethoven. He has published influential articles on the composer, some collected previously in Beethoven: Studies in the Creative Process (1992), but no full-length study until now. He has chosen to make his first …

The Full Monte

It was a brilliant idea, and must have required a managerial tour de force, for the Brooklyn Academy of Music to bring together the three surviving operas of Claudio Monteverdi in productions from Amsterdam, Aix-en-Provence, and Chicago, dating from 1993, 2000, and 2001 respectively. Attending all three in a row …

Bayreuth Blues

A few weeks ago the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth celebrated its 125th anniversary. To the world (perhaps I should say, to the opera world) at large, things have been going along relatively smoothly at Bayreuth since the centennial year 1976, when Patrice Chéreau and Pierre Boulez created a sensation by …

The Miracle Worker

Peter Gay’s Penguin Life of Mozart tells the story with grace and organizes it with dexterity. It is not pitched at a very high level, and the author has not found anything very distinctive to say about his subject. Gay is a distinguished historian of the Enlightenment, but his remarks …

Beethoven and the Big Change

In 1791 a listing was made of the several dozen musicians in the employ of the episcopal court of Bonn. “Herr Ludwig van Beethoven plays clavier concertos” is the extent of the entry on the young man who was to become Bonn’s and perhaps Germany’s most celebrated citizen. At the …

Two Cheers for Rach 3

If classical music is dying, as we know must be the case, for The New York Times tells us so on a regular basis, its death spasms are certainly momentous. First the Four Seasons, then the Three Tenors, the Monks, Anonymous Four, Mozart covers by Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, …

The Beethoven Takeover

In 1969 Alan Tyson, the leading British authority on Beethoven, who is also a psychoanalyst, published a short, quiet, and (by now) rather well-known article called “Beethoven’s Heroic Phase.”[^1] Its subject is the composer’s psychological state (bad) in the years when he first began to experience deafness, from around 1799 …

The Big Sound

Charles Rosen is admired both as a concert pianist and as the author of The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, of 1971, and other writings. His new book, long awaited, is The Romantic Generation. Its dust cover reproduces a familiar Romantic painting, which has in fact become a staple of …

Bach’s Greatest Hit

Where does a Harvard undergraduate science major who has listened to Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier “several thousand times” turn to find a ready ear and encouragement for his singular passion? Not, it appears, to any of the notable musicians on the Harvard faculty, but to the even more notable Stephen Jay …

Mozart à la Mode

Several complete or nearly complete recordings of Mozart’s piano concertos are listed as available—though whether you will be able to find them at your local record store, or even order them, is another question. What you are more likely to find are CD reissues of famous old Mozart performances: performances …

The Residue of Genius

That Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus left in its wake widespread curiosity, even anxiety, about its eponymous antihero is probably true; musicologists at parties are still being asked what Mozart was “really” like, what “really” did him in. What went wrong in his last years? At the more bookish of such parties, …

Wagner Goes West

   Accursed Hagen, for you counselled me on the venom which bewitched him from his wife! Ah sorrow! Suddenly I understand— Brünnhilde was the true love whom through the drink he forgot! Gutrune, before she sings these lines near the end of the Ring, has …

Wagner and Wagnerism

Readers who feel in need of a quick Wagner fix, but who may be put off by the multitude of recent Wagner literature (as is the present reviewer), will do well to await The New Grove Wagner. It contains a concise, merciless account of Wagner’s life by John Deathridge and, …

Verdi’s Hit Parade

This third volume of Julian Budden’s monumental work will present no surprises to those who, knowing the earlier volumes, have already recognized The Operas of Verdi as the major scholarly and critical study written to date on this composer. The operas covered in the latest book “offer no special problems …

A Bachward Glance

Wilfrid Mellers is known in England as a composer, an educator of some importance, and a copious writer on music. He has written books on Music in Society, François Couperin and his milieu, American music, and the Beatles, among other topics. Now in his mid-sixties, he is producing as a …

Vissi d’arte

When Maria Callas died unexpectedly in 1977, two portraits were found in her Paris apartment. One was of Elvira de Hidalgo, a leading opera singer who became Callas’s teacher in Athens between 1940 and 1945 and first identified her proclivity for the bel canto repertory, taught her the technique with …

Theme and Variations

What Charles Rosen does to the concept of sonata form in this book is not so much deconstruction—though there is some of that, as we shall see—but rather reconstruction. The old textbook definition of sonata form has been hammered away at on many occasions; Rosen himself did a pretty thorough …

William Byrd and the Catholics

Until fairly recently the history of Catholicism in Elizabethan and Jacobean England was conceived largely in terms of hagiology. From the first history of the English Jesuits, by Father Henry More, grandson of Sir Thomas, in 1635, to the biography of the Blessed Edmund Campion by Evelyn Waugh, written exactly …

Reading Opera

Romantic Opera and Literary Form is the most provocative (and provoking) book on opera to appear in a long time. One is first struck by its brilliance and then astonished that such a sophisticated critical structure can rest on such simplistic foundations. The polemical thesis which runs through the chapters …

Follow the Lieder

Because they are there: that must be one reason why the huge corpus of Schubert songs has proved to be irresistible to a singer like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. No great performer of today or perhaps any other era has been so fascinated by the sheer extent of the musical repertory available …