Leo Carey is a Senior Editor at The New Yorker. (November 2016)


Liszt: The Reluctant Superstar

Franz Liszt: Musician, Celebrity, Superstar

by Oliver Hilmes, translated from the German by Stewart Spencer
In 1881, Franz Liszt visited Raiding, the small Hungarian town where he had been born nearly seventy years before. He was arguably the most famous musician in the world. Trailed by local dignitaries, he arrived at the modest house where he had grown up. Inside he was amazed to find …

The Meaning of Mahler

Gustav Mahler

by Bruno Walter, with a biographical essay by Ernst Křenek, and an introduction by Erik Ryding

Gustav Mahler’s Symphonic Landscapes

by Thomas Peattie
Contemplating the popularity of Richard Strauss in 1902, Mahler wrote, “My time will come.” Because he was right in the long run the words now sound quietly confident, but at the time his self-belief was compromised by doubt and by frustration with the course his career had taken. His outlook was closer to that of the imagined protagonist of his First Symphony who, he said, “as often as he lifts his head above the billows of life, is again and again dealt a blow by fate and sinks down anew.” Mahler’s anxiety about his reputation and legacy is written into the music, which—in its extremes of emotion, volume, and sheer duration—is determined to assert itself in spite of everything.

The Weird Art of the Ordinary

Peter Stamm with a bust of Gutenberg, Mainz, Germany, 2013

All Days Are Night

by Peter Stamm, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Two thirds of the way through the Swiss-German writer Peter Stamm’s most recent novel, events appear to be moving toward an exciting climax. An artist has been commissioned to do a show at a small Alpine cultural center. He is determined not to repeat the work that made his name, …

The Beethoven Mystery Case

Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph

by Jan Swafford
Nine hundred and thirty pages into Jan Swafford’s new biography of Beethoven, there is an interesting juxtaposition. After the composer died, in March 1827, his funeral was “one of the grandest Vienna ever put on for a commoner.” Schools were closed. Some 10,000 people crowded into the courtyard of the …

Coming Back

Elisabeth de Waal, Paris, 1926

The Exiles Return

by Elisabeth de Waal
About halfway through The Hare with Amber Eyes—Edmund de Waal’s best-selling history of his Jewish banking family, and of the art they collected and lost to the Nazis—we encounter his grandmother Elisabeth, a studious Viennese girl who has just turned seventeen and who, for the first time, is to have …

Love in Venice

Björn Andrésen as Tadzio and Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice (1971)

Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach

by Philip Kitcher
“This boy was tremendously attractive, and my husband was always watching him with his companions on the beach,” remembered Thomas Mann’s long-suffering wife near the end of her life. “He didn’t pursue him through all of Venice—that he didn’t do—but the boy did fascinate him.” In May 1911, she, her …

The Battle of Britten

Benjamin Britten, right, with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, at the Old Mill, his house in Suffolk, England, circa 1943

Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century

by Paul Kildea

Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, 1913–1976: Volume Six, 1966–1976

edited by Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke
Britten’s reputation—the need to decide once and for all whether he is great or overrated—is central to discussion of him, in a way that is not true for more acclaimed contemporaries (like Stravinsky) or lesser ones (like Finzi). A peevish, aggrieved tone persists on either side. Britten’s middle-of-the-road idiom always drew criticism. It was too astringent for listeners brought up on English pastoralism and too conservative for avant-gardists.