Music criticism  

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"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture[...]."

"During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, popular music was considered nothing but vulgar entertainment. Today, jazz and rock music are seen as forms of art, and their practitioners are regularly accorded a status on par with the cultural and political elite."--blurb to Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club (2002) by Bernard Gendron

This page Music criticism is part of the music series.Illustration: Sheet music to "Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), a traditional song.
This page Music criticism is part of the music series.
Illustration: Sheet music to "Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), a traditional song.

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Music criticism is a branch of musical aesthetics. With the concurrent expansion of interest in music and information media over the past century, the term has come to acquire the conventional meaning of journalistic reporting on musical performances.

Modern music criticism is often informed by music theory consideration of the many diverse elements of a musical piece or performance, including (as regards a musical composition) its form and style, and as regards performance, standards of technique and expression. It was expressed, for example, in journals such as Neue Zeitschrift für Musik founded by Robert Schumann, and is continued today in the columns of serious newspapers and journals such as the Musical Times.



The English composer Charles Avison (1709-1770) has the distinction of writing the first work on musical criticism in the English language. It was an Essay on Musical Expression published in 1752. In it Avison criticized the music of one of his contemporaries, George Frideric Handel.

Before about the 1840s, reporting on music was either done by musical journals, such as Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (published by Breitkopf & Hartel), and then by Rieter-Biederman (from 1798–1882), or the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (founded by Robert Schumann), and in London such journals as the Musical Times (founded in 1844 as the Musical Times and Singing-class Circular); or else by reporters at general newspapers where music did not form part of the central objectives of the publication.

Several changes — possibly education, the Romantic movement generally and in music, popularization (including what some referred to as Lisztomania), among others — led to an increasing interest in music among the general papers, and an increase in the number of critics by profession, and of varying degrees of competence and integrity, of course. The situation here was distinguished from that before the 1840s, in that the critics now — on the whole — were not also musicians; and so this could be considered a turning‐point of a kind.)

One source for the claim that music criticism underwent a fundamental change in the 1840s–50s, is a letter by Liszt, and admittedly, given the time and the context — the beginnings of the War of the Romantics — the contrast he describes may be produced by nostalgia for a time when artists critiqued artists (his own ideal, as his writings are interpreted by Alan Walker).

To end of 18th century

Critical references to music, (often deprecating performers or styles) can be found in early literature, including, for example, in Plato's Laws and in the writings of medieval music theorists.

According to Richard Taruskin, the active concert life of late 18th-century London meant that "the role and the function of arts criticism as we know it today were the creations of the English public." However the first magazines specifically devoted to music criticism seem to have developed in Germany, for example Georg Philipp Telemann's Der getreue Music-Meister (1728), which included publications of new compositions, and Der critische Musikus which appeared in Hamburg between 1737 and 1740. In France in the 1750s, the Querelle des Bouffons, (the dispute between supporters of French and Italian opera styles as represented by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Jean-Baptiste Lully respectively), generated essays from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, including Denis Diderot's Rameau's Nephew (1761). The English composer Charles Avison (1709–1770) published the first work on musical criticism in the English language - an Essay on Musical Expression published in 1752. In it, Avison claims that since the time of Palestrina and Raphael, music had improved in status whilst pictorial art had declined However he believes that George Frideric Handel is too much concerned with naturalistic imitation than with expression, and criticises the habit, in Italian operas, of
'that egregious absurdity of repeating, and finishing many songs with the first part; when it often happens, after the passions of anger and revenge have been sufficiently expressed, that reconcilement and love are the subjects of the second, and, therefore, should conclude the performance.'
Typically until the late eighteenth century music criticism centred on vocal rather than instrumental music - "vocal music ... was the apex of [the] aesthetic hierarchy. One knew what music was expressing."

Age of Romanticism

The last years of the eighteenth century reflected both a change of patronage of music from the aristocracy to the rising middle-classes and the rise of Romanticism in the arts. Both of these had consequences for the practice of music criticism; "the tone of the critic was lowered as his audience expanded: he began to approach the reader as a colleague rather than a pedagogue", and a new generation of critics began to widen their consideration to other aspects of music than its pure representative aspects, becoming increasingly interested in instrumental music. Prominent amongst these was E. T. A. Hoffmann, who wrote in 1809
That instrumental music has now risen to a level of which one probably had no inkling not long ago, and that the symphony, especially following...Haydn and Mozart, has become the ultimate form of instrumental music - the opera of instruments, as it were - all this is well-known to every music-lover.

A further impetus to the direction of music criticism was given by the changing nature of concert programming with the establishment of the European classical music canon; indeed it is at this peariod that word 'classical' is first applied to a received musical tradition. At the same time the proportion of new music to 'canonic' music in concert programming began to decline, meaning that living composers were increasingly in competition with their dead predecessors. This was particularly the case in respect of the rise of Beethoven's reputation in his last year and posthumously. This gave rise both to writings on the value of the 'canon' and also to writings by composers and their supporters defending newer music.

In 1798 the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, edited by Friedrich Rochlitz (1769-1842) began publication in Leipzig, and this is often regarded as the precursor of a new genre of criticism aimed at a wider readership than qualified connoisseurs. In subsequent years a number of regular journals decidcated to music criticism and reviews began to appear in major European centres, including the The Harmonicon, (London 1823-33), the Musical Times (London, 1844-date), the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris (Paris 1827-1880, founded by François-Joseph Fétis), the Berliner allgemeine musikalische Zeitung founded in 1825 by A.M. Schlesinger and edited by A. B. Marx, and the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik founded in 1834 in Leipzig by Robert Schumann and Friedrich Wieck, and later edited by Franz Brendel. Other journals at this period also began to carry extensive writings on music: Hector Berlioz wrote for the Parisian Journal des débats, Heinrich Heine reported on music and literature in Paris for the Stuttgart Allgemeine Zeitung, the young Richard Wagner wrote articles for Heinrich Laube's magazine Zeitung für die elegante Welt and during his 1839-42 stay in Paris for Schlesinger's publishing house and for German newspapers. In 1835 J.W.Davison (1813–85) began his lifelong career as a music critic, for forty influential years of which he wrote for The Times.

Popular music journalism

Popular music journalists can be either staff writers or more frequently, freelance writers. The work includes single, album, DVD or concert reviews, interviews/profiles, equipment reviews (e.g. guitars, amplifiers, microphones) and features. A record label or musician’s promoters will often send free recordings, DVDs and press releases to a magazine or freelance writer seeking to arrange reviews or interviews with the artist. Announcements of future expected recordings might be made available by some recording companies along with PR releases. The job of music journalist is typically low-paying, and for this reason many music journalists hold other part or full time jobs. Where criticism of classical or art music usually deals with the music itself (drawing on the analyses to be found in such journals as Musical Times), that dealing with popular music is overwhelmingly to do with performers, with some attention given to songwriters, producers and other individuals in the music business. There is a far greater emphasis on the appearance (clothing, hair style, life-style choices) of performers than has been the case in music journalism dealing with classical music performers, but the influence of pop-music journalism can increasingly be observed in the treatment afforded individuals such as Nigel Kennedy. Magazines featuring such journalism include Rolling Stone, Creem, URB, College Music Journal, New Musical Express and The Source.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Music criticism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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