Some time, quite soon, all music reviews will look like this

There’s a fascinating essay in OpenLettersMonthly, a Boston-based publication, that outlines the inadequacy of musical reviews and analysis and offers a cogent alternative.


Using Charles Rosen’s latest book as groundbass, Greg Waldmann illustrates how, with selective recourse to Youtube, the understanding of music can be illuminated by recourse to that bottomless resource known as Youtube.  Instead of theorising in 500 words, a reviewer can produce a ten-second video example that makes the point … and move on.

Bad reviewing exists because listeners cannot challenge it from memory. A recent attack on a singer in Brussels could have been instantly refuted had the opera house loaded the performance online overnight, instead of two weeks later.

But that day will soon be upon us. And when it dawns, a lot of bad critics will be put out of business.

Read Gregg’s essay here. And be amazed, as I was, at some of his clips. Moura Lympany: who’d have known?

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  • Yes! This is exactly what I have been doing in my blog. YouTube completely changes writing about music. Here is a post in which I compare many different violinists playing Bach:

    http://themusicsalon.blogspot.com/2011/08/nigel-kennedy-and-bach.html

    And here is one on Shostakovich with examples from YouTube. Honestly, I don’t know how you can write about music without YouTube!

    http://themusicsalon.blogspot.com/2011/07/introduction-to-shostakovich.html

  • I still value words as a way of discussing music, particularly when it happens to be a review of a live concert. Comparing a live performance to a recorded one is not a fair comparison, particularly when the person recorded on the video so no longer alive. Knowing the repertoire and what it takes to play the instruments in question well is a rare skill among people who write reviews.

    Also, words last forever. YouTube videos can be removed from YouTube. A review I read from 1901 can still have meaning and value for me, and a notice that the video I want to see is no longer accessible doesn’t do me (or anyone else) a bit of good.

    • This may work in a number of respects, but not for “big” voices. Youtube seems to standardize vocal size. I’ve been to productions at the Met where a singer or two was occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, and then seen a clip on youtube (or on HD) and been astonished at how much bigger those singers’ voices sounded. I see that as a serious drawback to this.

      People talk, for example, about Stephanie Blythe’s voice on youtube as compared to live, and I can attest to the fact that it’s very different. In Die Walkure in the house, her voice towered over all others. It was huge and with such colors. But on the HD Live presentation, it seemed no bigger than anyone else’s it’s “flavor” seemed different. Conversely, Morris’ voice as Siegfried sounded much bigger on HD than in person (although I loved him in both the house and the cinema).

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