At times like this, what’s the point in writing about music?

At times like this, what’s the point in writing about music?


norman lebrecht

November 06, 2015

In the thick of the biggest European migration since the 1940s, with nuclear powers playing Russian roulette in Syrian skies, a Labour leader who wants to drop our defences and a Europe that is rebuilding its borders, the act of writing about music can seem futile, if not positively escapist. What benefit is there in contemplating the work of composers, the merits of interpreters and the putative meaning of black notes that fly in and above five stave lines like crows at the dawn of Armageddon?

In times of crisis we are enjoined to keep calm and carry on. But carrying on is the hardest thing to do when there is no correlation between the overriding abnormality and our concentrated preoccupation with very small things. What, in a word, is the point?

Read my current Standpoint essay here.


bochum concert hall


  • Will Duffay says:

    Woah!: “A Labour leader who wants to drop our defences”. Where did that come from? When did Corbyn ever say that?

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    Just when the UK’s military strategies have worked out so well…

  • Eddie Mars says:

    Perhaps you want him to emulate the ‘achievements’ of Labour leaders who *did* have weapons? One million innocent civilians dead in Iraq? Or was it two?

    • Ellingtonia says:

      As ever the grandiose statement about the “killing of innocent civilians” which no one denies. But do get your facts right and state that 90% of those civilians killed were killed by other muslims, not British or allied forces.

      • william osborne says:

        Creating civil war and chaos has been exactly the Anglo-American strategy.

      • Eddie Mars says:

        As ever, Exceptionalist grandstanding.

        Found those WMD yet, have you, Buddy? You invaded Iraq because Dumbsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Rice & Powell all went on record about the WMD. Powell said they were “hidden in the palm trees, this is not speculation, this is solid intelligence”

        So where are they? Where are they? I’m going to hammer you with this until you are sick of hearing it, ‘Buddy’.

        C’mon, answer up. You said there were WMD. Where are they????

  • John Borstlap says:

    That is a beautiful and touching article.

    In WW II, people would scramble along ruins to hear classical music once in a while, sitting with ther winter coats on, in a cold hall, to feel for a short while what it means to be human. Maybe classical music does need a crisis now & then, to get to the heart of the matter.

  • Marg says:

    I enjoyed reading your piece Norman. And agree with you that immersed in great music the woes of the world can seem for a moment almost trivial. It doesnt make them go away and nor should they, but it is wonderful to have a place to seek refuge every now and again.

  • william osborne says:

    There are 17 full time orchestras within about a 30 mile radius in Germany’s Ruhrgebiet. You can see a map of their locations at on page 5 of this PDF file:

    By historical standards, Europe is currently in one of the longest and most prosperous periods in its entire history. During WWII, an average of 694,000 people were killed per month. During the Thirty Years War the Swedish military destroyed a third of all towns in Germany. Germany lost 40% of its population. Not sure we have much to complain about.

  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    One could also turn the question around: why one would be too much involved in this absurd, vulgar, violent world? If one believes in escapism, to escape in great Art in general and great music in particular is maybe the best option…
    “I am dead to the world’s tumult,
    And I rest in a quiet realm!
    I live alone in my heaven,
    In my love and in my song.”

    • John Borstlap says:

      And yet, the composer who set these words to music has created the sharpest expression of 20C spiritual agony about the loss of a culture, an expression which has been taken as an encouragement to finish it off alltogether.