Today, we are told, is an age of criticism. In painting, both friends and foes of the new tell us that what we see cannot be comprehended without our studying the critic’s notion of the art. In literature, the various flavors of structuralism and deconstruction have managed to replace the text with the exegesis. Across a wide spectrum of the arts, the whole situation curiously resembles the world of what used to be called haute cuisine: for every mouthful of the real thing, one must eat a thousand words.

In music, however, criticism does not quite occupy this exalted position. Here, paralleling the general torpor of a commercially entrenched and artistically routinized establishment, music criticism serves as the handmaiden of a celebrity-oriented audience, at its best applying academic musicology to the rationalizing of box-office success. Where critical writing is able to escape this state of elegant lackeydom, it...


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