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Music criticism

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Title: Music criticism  
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Music criticism

A symphony orchestra

The Oxford Companion to Music defines music criticism as 'the intellectual activity of formulating judgments on the value and degree of excellence of individual works of music, or whole groups or genres'.[1] In this sense it 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.[2]


  • Nature of music criticism 1
  • History 2
    • To end of 18th century 2.1
    • Age of Romanticism 2.2
  • See also 3
  • Sources 4
  • Notes 5

Nature of music criticism

The musicologist Winton Dean has suggested that "music is probably the most difficult of the arts to criticize."[3] Unlike the plastic or literary arts, the 'language' of music does not specifically relate to human sensory experience - Dean's words, "the word 'love' is common coin in life and literature: the note C has nothing to do with breakfast or railway journeys or marital harmony."[4] Like dramatic art, music is recreated at every performance, and criticism may therefore be directed both at the text (musical score) and the performance. More specifically, as music has a temporal dimension that requires repretition or development of its material "problems of balance, contrast, expectation and fulfilment ... are more central to music than to other arts, supported as these are by verbal or representational content."[5] The absence of a clearly evolved or consensual musical aesthetics has also tended to make music criticism a highly subjective issue. "There is no counter-check outside the critic's own personality".[6]


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
  1. ^ Bujic, (n.d.)
  2. ^ Bujic, (n.d.)
  3. ^ Dean (1980) 44
  4. ^ Dean (1980) 45.
  5. ^ Dean (1980) 45.
  6. ^ Dean (1980) 46-7.
  7. ^ Taruskin (2010) 571.
  8. ^ Dean (1980) 39.
  9. ^ Taruskin (2010), 441-2.
  10. ^ Bujic (n.d.)
  11. ^ Avison (1752), 37.
  12. ^ Dean (1980) 37
  13. ^ Avison (1752), 73.
  14. ^ Charlton (2003) 10.
  15. ^ Conway (2012), 11-2.
  16. ^ Dean (1980) 38.
  17. ^ Hoffmann (2003) 222-3.
  18. ^ Conway (2012) 50-1; Weber (2001); Weber (2003).
  19. ^ Taruskin (2010) 673.
  20. ^ Davison (1912) v.


  • Avison, Charles (1752). Essay on Musical Expression. London. Downloadable from IMSLP.
  • Bujic, Bojan (n.d.) "Criticism of Music" in The Oxford Companion to Music, Oxford Music Online, accessed 1 January 2013.
  • Charlton, David (2003). "Hoffmann as a Writer on Music", in Hoffmann (2003), 1-22.
  • Conway, David (2012). Jewry in Music: Entry to the Profession from the Enlightenment to Richard Wagner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-01538-8.
  • Davison, J.W., ed. Henry Davison (1912). FromMendelssohnto Wagner: Memoirs of J. W. Davison". London: William Reeves.
  • Dean, Winton (1980). "Criticism", in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (ed. Stanley Sadie) vol. 5, 36-50. London: Macmillan ISBN 0-333-23111-2
  • Hoffmann, E. T. A., ed. David Charlton (2003).E. T. A. Hoffmann's Musical Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 23520 0
  • Taruskin, Richard (2010). Music in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-538482-6
  • Weber, William (2001). "From Miscellany to Homogeneity in Concert Programming", in Poetics 29, 127-34.
  • Weber, William (2003). "Consequences of Canon: The Instituionalization of Enmity between Contemporary and Classical Music", in Common Knowledge 9/2, 78-99.


See also

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.[19] 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 James William Davison (1813–85) began his lifelong career as a music critic, for forty influential years of which he wrote for The Times.[20]

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.[18] This gave rise both to writings on the value of the 'canon' and also to writings by composers and their supporters defending newer music.

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.[17]
, who wrote in 1809 E. T. A. Hoffmann 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 [16] 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",Romanticism and the rise of [15]The last years of the eighteenth century reflected both a change of patronage of music from the aristocracy to the rising middle-classes

Age of Romanticism

[14]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."
'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.'[13]
and criticises the habit, in Italian operas, of [12]
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