Raymond Tuttle of Fanfare raised some seldom addressed questions recently about the subjectivity of music criticism. Those questions lead to even greater mysteries, I find. It isn’t often asked, for instance, why music exists at all, but that’s surely where one has to begin, if it is to matter what we say about it.
I first talked to Michael Steinberg on stage. The work was Schoenberg’s massive “Gurrelieder”. I was singing the part of the Bauer, and he was taking the part of Der Sprecher, a role written in Sprechstimme, halfway between speaking and singing. Michael’s German, remembered from childhood, always had a kind of English tinge to it, and he was an elfin presence anyway. I remember particularly the physical way he intoned the last lines: “Erwacht, Erwacht, ihr Blumen zur Wonne” with all his might and main, his small body shaking. Michael had a child’s kind of wonder. Sitting on stage next to each other, he lost no time in giving me a quick review of an operatic performance I had just sung.
For most of its history music criticism has been almost as fleeting as music itself. If a person, for whatever odd reason, wanted to read a review of some past concert, it would have been necessary to consult a newspaper archive in a library, hardly a Herculean task, but an effort in comparison to the instantly-available databases we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. And, now that print journalism seems to be dying out, and publications like our own Berkshire Review for the Arts maintain permanent access to all published articles (and there is a readership for some of them long after the event they record) it is easier than ever.