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July 20, 2005

19th Century Vienna

Regarding the question of the relationship between critical health and musical health, Vienna from about 1870 to 1890 is quite an interesting case study. The musical health seems unquestionable but the critical scene seems to be more of a mirror of the good and bad in society. Most Germans seem to agree that the critical reception - vilification almost - of Bruckner was shameful. Then of course there is Hanslick's review of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in which he said that one could imagine a type of music which actually stank (I've always thought there could have been a hefty dose of homophobia in this remark: it was just after Tchaikovsky's marriage debacle and it seems probable rumours were circulating though I don't have any evidence other than circumstances for this assumption). Worst of all was the way pro-Wagner critics happily exploited anti-semitism (which Brahms, to his credit, found totally unacceptable). Brahms himself was once criticised for his Jewish tendencies! I feel that critics need to remember this example, and also the complicity of critics in Stalin's oppression of artists. So as you can see, I don't automatically equate critical and musical health. Historically, in some cases, the criticism was not healthy, but the music endured.

Posted by pmccallum at July 20, 2005 01:01 PM


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