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".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.
The musicologist Winton Dean has suggested that "music is probably the most difficult of the arts to criticise."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." 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 repetition 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." The absence of a systematic or consensus-based musical aesthetics has also tended to make music criticism a highly subjective issue. "There is no counter-check outside the critic's own personality."
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 Richard Taruskin, the active concert life of late 18th-century London meant that "the role and the function of arts criticism as we know it today were the creations of the English public."However, the first magazines specifically devoted to music criticism seem to have developed in Germany, for example, Georg Philipp Telemann's Der getreue Music-Meister (1728), which included publications of new compositions, and Der kritische Musikus which appeared in Hamburg between 1737 and 1740. In France in the 1750s, the Querelle des Bouffons (the dispute between supporters of French and Italian opera styles as represented by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Jean-Baptiste Lully respectively) generated essays from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, including Denis Diderot's Rameau's Nephew (1761). The English composer Charles Avison (1709–1770) published the first work on musical criticism in the English language – an Essay on Musical Expression published in 1752. In it, Avison claims that since the time of Palestrina and Raphael, music had improved in status whilst pictorial art had declined. However, he believes that George Frideric Handel is too much concerned with naturalistic imitation than with expression, and criticises the habit, in Italian operas, of
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.
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."
The last years of the eighteenth century reflected both a change of patronage of music from the aristocracy to the rising middle-classes,and the rise of Romanticism 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", 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 E. T. A. Hoffmann, who wrote in 1809
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.
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 period that the 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.This gave rise both to writings on the value of the 'canon' and also to writings by composers and their supporters defending newer music.
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.In subsequent years several regular journals dedicated to music criticism and reviews began to appear in major European centres, including 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 German newspapers. The writer George Henry Caunter (1791–1843) was called "one of the first musical critics in the metropolis [London]". In 1835 James William Davison (1813–85) began his lifelong career as a music critic, writing 40 years for The Times.
Romantic music is a stylistic movement in Western Classical music associated with the period of the 19th century commonly referred to as the Romantic era. It is closely related to the broader concept of Romanticism—the intellectual, artistic and literary movement that became prominent in Western culture from approximately 1798 until 1837.
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, born and widely known as Felix Mendelssohn, was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. Mendelssohn's compositions include symphonies, concertos, piano music, organ music and chamber music. His best-known works include the overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the oratorio St. Paul, the oratorio Elijah, the overture The Hebrides, the mature Violin Concerto and the String Octet. The melody for the Christmas carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is also his. Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words are his most famous solo piano compositions.
Charles Welles Rosen was an American pianist and writer on music. He is remembered for his career as a concert pianist, for his recordings, and for his many writings, notable among them the book The Classical Style.
Sir William Sterndale Bennett was an English composer, pianist, conductor and music educator. At the age of ten Bennett was admitted to the London Royal Academy of Music (RAM), where he remained for ten years. By the age of twenty, he had begun to make a reputation as a concert pianist, and his compositions received high praise. Among those impressed by Bennett was the German composer Felix Mendelssohn, who invited him to Leipzig. There Bennett became friendly with Robert Schumann, who shared Mendelssohn's admiration for his compositions. Bennett spent three winters composing and performing in Leipzig.
Music journalism is media criticism and reporting about music topics, including popular music, classical music, and traditional music. Journalists began writing about music in the eighteenth century, providing commentary on what is now regarded as classical music. In the 1960s, music journalism began more prominently covering popular music like rock and pop after the breakthrough of The Beatles. With the rise of the internet in the 2000s, music criticism developed an increasingly large online presence with music bloggers, aspiring music critics, and established critics supplementing print media online. Music journalism today includes reviews of songs, albums and live concerts, profiles of recording artists, and reporting of artist news and music events.
Absolute music is music that is not explicitly 'about' anything; in contrast to program music, it is non-representational. The idea of absolute music developed at the end of the 18th century in the writings of authors of early German Romanticism, such as Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, Ludwig Tieck and E. T. A. Hoffmann but the term was not coined until 1846 where it was first used by Richard Wagner in a programme to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
John Brown was an English Anglican priest, playwright and essayist.
Harold Charles Schonberg was an American music critic and author. He is best known for his contributions in The New York Times, where he was chief music critic from 1960 to 1980. In 1971, he became the first music critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. An influential critic, he is particularly well known for his encouragement of Romantic piano music and criticism of conductor Leonard Bernstein. He also wrote a number of books on music, and one on chess.
Dardanus is an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau with a French-language libretto by Charles-Antoine Leclerc de La Bruère. It takes the form of a tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts. Dardanus premiered at the Paris Opéra on 19 November 1739 to mixed success, mainly because of the dramatic weakness of the libretto. This caused Rameau and La Bruère to rework the opera, completely rewriting the last three acts, for a revival in 1744. Only when Dardanus was again performed in 1760 did it win acclaim as one of Rameau's greatest works.
Richard Filler Taruskin was an American musicologist and music critic who was among the leading and most prominent music historians of his generation. The breadth of his scrutiny into source material as well as musical analysis that combines sociological, cultural, and political perspectives, has incited much discussion, debate and controversy. He regularly wrote music criticism for newspapers including The New York Times. He researched a wide variety of topics, but a central topic was the Russian music of the 18th century to present day. Other subjects he engaged with include the theory of performance, 15th-century music, 20th-century classical music, nationalism in music, the theory of modernism, and analysis. He is best known for his monumental survey of Western classical music, the six-volume Oxford History of Western Music. He received several awards, including the first Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society in 1978, and the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy in 2017.
Charles Avison was an English composer during the Baroque and Classical periods. He was a church organist at St John The Baptist Church in Newcastle and at St. Nicholas's Church. He is most known for his 12 Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti and his Essay on Musical Expression, the first music criticism published in English. He composed in a transitional style that alternated between Baroque and Classical idioms.
Friedrich Heinrich Adolf Bernhard Marx [A. B. Marx] was a German music theorist, critic, and musicologist.
"The Three Bs" is a term derived from an expression coined by Peter Cornelius in 1854, which added Hector Berlioz as the third B to occupy the heights already occupied by Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. Later in the century, conductor Hans von Bülow substituted Johannes Brahms for Berlioz. The phrase is generally used in discussions of classical music to refer to the supposed primacy of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms in the field.
Theodor Otto Helm was an Austrian music critic and writer.
The Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung was a German-language periodical published in the 19th century. Comini (2008) has called it "the foremost German-language musical periodical of its time". It reviewed musical events taking place in many countries, focusing on the German-speaking nations, but also covering France, Italy, Russia, Britain, and even occasionally America.
Paul Anthony Griffiths is a British music critic, novelist and librettist. He is particularly noted for his writings on modern classical music and for having written the libretti for two 20th century operas, Tan Dun's Marco Polo and Elliott Carter's What Next?.
The Allgemeine deutsche Musikzeitung was a musical specialist journal, which appeared from 1874 to 1884, first in Leipzig and Kassel, then in Charlottenburg. In the early years it was called Allgemeine Deutsche Musik-Zeitung – Wochenschrift für das gesammte musikalische Leben der Gegenwart.
Gerhard Rohde was a German music critic.
Richard M. Dyer is an American music critic who specializes in classical music. Described by the music critic Alex Ross as "a dean of the profession", from 1976 to 2006 he was the chief classical music critic of The Boston Globe. Educated with degrees in English, Dyer had studied piano and been an opera fan since his youth. He embarked on music criticism following a well-received 1973 article in The New York Times on the soprano Renata Tebaldi, and soon joined the staff of the Globe. A diverse critic, his writings have extended to numerous other news publications, as well as music encyclopedias, liner notes and program notes. He has served on the juries of many piano competitions, and lectured at a variety of universities.