The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Do we cry too much or too easily? How should we speak and write about music? Are non-specialist “critics” too sentimental about music? Washington Post critic Anne Midgette thinks so. | April 29, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

I like to say that everyone is a critic.

And I think that is true — insofar as we all listen and make our minds about what performances and what artists and what music we like and we don’t like and why. We favor and we privilege what speaks to us, what touches us.

But is it possible that the whole way the general public, and especially the non-specialist media, treats classical music is hurting classical music, especially new music?

Famed critic for The Washington Post, Anne Midgette (below), who also used to write for The New York Times, think there is a problem with over-sentimentalizing classical music as an art form.

Midgette thinks we cry too much, and get too  emotional in our reactions rather than cultivate intellectual and rational reactions when we assess classical music.

Midgette is known as a dissenter, even among professional trained classical music critics, with a somewhat prickly personality.

But she is undeniably  smart, very intelligent and very well informed, with a strong family and personal background in classical music.

So read what she says and see whether you agree or disagree, and why.

Here is a link to her remarks:


  1. […] Classical music: Do we cry too much or too easily? How should we speak and write about music? Are no… ( […]

    Pingback by Book: What to Listen for in Music « jameskennedybeijing — May 5, 2012 @ 6:03 am

  2. Everyone has an opinion. (see below…!)

    Critics are supposed to have both an informed opinion and the ability to share information that informs their views. Thus a critic has to be either a writer,teacher or speaker.

    As a writer and composer, I think that artists working on the leading edge of style in one medium often do not appreciate the leading edge of work in another medium. Serial composers enjoy Seurat, abstract painters favor Schubert and Mozart. Modern choreographers use more Tchaikovsky and Ravel than they do Boulez and Stockhausen in dance works. Architects reflect the ability to use their materials more than any other medium, since the work produced is so large, so public, and so expensive.

    When it comes to abstraction, the essence of a modern approach, it means separating the artists’ expression from the information we see and use in daily life. Abstract visual art is not about what we can see in the external macro-world. Music that makes little or no use of tonality relies on other relationships than the overtone series we can all hear, even if we do not know about it. Buildings can go up, out, over, around and even through, but they all must ackowledge gravity and the weather.

    Dance has the most potential to be abstract and yet acessible, since the human body is capable of so much literal flexibility.

    If you are an artist, you want to express something new in a new way. But this unique quality matters most in your chosen area. Everyone who is making art needs to be able to perceive their work with the eyes and ears of those who are not invested in either surpassing or maintaining some stylistic status-quo. My personal artistic task as a composer is to tread that fine line between abstraction and representation, as the French painters, early Picasso, Isadora Duncan, and pre-serialist modern composers did.

    The world we live in does not look or feel like Beethoven’s did, but it still has doors, windows, and mud, like his. So, the music I most admire, new and old, has this quality of being like a snapshot or a time capsule, embodying the past that gave it context, and the future that will appreciate and untimately judge it.

    Melody, line, color, form and rhythm are all parts of Life, and when an artform takes a path that leads too far away from the daily experience of these elements it runs the risk of irrelevancy.

    Emotions that the arts express are human things, and there is only so much pain, grief, joy or anger that an image, sound or movement that is not part of our everyday experience can embody. So, cry a little, but don’t use it as a final judgement. If you don’t cry at all after experiencing a work of art, think about why, and not simply the fact that some art was not emotionally impactful.

    Comment by Michael BB — April 30, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

  3. I am a pretty emotional person and I cry easily so when I read the Ear’s headline – Do we cry too much or too easily? – I began thinking of music that has literally evoked my tears. Coming immediately to mind:

    – Chopin’s Nocturne in B-flat minor:

    – Schumann’s Traumerei:

    – Rodolfo’s cry at the end of La Boheme:

    Start at about 3′ 30″ – no superstars here, just an
    utterly believable ensemble

    – The emergence of the theme of the last movement of
    Beethoven’s 6th Symphony:

    – The last act “Addio del Passato from La Traviata

    (It’s interesting how often it’s opera that opens the spigot and gets those lagrimi flowing

    Then I read Ms. Midgette’s article.
    My first reaction was, “Just what is your problem?”

    Then I read it again: My next reaction was,
    “What exactly are you talking about? My right to experience music in my own way? Am I too visceral for you and not sufficiently cerebral or analytical enough in my way of experiencing what I hear?

    My final reaction was to expand on Beethoven’s own words:
    “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” Or criticism,


    Comment by Marius — April 30, 2012 @ 11:39 am

    • Hi Marius,
      Well, I’m completely with you.
      Take that, Anne Midgette.
      And that.
      And that.
      And that too.
      I love your choices an drinks to them.
      Thanks again.

      Comment by welltemperedear — April 30, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

  4. Personally, I think classical music will always be around, its just the market is shrinking because these crazy pop trends.

    Comment by seekinggoddaily — April 29, 2012 @ 9:20 am

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