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Classical Notes

What we talk about when we talk about music

Posted at 3:16 PM on May 16, 2006 by Don Lee

I’ll leave it to someone else to respond directly to Tom Oscanyan, who posed a question in the Comments under John Birge’s post yesterday. Mr. Oscanyan wonders how critics judge the artistic merit of a performance. “As a lifelong ‘fan’ of classical music,” he says, “I'm still trying to wrap my arms around the idea of a review.”

The language of music is abstract and our reactions to it are subjective. So I’ll bet part of Mr. Oscanyan's problem is the difficulty in wrapping words around music.

My motivation for that tangential response to his question is to recommend a discussion I just read by British broadcaster Armando Iannucci. He says, “It's easy to fall back on quasi-mystical, pretentious language when trying to talk about one's experience of classical music, but that shouldn't stop us trying.” You can find the rest of Iannucci's attempt here.