Tag Archives: International Music Score Library Project

A further word about the future of critics


daumierthecriticA piece by Thomas Garry in today’s Daily Gorilla suggests that the Internet has made an infinite number of ways for people’s opinions to be heard, and therefore diminished the standing of the legitimate critic.

This is something I touched on a week or so ago in my comments on the CJR piece about arts criticism, and I bring it up not only to show that the Zeitgeist is grappling with this right now, but that the idea of criticism in general is what’s under siege here.

Just to second the arguments I made earlier, the Gorilla piece quotes Tom Moon, the former Philadelphia Inquirer music critic, and paraphrases him this way:

The online blog and review culture of saying whatever is “cute, smart or attention-grabbing” gives less chance for context and leaves no room for reasoned discussion, Moon says. The problem is that few people have an extensive knowledge or understanding of what went into the work. As critics more and more simply report their visceral feelings, actually knowing something about music has become seemingly unnecessary.

As I said in my earlier post, those of us who believe in the art of criticism take it very seriously indeed. In the last two days, I’ve reviewed two different casts in the Palm Beach Opera production of Bellini’s Norma (still not one of my favorite scores), and to prepare I went back to the recording, to YouTube excerpts (mostly of various divas doing, well, Casta Diva), and looked at the full vocal score on the International Music Score Library Project (the full orchestral score is there, too, but the download was so large my computer started to whine in protest). 

I played through portions of the score on the piano, read excerpts of three or four books on opera of the period, read my Grove’s entries on Bellini and other topics operatic, and did my best to compare what I was seeing and hearing with previous performances (I hadn’t seen Norma live in a long time). I think that’s the kind of thing you have to do when you’re a critic, and it sort of comes down to your own personal sense of integrity rather than the clout of whatever outlet you’re writing for. My reviews might not have been as good as others, but I have come by them honestly.

I still think that good critical voices will rise up to assume the role in culture that they always have, because most consumers of culture are just that — consumers — and they don’t have time to do elaborate research projects before going to an arts event. The best and most reliable expert opinion will out, but it will do so in different technological formats than before. 

But I don’t think the wave of opinion on the Net will in the long run destroy the role of the real expert or the true critic, or make a career in criticism impossible. Only a small number of people at any one time will have the intellectual interest and the drive to spend their time writing about (or talking about) the arts, and we’re going to need them even more than we did in the past because we’re going to have even more choices.

Score site, MP3s enliven search for musical rarities



Two other reasons to love the Internet if you’re a classical music fan.

One is the relatively recent return of the International Music Score Library Project, which debuted in February 2006, shut down in October 2007, and came back in June of the year just past. This is a site at which interested persons can download public-domain scores for study, performance or simply reference, and it’s been invaluable to me.

I have a great many scores in my house of all kinds, but there always are more that I don’t have in my library, so it’s great to surf over to this site and see whether something I’m going to hear in concert is available, or whether something I’ve been thinking about and reading is hanging around.

It’s especially interesting to go through and look for ephemera music such as the scads of blowout piano pieces that took the popular opera tunes of the day through their Lisztian paces. The better pieces of this genre still get played (i.e., by Liszt himself), but plenty of striving pianists of the 19th century played pieces such as the Variations Brilliantes et Grande Fantasie sur des Airs Nationaux Americains, Op. 158, by the once hugely popular pianist and composer Henri Herz.

The piece takes up Jackson’s March, which no one knows today, and Yankee Doodle, which everyone still does, though Herz’s statement of the tune is a little different than we’re familiar with now. Without playing through this piece on the piano, and I couldn’t manage all that filigree anyway, it’s pretty clear just from reading it that it’s a dreadful work. But it’s entirely typical of its time, and somewhere someone’s probably played it on an all-American piano recital. 

Here it is, anyway. There also is a good deal of really interesting music on the site, such as piano pieces by Szymanowski and Busoni, and I’ll be examining those over the coming weeks.

The other site I’ve been enjoying is the one for Edition Silvertrust, a music publisher in suburban Chicago. It’s not the most attractive site, but it’s a glorious mother lode of soundbites of obscure chamber music.

I’ve been listening today to the string quartets of Stenhammar, the quartet of d’Indy, a piano quintet by Martucci, a string sextet by Eduard Franck — any number of things. These works have been republished by Silvertrust, and as an incentive to consider buying one or more of these works, the company has included little MP3 excerpts of all these pieces.

Here, for instance, chosen at random, is part of the first movement of the Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 38, of the American composer Arthur Foote (pictured at the top of this post), who is always mentioned in histories of American music but whose actual compositions are nowhere to be found in our concert halls. This quintet is very much in the style of Dvorak (especially the finale), but these soundbites make a good case for this attractive piece.

From these excerpts, it’s not a piece that is going to change the history of music, but it’s certainly worth hearing now and again. If you’re like me, you’ll find it great fun to wander through this site and play some of the MP3s.

I might even buy one or two of these scores as a contribution to the cause, or for the library of the future American music festival I might found one day.