criticism, musical

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criticism, musical. The profession of writing about the aesthetics, history, and evolution of mus. and of reviewing mus. comps. and perfs. in newspapers, periodicals, books, and on the radio and TV. No one can say exactly when criticism began, but in the sense understood today it developed parallel with the spread of the printed word. By its nature, criticism is controversial and often resented, but there are several examples of a critic's, or group of critics', championship of a composer or a branch of comp. which has had beneficial results (e.g. the revival of interest in Mahler since c.1950). The first periodical devoted to mus. was Mattheson's Critica musica, founded in Hamburg 1722. In Fr. the first was Journal de musique française et italienne in 1764, though the pamphlets written during the Querelle des Bouffons 1752–4 perhaps count as criticism. In Eng. the New Musical and Universal Magazine was founded in 1774. The last vol. of Burney's History of Music, 1789, abounds in candid criticism of composers and performers of his day.

The first professional critic was probably J. F. Rochlitz (1769–1842), ed. of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in Leipzig, and champion of Bach. Journalism in Ger. daily papers began with F. Rellstate, who wrote for the Berlin Vossische Zeitung 1803–13, but the first newspaper to appoint a professionally-trained musician as critic was The Times of London, through the influence of one of its managers, Thomas Alsager, a musical enthusiast. Eng. criticism in the 19th cent. was dominated by J. W. Davison of The Times (1846–79) and H. F. Chorley, of the Athenaeum (weekly) from 1833 to 1868. One of the first men to write about mus. and musicians not as an expert but as a fine journalist was Heinrich Heine in the 19th-cent. Allgemeine Zeitung of Augsburg. There have been many examples of composers who wrote criticism, notably Robert Schumann in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (in which he advanced the causes of Chopin, Berlioz, and Brahms), Berlioz in the Journal des Débats from 1835 to 1863 (although the outstanding critic of the day in Fr. was F. J. Fétis, who founded the Revue musicale), Wolf (in the Wiener Salon-Blatt), Weber, Wagner, and Debussy (under the pseudonym Monsieur Croche), and Robin Holloway. In Vienna, where critical polemics reach a high voltage, the most illustrious and historically significant critic was Eduard Hanslick, the ‘Bismarck of music criticism’ (Verdi), known for his extreme partisanship in the divergence of views on Wagner and Brahms. This resulted in his being immortalized by his opponent Wagner as Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger (Wagner originally called the character Hanslich). Nevertheless Hanslick is still highly readable.

In the USA several critics have achieved a reputation beyond the local sphere of their activities, notably Philip Hale of Boston, and (from NY) Lawrence Gilman, H. E. Krehbiel, Olin Downes, and Richard Aldrich. Outstanding among Brit. mus. critics of the past have been Bernard Shaw (the most entertaining of all), Ernest Newman, a Wagner authority, Neville Cardus, and H. C. Colles.