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February 07, 1957 - Image 24

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Michigan Daily, 1957-02-07
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Page Twelve


Thursday, February 7, 1957

Thursday February 7 1957


. ,..,. .E.....,.. J . . . J E




A Listing of Criteria A Reviewer Should Use in Criticism

Daily Music Reviewer
OF ALL the printed word on the
" editorial page, probably none
are read by so few, but have such
effect, as the music review! Com-
ments range from the mildly ag-
gressive to the superbly ferocious.
And almost without a doubt there
is only one consensus, "This re-
view stinks!" The critic is abused
for his ignorance, lack of imagi-
nation, frigidity; for his "vicious,
vitriolic, and vituperative" words;
for his Communistic, anti-cultural
attitude. Were it not for the Re-
gent By-laws against lynching,
said critics would be burned in
their own copy.
Now, obviously, this is an ex-
aggeration, but not too much. As
anyone knows, or should know,
the purpose of any art criticism
(not only music) is four-fold: to
judge, to inform, to encourage the
good, and correct the bad. The last
three items are actually sub-items
of the first, the judgment.
When we say "Rubinstein plays
well," we are telling others of Rub-
instein's excellence, we are in-
forming. And were Rubinstein to
read this, he would be encourag-
ed to continue playing well. On
the other hand, if we told him he
played badly, we should be try-
ing to correct his performance.
Furthermore, if someone sets
himself up as one who should
know, and said, "Rubinstein's
playing is faulty, in that . . .", and
another, as his reader, did not
agree with him, there could be at
least three reasons why they so
disagree: a) either might be ig-
norant of the proper criteria of
good playing; b) their subjective,
aesthetic attitudes could differ;
c) the writer failed to be explicit
enough as to why he said what he
did. There may be more, but these
are the ones we will consider.
T IS APROPOS, before proceed-
ing further, to point out the
purpose of his essay. It is aimed
more directly at the reader, many
of whom do not realize the real
purpose and criteria of music crit-
icism. It intends to point out these
criteria, so that the reader will
understand why the good critic
says what he does.
Also it may give the would-be
critic a chance to compare notes,
and perhaps consider this activity
interesting and rewarding enough
to prompt him to write reviews
himself. And finally, it will give
the poor critic a basis, although
somewhat rudimentary, for better
It will ,attempt this by examin-
ation of the attributes of a good
critic, particularly the good music
critic. It does not pretend to be
the final word on the subject, but

at least one which will fill a cry-
ing need.
Of primary concern is the ques-
tion, what constitutes a good re-
view? This is a very difficult query
to answer. An easier beginning is
achieved by considering what
faults cause a bad review. Al-
though their absence will not
guarantee a -good review, the
latter will definitely not have these
First (although the order is ar-
bitrary), the critic may neglect
the performance In favor of the
music. His review becomes a re-
hash of program notes. Such an
error would be an analysis of Bee-
thoven's Ninth Symphony, with
only a mention, as an after-
thought, of the ability and ac-
complishments of the chorus. This
is a dangerous temptation, and

ceived ideas or opinions about
either the work or the performer,
or both. An instance of this would
be to approach a M'ilstein concert
with the feeling, "O, Milstein is
the greatest! He can do no
wrong!" This critic will obviously
fail to do Milstein justice, because
of the preconceived opinion.
It is almost axiomatic to say
that we do have some already
formed opinions on everything-
but they are not adamantine to
the objective critic. This latter
will not hesitate to say, "Milstein
was poor tonight," if Milstein was
poor tonight. Nor, on the other
hand, will he express great sur-
prise if a usually poor performer
gives a really good showing. Each
concert, all things considered,
must be judged on its own merits.
Finally, and of the four points
what is the most difficult to over-
come, the critic lacks pertinent
knowledge. He does not have the
intellectual, technical, and psy-
chological background to write a
good review. Usually a hint of this
is found in the reviewer who uses
words like "nice," "good," and
"very, very." Basically, he doesn't
know how to judge a concert or
piece of music good or bad, and
the reader suffers,
HOWEVER, before we delve into
the technical background nec-
essary to a valid music criticism,
perhaps it would be wise to elab-
orate our point above on precon-
ceived opinions-which we may
refer to as aesthetic attitudes. A
good review is objective, or should
be. But since it is indeed one per-
son's judgment, this objectivity is
highly shadowed by the writer's
individual, subjective inclinations.
Avoided, the review is objective.
But the critic, to avoid them, must
be aware of them,
And just what are aesthetic at-
titudes? Like any other more in-
timate feelings, as in ethics or
religious experience, they are
easier to illustrate than describe.
Still a workable meaning might be
given, however rough, for our pur-
pose here. Aesthetic attitudes are
those personal attractions to cer-
tain aspects of art rather than
others, based not on reason or
value, but primarily on the sen-
suous responce within . each per-
It is because of this that one
person prefers romantic music,
with its extended melodies, to the
more rhythmic, harsher modern.
Or the absolute historically ac-
curate interpretation to any in-
novations of approach (such as
Bach Suites with muted strings!).
Why is this? We cannot positively
say. Background, association, edu-
cation-all have their own in-
The good critic is aware of his

own aesthetic attitudes, and will
not be swayed to one view or an-
other just because of these. He
realizes their purely subjective
value for himself, but their per-
haps contrary value for others.
They will aid or obstruct his own
personal enjoyment of music, but
do not help him in an objective
criticism. This point is stressed
because of its wide-spread viola-
HAVING CLEARED the way of.
lesser, but important consid-
erations, we can now consider
what technical knowledge is req-
uisite for valid criticism. Or in
another way, what minimum com-
mand of - musical knowledge is
necessary for a music critic? As
may be commonplace, few critics
are graduate musicologists. Musi-

He must have an elementary
grounding in musical form, such
as sonata, fugue, and variation.
He must be acute enough to dis-
tinguish individual factors in dif-
ferent performances. He must rea-
lize what is allowable to an in-
terpretation, and what is intol-
erable to musical integrity. The
list could be extended for pages,
but what has been said suffices
to indicate the rather tremendous
store of criteria needed for valid
A FEW illustrations will not be
out of place. In a performance
of Poulenc's Mass in G, which is
entirely vocal, the critic has to
note the balance of voices, the
ability of the various "choirs" (as
soprano, alto), whether the high
notes are smooth or schreechy,
whether the low notes are clear
or muddled. Is the tempo appro-
priate for the scored instructions?
Does the choir follow the director?
All this demands a speaking
acquaintance with Poulenc's Mass,
an appreciation of choral diffi-
culties, and an objective view of
interpretative possibilities.
Again, in reviewing a quartet
concert, other questions arise. Are
the performers technically quali-
fied for ensemble playing? Do they
perform as a group, or merely as
four soloists? Do they respect the
composer's wishes (as far as these
can be known), or do they strive
for effect to the detriment of the
score? A review which judges an
ensemble as a gathering of solo-
ists, that is, which overlooks the
ensemble aspects in favor of in-
dividual playing ability, is miss-
ing the essential point. It takes
an acute sense of discrimination
to know when to mention one
above the other.
The foregoing shows clearly that
a review is far more than an
essay entitled, "Why I liked the
concert." The examples given are
sketchy, and could not be other-
wise. Each performance demands
its own criteria. But given this
background and technical know-
ledge, the critic must be bold
enough to state his honest, reas-
oned opinion. That is, he must
state his conclusions, follow what
acclaim has no place in a
critical approach. If a performance
is bad, be it by Toscanini himself,
it should be so stated. If a new
work lacks inspiration (a more dif-
ficult judgment to make, surely),
even if by a latter-day Bach, it
should be so judged. It goes with-
out saying that the critic needs
the support. of his paper, or at
least a free hand in writing his re-
So far we have only hinted at

the 1940's is curr
her best 'agony'
man's amnesia m
(bottom) Walter'

Hollywood Infiltration
Old Movies Are Often More Popular Than Live' T f
Distressed Producers Are Discovering
TELEVISION, in the middle of
its dreariest and most unimag-
inative season, has finally discov-
ered the way to keep audiences
home and away from movie the-
aters: show old movies.f
The "old movies are pre-1948
t -films made by most of the major
studios. In many cities, they have .,
more attendance than -the top
"live" television shows.
*.Their success has excited small
television stations who cannot af-
ford well known performers; it
has also distressed the top net-
works, who now have to compete
with their old rival, the movies,
in a new guise.
DESPITE their fantastic suc-
cess, these Hollywood films
have done little to raise the level
of television programming. For
every Ninotchka, there are dozens
of entries like Julia Misbehaves
and The Passion Flower. Recently,
a real "stinker," the Clark Gable-
Lana Turner starrer, Honky Tonk,
eer Garson, a popular 'suffering' heroine during proved a one night sensation.
rently making the television rounds in some of The television movie goer also
has his share of problems. Many COMPETITIVE-Frank Sinatr
films. In 'Random Harvest' (top) Ronald Cole- films are cut to shreds. A showing Kathryn Grayson in 'Anchors
akes her life unbearable, and in 'Mrs. Miniver of Rita Hayworth's Tonight and mid-forties. A 139-minute film
Pidgeon and Blitz bombs upset her. Every Night a few weeks ago re- drastically cut to fit limited p
vealed television mechanics had television 'spectacular.'
v.reduced the film to a musical re-
vue, omitting some of the most im-
portant musical numbers and com-
pletely leaving out any semblance
of dramatic development.
The average "movie show" has
an hour and a half on the air.
With commercials, station identi-
fications and program credits,
films running 100 minutes and
more get cropped to 75 minutes-
if the sponsor is lenient.
FURTHER, the Hollywood stu-
dios have continued to work in
"package deals," a process that
reveals most American films hve
either become outdated, serving
only as sentimental memories, or
are hopelessly poor. Metro-Gold-
wyn-Mayer has sold 740 of its
films to television. Included are
most of Greta Garbo's films, some
of the best musicals the studio
produced and a good many excel-
lent dramatic offerings. But some-
thing like 500 or 600 of these works
are trite productions, many of
which were flops in their first tries
at movie theaters.
ng MGM's 740 films sold to TV are most of the Bad or good-these films are a
ant musical offerings. Judy Garland and Peter tribute to that vegetative ventri-
n the Ziegfeld era of 'Easter Parade (top) and cle in the American soul that con-
Eleanor Powell take time off from singing and ceives of "relaxation" as the end INQUIRING-Joseph Cotten a
dway Melody of 1940' (below). of life. They are also a nemesis to
the television industry which in few quiet scenes from 'The F
five.years has reached the level of tional politics and politicians. I
mediocrity it took the American own saccarine television series
cinema fifty years to attain. work in this film, a vivid exam

studio's extravaga
Lawford cavort it
Fred Astaire and
dancing in 'Broad

.. .might be encouraged
the critic ought always be aware
of it. Of course, one often justi-
fiably analyzes the music itself,
as in the case of new or seldom
heard compositions; but even here
the performance should never be
relegated to a minor role. For the
critic, the two are inseperable, and
when the music is familiar to the
reader, the performance demands
his greater attention.
Secondly, a criticism has been
defined as a "reasoned opinion,"
and should the critic merely state
what was his first impression, or
casual opinion, or his capricious
inclinations, he does his reader
an injustice. Of course a critic is
opinionated-anyone who likes or
dislikes anything is opinionated.
But being "reasonably" opinion-
ated is another matter. It would
be unreasonable to say that Stra-
vinsky's music is dissonant, there-
fore bad. Or that Tebaldi. sang
faster than another, therefore she
sang poorly. This point will be
further elaborated in a moment.
Next, a poor critic has precon-

...*no preconceptions
cologists themselves may deplore
this fact, and with some good rea-
son, but their position is not ab-
solute, for $not all musicologists
make good critics.
But lest we cause a revolution
by this statement, let it be hastily
added that by and large, the critic
must be at least an amateur musi-
cologist in his own right. He must
be able to view a work, as per-
formed, with an over-all approach,
and still have the knowledge re-
quired to judge. the particular
The touchiest point in all the
discussion is this minimum tech-
nical knowledge. In general, the
critic must be well versed (note,
not expert) in all fields of music.
That is, he must be familiar with
choral, symhonic, ensemble, and
solo musical literature; he must
know the elementary aspects of
Baroque, Classic, Romantic and
Modern musical periods; he must
know generally the requirements
of both vocal and instrumental

NOSTALGIC-Greta Garbo's films are back to delight another
generation. At top is Miss Garbo with Melvin Douglas in her bril-
liant drunk scene from 'Ninotchka,'-a 1940's satire on Com-
munism even more timely today. At bottom is Miss Garbo in a
scene from an earlier picture, Grand Hotel,' with John Barry-

CONFLICT-Ingrid Bergman and Warner Baxter in a scene fro
American films, "Adam Had Four Sons." Most of Miss Bergmar
available to television producers.

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