A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.

Experiments in writing about music


I’ve been trying — and failing — to put together some thoughts about music criticism and classical music coverage and the ever-dwindling space for both in the mainstream media. It’s no secret, by now, that the Herald has cut its coverage to one review — 350 words — a week. It’s frustrating, it’s infuriating. It’s tragic, even. But it’s not really a surprise to me. Things change.

For a couple of months I’ve been biding my time, waiting, thinking, wondering what, if anything, I should do, and speaking to dismayed colleagues on the reading, writing and the performing side of things, but with no great insights, except for one.

Yes. One thing remains the same. Musicians still play, and audiences still come. All the concerts I’ve been to recently have had enthusiastic near-full houses, foyers buzzing with excitement. That excitement has been almost as nourishing, for me, as the music itself.

So I’ve decided that, rather than humming and ha-ing about the role of the critic or the need for informed opinions or blah-di-blah-di-blah I should make like a musician, and just do it, because I love it and because I have to. I’ll sling it up here on the blog and if anyone reads it, great.

In fact, there’ll be quite a bit up here in the next few weeks because I’m visiting my alma mater, Dartington Hall, for a week of the International Summer School of Music, and I’ve set myself a challenge. A review, or at the very least, a Pepys Diary of what’s been going on, every day, starting this Saturday.

Wish me luck.




  1. Good luck. Write early, write often.

  2. I am very glad to hear this Harriette! please go for it. You care about music and you can have freedom. room for thoughtfulness and have much more influence here. Have you been following Greg Sandow’s blogs? I look forward to reading you. Thank. Liz Nielsen

  3. Excellent! It seems to me that a blog are the ideal vehicle for concert reviews.
    No space limit (tho that requires discipline, something good writers should have anyway), instantaneous publication, scope for replies and comments and, if you get adventurous, scope to link to photos, videos, music clips and all.
    My hobby horse is that I want reviewers to say how the performance affected them. Not a musicological ramble or, even worse, a paraphrase of Grove.

  4. Why write music criticism at all? After all, performers say they never read reviews, except of course to extract the glowing references which can be used for promotion. For the audience? Do we really need the affirmation that some Tom, Dick or Harriet agrees it was a mighty performance or that the pianist’s fingers were wayward? And if we weren’t there, by the time we read a review the two or three performances are already over so we can do nothing but wonder at our foolish decision to not book for another, on this occasion better than ever, performance of Bolero or Rite or Mahler 1.
    On the other hand criticism of itself is an art form that has a long and respected history. It is a creative pursuit in itself and hence is worth doing irrespective of the means of delivery. There is often real joy in reading a beautifully crafted review of whatever genre in one of the remaining bastions of quality journalism such as The Economist, FT or New Yorker, even though there is no likelihood of enjoying the work or performance itself.
    The music critic does also have the opportunity to review both work and performance: not both for Beethoven’s 5th, but certainly for new or less well known works.
    So I would encourage the urge to follow your creative instinct and keep delivering criticism through whatever medium is available. There’s not much we can do about helping pay the rent (although there could be an argument for supporting, from time to time, a specialist blog through the likes of the Australian Cultural Fund). If the writing is beautiful the followers will come. I doubt you’ll have a problem with that.
    And, of course, good luck!

    • Thank you John! You just summed up what I feel about criticism brilliantly. I do believe it’s a creative pursuit in itself. I will do my best to honour the art form.

  5. I agree with your comments John. A well written critique is a joy to read and fresh original thoughts always appealing Harriet has these in spades.

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