Music criticism

A symphony orchestra

The Oxford Companion to Music defines music criticism as 'the intellectual activity of formulating judgements on the value and degree of excellence of individual works of music, or whole groups or genres'. [1] In this sense, it is a branch of musical aesthetics. With the concurrent expansion of interest in music and information media over the past century, the term has come to acquire the conventional meaning of journalistic reporting on musical performances. [2]

Nature of music criticism

The musicologist Winton Dean has suggested that "music is probably the most difficult of the arts to criticize." [3] Unlike the plastic or literary arts, the 'language' of music does not specifically relate to human sensory experience - Dean's words, "the word 'love' is common coin in life and literature: the note C has nothing to do with breakfast or railway journeys or marital harmony." [4] Like dramatic art, music is recreated at every performance, and criticism may therefore be directed both at the text (musical score) and the performance. More specifically, as music has a temporal dimension that requires repetition or development of its material "problems of balance, contrast, expectation and fulfilment ... are more central to music than to other arts, supported as these are by verbal or representational content." [5] The absence of a clearly evolved or consensual musical aesthetics has also tended to make music criticism a highly subjective issue. "There is no counter-check outside the critic's own personality." [6]

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