Reviews and Bugaboos

Found this little Alex Ross tidbit stored away for a rainy day in my Delicious playlist.

Interesting, huh? 78 years later, the Strauss Salome has more than withstood the test of time and is considered a twentieth-century masterpiece. Just last spring, the Cleveland Orchestra did a fantastic unstaged version of the work.

The reviewer continues his comment addressing an early recording of excerpts: “ its erotic way and yet a curiously bugaboo way, that perhaps would pall now that we are thrilled every day or supposed to be.”

Ah, “thrilled every day or supposed to be.” Ignoring the dated but fabulous colloquialism “bugaboo,” this statement sounds curiously 2012. When was the last time you were confronted with the Biggest Hollywood Blockbuster  of the Century or the Latest Digital Breakthrough. We’re conditioned to believe that the time we are living in has never been so sped up, so charged, so busy and clogged as the time we are living in right now. Well, tell that to this 1934 reviewer who was overwhelmed in his “post-war years.”

It’s very curious, the reception of new music in its own time. How are we perceiving the creations of living composers right now? How is it that Salome overcame the trivialization of this one reviewer, still with the power to shock, but also with the heft of a significant cultural contribution?

All this is my roundabout way praising the value of reviews. Yes, this Salome comment came nearly 30 years or so after its 1905 debut, but still it’s extremely helpful to see the mind’s eye view from the times in which it was created. Music Index and JSTOR are great resources for finding old and new reviews. Just fire up VPN, but feel free to find a librarian if you run into any technological bugaboos.


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