Magazine article Musical Times

Grave Concerns

Magazine article Musical Times

Grave Concerns

Article excerpt

To what extent are E Gilbert Webb's comments on music criticism, reproduced from the April 2002 MT, applicable to the modern world? Readers are invited to respond.

THE PAPER on `Musical Criticism,' read by Mr E Gilbert Webb before the Incorporated Society of Musicians, on the 5th ult., at 20, Hanover Square, attracted a large audience. Opening his remarks with a definition of the word 'criticism' as 'a judgment,' he showed that the mission of the critic was as much to praise as to point out errors. The expectation of the public differed considerably from that of the artist. The former liked the unadulterated truth, the latter did not. According to Ruskin, `Men have commonly more pleasure in the criticism that hurts, than in that which is innocuous.' It was not unnatural that the artist should hold that the chief duty of criticism was to make known his abilities.

After referring to the equipment which he considered necessary for a musical critic, Mr. Webb said: There was no school of critics. They were called from the bar, were metamorphosised composers, or strolling musicians, but they all illustrated `the importance of being earnest,' and English musical criticism in its entirety was the most unbiassed in the world. This might be attributed in considerable measure to national independence of temperament, which presented an almost impregnable barrier against bribery and corruption. English critics indeed had been known to use their pens against each other in defence of their opinions. Criticism had accomplished most by causing people to think about the intellectual side of music, by acting as an interpreter between the composer and the listener, by widening the understanding of the multitude, and cultivating good taste by pointing out the beauties, fine workmanship, and subtleties of masterpieces. In these respects the art was eternally indebted to such writers as Schumann, and in our own day to Sir Hubert Party, who had brought a singularly comprehensive and vigorous critical faculty to bear on the development and aesthetics of music.

There were many styles of modern criticism, but they all helped to elicit the truth. The active agent in progress was opposition, and truth was often established by erroneous statements. We owed much to the antiquarian writer. …

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