Music

Lecturing in Vienna in 1999, Nick Cave outlined his theory on the nature of the love song. ‘Within the fabric of the Love Song … one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.’ Unless pain and longing simmer beneath the surface of the music, it isn’t a love song at all. What Lorca referred to as ‘duende’ and Cave himself calls ‘an inexplicable sadness’ at the h ...

Alma Moodie’s story is remarkable, which makes it all the stranger that she has been so thoroughly forgotten. A frail child prodigy from central Queensland, she became Carl Flesch’s favourite pupil and a renowned concert violinist in Germany after World War I, friend and performer of most of the great figures of international contemporary music, from Max R ...

Richard Wagner: A Life in Music by Martin Geck (translated by Stewart Spencer)

by
February 2014, no. 358

After four days in the theatre, and just as many resting up between instalments, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen ends with a big tune. Like most of Wagner’s themes, this one has been given a name: the ‘Redemption through Love’ motif. The name was not the work of the composer but of one of his acolytes, Hans von Wolzogen, and in its orig ...

That George William Lewis Marshall-Hall (1862–1915) is far from a household name cannot simply reflect collective amnesia about Australian music of the era. While Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger remain widely celebrated, subversion of moral and religious orthodoxies left Marshall-Hall’s legacy significantly undervalued. These sixteen carefully sequenced es ...

It would be a pity if this well-researched and nuanced biography of the greatest English composer of the second half of the twentieth century became known for the rather sensational medical revelations contained in the last chapter. Certainly, they gave me pause before I began reading the book.

Benjamin Britten (1913–76) was the towering ...

In one of the most penetrating essays in this wide-ranging collection, the pianist and scholar Charles Rosen, while addressing the topic of ‘La Fontaine: The Ethical Power of Style’, notes in an aside: ‘What is original in Montaigne is the strange path he takes to arrive at the idea.’ It is an observation that might be equally well applied to the author of t ...

According to the summary on the inside of Women of Note’sattractive jacket, being a female composer in the twentieth century was a ‘dangerous game’ – strong words indeed, but not without justification. Rosalind Appleby notes her own initial surprise to discover how many women composers there actually were in Australia. My own experience while writing a PhD about four Australian composing mothers is consistent with this perception. I have lost count of the number of times I described my topic to polite questioners and, on explaining that it was about Australian women composers, was asked, ‘Are there any?’ Well, yes – in 2011 the Australian Music Centre recorded that twenty-five per cent of Australian composers are women.

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The reception of SBS’s documentary Go Back to Where You Came From held out the promise that Australians’ antagonism towards asylum seekers was softening. But old certainties shift in unpredictable ways. In an essay in the September 2010 issue of The Monthly, Robert Manne, a long-standing critic of the Howard government’s asylum seeker policy, asked some uncomfortable questions of the left: Didn’t Howard’s ‘Pacific Solution’ actually work? What if the Australians who are hostile to asylum seekers can’t be dismissed as a racist redneck minority, but are instead the ‘overwhelming majority of the Australian mainstream’? What, then, of the mythical Australian values of mateship, equality, and the fair go? Arnold Zable’s latest book, Violin Lessons, situates itself within this, the most disturbing moral debate Australia has engaged in since 1992, when the Keating government introduced mandatory immigration detention.

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In the autumn of 1962, as a student in Paris, I went to watch Edith Piaf perform atop the Eiffel Tower. My memory is of being in a thick crowd at ground level, straining to see a tiny floodlit figure while a huge metallic voice resounded across the night sky: ‘Non, je ne regrette rien …’ In this new biography of Piaf, Carolyn Burke reminds us that this was a publicity event for the launch of Daryl Zanuck’s film about D-Day, The Longest Day. Piaf, at forty-six, her health ruined, had only a year to live, but still managed to overcome her frailty and her fear of heights to project her whole being into the iconic image that the world had of her.

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A cluttered portrait inevitably diminishes its subject. I am thinking, in particular, of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his gallery in Brussels, by David Teniers the Younger, in which the Habsburg aristocrat is like an ant among his scores of pictures. This happens with biographies, too. A satisfying example is far more than an expansion of the subject’s curriculum vitae or a thorough examination of his appointment diary. When the author has strong feelings (as a widow inevitably does), the problem is aggravated. This new biography – of an extraordinary musician who might, in different circumstances, have contributed far more to Australia than he was allowed to do – is both partisan and prolix, and is as littered with quotidian details as the Teniers painting is with canvases. In both cases, these objects and details are too small to engage our attention usefully or thoroughly.

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