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Let’s to billiards

Stephen Walsh: Constant Lambert

22 January 2015
Constant Lambert: Beyond the Rio Grande 
by Stephen​ Lloyd.
Boydell, 584 pp., £45, March 2014, 978 1 84383 898 2
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... Gluepot, as it was known), keeping its regulars up till dawn with his brilliant conversation. There was a lot more to him than one-liners and limericks; and if one thing emerges from the thickets of Stephen Lloyd’s excessively long biography, it is that Lambert had one of the finest musical minds of his generation and a critical faculty second to almost none. During his lifetime, you would have come ...

Mikoyan Shuddered

Stephen Walsh: Memories of Shostakovich

21 June 2007
Shostakovich: A Life Remembered 
by Elizabeth Wilson.
Faber, 631 pp., £20, July 2006, 0 571 22050 9
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... In the introduction to her authoritative biography of Shostakovich, published in 2000, Laurel Fay sounds a sharp warning about the historical value of personal reminiscences: Fascinating and useful as these can be, memoirs furnish a treacherous resource to the historian. Reminiscences can be self-serving, vengeful, and distorted by faulty memory, selective amnesia, wishful thinking and exaggeration ...

Sideswipes

Stephen Walsh: Prokofiev

25 September 2003
Prokofiev: From Russia to the West 1891-1935 
by David Nice.
Yale, 390 pp., £25, April 2003, 0 300 09914 2
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... On the whole, Soviet writers knew when they were putting their heads on the block. Composers often didn’t, and it’s precisely the innocence and uncertainty of music – that content and meaning tend to reduce to questions of style, and that musical scores are impenetrable and their performance ephemeral – which make the history of the relationship between music and politics so troublesome. The ...

Music Made Visible

Stephen Walsh: Wagner

24 April 2008
Wagner and the Art of the Theatre 
by Patrick Carnegy.
Yale, 461 pp., £35, September 2006, 0 300 10695 5
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... Among the operatic victims of what its enemies nowadays refer to as ‘directors’ theatre’, Wagner has suffered as much as anyone. Keith Warner has the Wanderer crash-land his fighter plane into Mime’s cave; Phyllida Lloyd has Brünnhilde as a suicide bomber who blows herself up in the immolation scene; Jürgen Flimm turns Nibelheim into a microchip factory. In Ruth Berghaus’s Frankfurt Götterdämmerung ...

All the Necessary Attributes

Stephen Walsh: Franz Liszt, Celebrity

21 September 2016
Franz Liszt: Musician, Celebrity, Superstar 
by Oliver Hilmes, translated by Stewart Spencer.
Yale, 353 pp., £25, June 2016, 978 0 300 18293 4
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... Who​ was the most important 19th-century composer? Naturally, it depends on what’s meant by important: Beethoven overshadows them all, but Wagner generated more discussion, and more distaste. Few people would nominate Franz Liszt, because it’s usual to confuse importance with quality. Liszt was probably not the greatest composer of his time, yet his presence was everywhere in musical life from ...

The Cool Machine

Stephen Walsh: Ravel

25 August 2011
Ravel 
by Roger Nichols.
Yale, 430 pp., £25, April 2011, 978 0 300 10882 8
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... Trying to pin Ravel down,’ Roger Nichols writes in his penultimate paragraph, ‘is about as futile as trying to catch Scarbo in a bucket.’ It may seem a disconcerting admission to find at the end of a 350-page biography; but in fact it’s a positive and exact assessment, characteristically honest, and at the same time a high compliment to its subject. Both in himself and in his work Ravel ...

Coma-Friendly

Stephen Walsh: Philip Glass

6 May 2015
Words without Music: A Memoir 
by Philip Glass.
Faber, 416 pp., £22.50, April 2015, 978 0 571 32372 2
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... Words without Music​ is Philip Glass’s second book about himself, and it inevitably includes some of the same information, or the same kind of information, as its predecessor, published in 1987 in New York as Music by Philip Glass and in London as Opera on the Beach. But the differences are significant. By the late 1980s, Glass was well known in America, mainly for his first three operas, Einstein ...

But what did they say?

Stephen Walsh: Music in 1853

25 October 2012
Music in 1853: The Biography of a Year 
by Hugh Macdonald.
Boydell, 208 pp., £25, June 2012, 978 1 84383 718 3
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... In Judith Weir’s pocket Chinese opera The Consolations of Scholarship, the hero discovers the truth about his father Chao Tun’s unjust disgrace while researching old philosophical texts, and is consequently able to avenge his father and restore the family fortunes. It would be good to feel that one’s own dusty cogitations might have some such tangible, uplifting result. But there isn’t much ...

Happy Man

Paul Driver: Stravinsky

8 February 2007
Stravinsky: The Second Exile – France and America 1934-71 
by Stephen Walsh.
Cape, 709 pp., £30, July 2006, 0 224 06078 3
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Down a Path of Wonder: Memoirs of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Other Cultural Figures 
by Robert Craft.
Naxos, 560 pp., £19.99, October 2006, 1 84379 217 6
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... At the end of his two-volume biography, StephenWalsh writes that Igor Stravinsky’s music is ‘the one unquestioned staple of the modern repertoire, the body of work that, more than any other, stands as an icon of 20th-century musical thought and ...

Ne me touchez pas

Nicholas Spice: Debussy’s Mission

24 October 2019
Debussy: A Painter in Sound 
by Stephen Walsh.
Faber, 368 pp., £15.99, March 2018, 978 0 571 33016 4
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Claude Debussy: A Critical Biography 
by François Lesure, translated by Marie Rolf.
Rochester, 478 pp., £40, June, 978 1 58046 903 6
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... on holiday near Arcachon in 1916. Debussy died in 1918. A century later, his music may at first appear more decorative than radical. The shock of the new is hard to feel at a distance, but as StephenWalsh observes, we expect the music of the modernist generation, of whom Debussy was the first, to be difficult, abstruse, even rebarbative. The works of Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky and Bartók ...
26 September 1991
Gabriel Fauré: A Musical Life 
by Jean-Michel Nectoux, translated by Roger Nichols.
Cambridge, 646 pp., £45, April 1991, 0 521 23524 3
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Pierre Boulez 
by Dominique Jameux, translated by Susan Bradshaw.
Faber, 422 pp., £25, March 1991, 9780571137442
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Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship 
by Pierre Boulez, translated by Stephen Walsh.
Oxford, 316 pp., £40, August 1991, 0 19 311210 8
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... without experimentation or the sacrifice of musical values. Twentieth-century music has surely been deafened by the trumpetings of composer-theorists: a new translation – an impressive job by StephenWalsh – of Boulez’s first (1966) gathering of manifestos and trenchant analyses, Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship has even now appeared, as if the dry controversies of yesteryear ...

Short Cuts

Jeremy Harding: The Morning After

13 July 2016
... re after? Swarm, flood, tsunami, plague? OK, a plague of edgy, angry people. I’m disappointed. It took a while to turn up details of my Irish (biological) mother’s birth. I knew her surname was Walsh, sometimes spelled with an e on the end, and where she was born, but I’d forgotten the maiden name of her mother, Downey, until it appeared in a record of her brother (she had many siblings). That ...
5 April 1990
A Form of Sound Words: The Religious Poetry of Christopher Smart 
by Harriet Guest.
Oxford, 293 pp., £35, October 1989, 0 19 811744 2
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... the emotional intimacy dramatised in Young’s Night Thoughts. (The ‘Mr Fairly’ with whom Fanny Burney had what is for Guest a paradigmatic conversation about Young at Court in the 1780s was Col. Stephen Digby, the Queen’s Vice-Chamberlain.) It is a tribute to Guest’s powers of perceptive analysis that some less promising 18th-century writers can just as usefully illustrate differing tones of ...

A Man with My Trouble

Colm Tóibín: Henry James leaves home

3 January 2008
The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume I 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 391 pp., £57, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2584 8
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The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume II 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 524 pp., £60, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2607 4
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... After the death of Henry James’s father in 1882, his sister-in-law Catharine Walsh, better known as Aunt Kate, burned a large quantity of the family papers, including many letters between Henry James senior and his wife. Henry James himself in later life made a number of bonfires ...

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