I Am Stumped by This Music Review

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


In the LA Times today, classical music critic Mark Swed reviewed Yuja Wang’s performance of Scriabin’s Sixth Sonata. He says Wang played it for “beauty and thrills”:

But she also raced through the sonata, treating it as something to be so fully mastered that it might lose its power to corrupt the spirit with its huge portions of musical decadence.

I love this. Not just because I don’t understand a word of it. That’s to be expected since I know essentially nothing about music. I love it because I can’t even conceive of how someone might come up with that particular string of words to describe a musical experience. Where did they come from? What was going through Swed’s mind when he put them down on paper? Did this thought occur to him naturally, or did he have to work hard on that sentence to make it express the way he felt? And did he really feel that the tempo of Wang’s performance was somehow motivated by a desire to cut through the sonata’s “power to corrupt the spirit”?

I have no idea. It’s like reading Ulysses. Or perhaps a description of a cricket test. The words are demonstrably in English, and the syntax makes sense, but nothing else does.

Anyway, you can probably tell by now that I’m having trouble coming up with anything to write about today, so at this point I’m just blathering. But I sat down on the sofa with the newspaper a few minutes ago and then Domino jumped onto my lap. I didn’t want to toss her off right away, so I gave her a few minutes of snoozing by reading the whole entertainment section,1 including Swed’s review. And it just stonkered me, especially the sentence above. But let’s give this post a veneer of seriousness anyway by turning it into a teachable moment. For those of you who know music better than me (a lot better, hopefully), read the review and discuss in comments. What should I have taken away from it?

1Nickel version: Jack Nelson was a great reporter; Lil Wayne’s new album has a few good moments; the architecture of the new Perot museum in Dallas is “cynical”; American Idol needs some changes to reverse its declining fortunes; and next year’s Oscars telecast will be on March 2.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate