RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe book gives us illuminating details about Balanchine ... The author is especially pointed about debunking the Balanchine clichés ... At the heart of this book is a close-up look by an astute and engaging observer, neither self-important nor falsely modest, at one of the supreme artists of the past century and a celebration of the astonishing work and the astonishing company he created.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Swafford delights in repeating these stories—it’s one of the pleasures of this comprehensive and engaging biography. He is thoroughly up-to-date on the latest information and controversies, debunking the still commonly held mythology about the composer, and he continually reminds us of what astounding music Mozart wrote ... Mr. Swafford vividly places the whole story in the context of the social and artistic life of the period, including the appalling medical conditions that surely hastened Mozart’s demise ... With the eye of an omniscient novelist, Mr. Swafford tells Mozart’s story looking both forward and back, knowing too well how it will end ... The narrative is both more plain-spoken and more eloquent than the controversial Freudian version of Mozart’s life that some (but far from all) readers admired in the late Maynard Solomon’s 1995 Mozart: A Life ... He treats each score with a sense of anticipation, suspense and dramatic resolution ... When he’s describing music, Mr. Swafford the novelist often becomes Mr. Swafford the poet, finding the impeccable image or unforgettable turn of phrase ... Mr. Swafford keeps returning to convincing central observations that are not so much psychoanalytical as thoughtful, sensible ways of understanding human behavior, showing us how the biggest picture emerges from the smallest gesture—the same way he leads us through Mozart’s music ... This is not a hagiography; Mr. Swafford is thoroughly cognizant of Mozart’s personal shortcomings—his irresponsibility, his self-absorption ... Mr. Swafford succeeds in laying to rest the persistent Mozart myths ... I regret that Mr. Swafford doesn’t touch on some of my own favorite Mozart moments...Not that I think this book needs more details or examples, just that I’d have liked to know Mr. Swafford’s take on passages to which I myself have given particular thought—to continue, as it were, the conversation he so irresistibly invites us to join.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... an encyclopedic, thoroughly researched chronicle of three periods during which classical music became a focus of ferocious public battles, with human lives seriously affected and even endangered ... Mr. Rosenberg writes lucid if not brilliant prose. His generic epithets (at one point, in successive paragraphs, he uses \'distinguished\' to describe two very different figures) don’t help \'distinguish\' the figures he’s describing for readers unfamiliar with them. There are 74 pages of endnotes, all of some interest, yet the surfeit of citations makes this exhaustive work feel exhausting. But these are minor quibbles about a riveting and illuminating book, with its painful stories about the ignorance, shallowness and unfounded hysteria that have recurringly shaped America’s music world—and more.
PanThe Wall Street JournalI’m sorry to report that I was disappointed. A biographical study of a figure as familiar as Beethoven must demonstrate a strong reason for being published, and while there are a number of fresh perspectives here, I’m not completely convinced by [the] argument that Beethoven’s music is more politically motivated than we had previously assumed, or that [the] ideas about Beethoven’s republican sympathies are especially fresh ... I particularly admire [the] deconstruction of Beethoven’s shifting attitudes toward Napoleon ... I’m less convinced by [the] persistent argument that Beethoven saw himself as a musical Napoleon ... I have to say that I also prefer [a] more engaging, conversational style, which avoids [this] sometimes-stiff academic vocabulary...gushy exclamations...dated diction...and outmoded syntax ... I’m sorry I feel so negative about the whole book.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"In his engaging critical biography Debussy: A Painter in Sound, Stephen Walsh demonstrates with wit and intellectual muscle how these emblematic extremes of the composer’s career are inextricably connected ... Most of the biographical material is a skillful distillation of previously published work, though he also corrects several previously published errors. What is original here is Mr. Walsh’s lucid technical discussion of practically every Debussy composition in its biographical context, and he’s especially revealing about [various] masterpieces ... I’d have liked to read how these recordings came about and what Mr. Walsh makes of them. That odd omission is one of my few reservations about this illuminating and compelling book.\