TARP No. 19 – ‘Lexicon of Musical Invective’ by Nicolas Slonimsky


Who? I could have sworn, picking up the book in Jubilee Library, that Slonimsky was the critic best-bud of Shostakovich, but Wikipedia implies otherwise. Julian Barnes will have to remind me who that actually was. The real Slonimsky is pictured above (1933), since W.W. Norton’s book cover was so horrendously ugly.

What? A compilation of hack-jobs against renowned composers by various dusty journos, their spittle directed here towards Beethoven, Chopin, Strauss, Tchaikovsky and others. Preceded by an essay on why critics panic when they hear progressive music; followed by an ‘Invecticon’ of critical addages, including ‘polycacophonous’ [Wagner], ‘basstubaculosis’ [Strauss] and ‘masochistic aural flagellation’ [evoking well the experience of Mahler].

When? Compiled in the 1950s (I think), it does provide a decent scope on the 19th/early 20th century compositional celebalebs.

How? Not easily-digestably. Snippet follows snippet in an unending chain of largely interchangeable negative sentiments.

Why? I was provoked to a certain realisation when flicking through Slonimsky’s book: does seeking out and investing myself in a compilation of century-old music critiques confirm my utter boringness? It was a read-for-research (admittedly, I skipped everyone but Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky – the Ruskies), and a useful one; regardless, I have definitely slipped into the realms of the disinteresting. It’s a desert in here.

Lexicon of Musical Invective is available as a W.W. Norton paperback.

16 April 2017

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