Music Criticism

(Juilliard, fall semester, 2000)

Greg Sandow

Course outline:

Introduction to music criticism: What should a review talk about? What tone should critics take? What qualifies someone to be a critic? Whatís a criticís life like? How should musicians deal with critics? And how, exactly, should we talk about music? How can we describe music in words? (These, of course, will be recurring topics throughout the course.)

Three classical music critics:

George Bernard Shaw and Virgil Thomson, my all-time favorites. Amazingly strong and direct, by current standards .Plus Eduard Hanslick, a 19th-century Viennese critic who’s most famous for being wrong. He hated Wagner. But does that make him bad?

Rock critics. They’re very different from classical critics. They talk about what music means—who listens to it, and what messages they get. Should classical critics do the same?

Assignments (more details on the assignments page):

Readings from Shaw, Thomson, and Hanslick, and from my own reviews

Readings from rock critics: Ellen Willis on Janis Joplin, Ariel Swartley on Bruce Springsteen.

Current music reviews. Every day, Iíd like you to read the classical and pop critics in the New York Times. Each week one or more of you will be assigned to bring one review to class, and discuss it. If it's your week, please contact me in advance and let me know which review you've picked, so I can xerox it for the other students. Or you can xerox it yourself.

Two short papers, and a take-home exam. 

How you’re graded:

The most important part of this course is class discussion -- your reaction to the reading assignments, and to the reviews you read in the current press. So a large part of your grade will be based on class participation.

In your short papers, youíll take the role of a critic, and find out what thatís like. A smaller part of your grade will be based on these assignments. This isnít a writing course, so Iíll care more about the ideas you express more than about your writing ability. If you like, you can read my thoughts about how to write reviews.  

Because class discussion is so important, thereís no point in taking this course if you canít come to class regularly. If you miss more than three classes, you may not get credit.

Course assignments

How to write a music review