Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Music Criticism


Paul Rapoport


This thesis discusses features of music reviewing which extend beyond the conventional idea of reviewing as merely assigning grades to musical performances. Despite the constraints of writing for daily newspapers, music reviewing may be understood as a speCIes of the academic music criticism which is typically practiced under the rubrics of musicology and music theory (though rarely assigned the name "criticism"). Special consideration is given to some major recent contributions in the field, notably Joseph Kerman's Contemplating Music. An accompanying collection of reviews, published between 1984 and 1986 in New Haven Connecticut, provides a focus for this discussion.

Chapter One explores the influential post-World War Two paradigm of intellectual positivism as it provides a context for understanding both academic criticism and journalistic reviewing. Musical analysis, considered as a highly restricted formalistic criticism, is discussed as an exemplary model of this paradigm.

Chapter Two describes many of the production requirements and constraints of writing newspaper reviews. Topics include deadlines, space restrictions, the formatting of musical terms and titles, editorial choices about which concerts should be reviewed, and the rationale behind various kinds of editing. Chapter Three raises ethnomusicological questions about the role of the critic within the music community, and discusses the critic's providing a special kind of historical documentation of the musical taste-habits of that community.

Chapter Four outlines some relevant philosophical problems which pertain to gaining critical access to contemporary music and to all musics, and suggests that reviews may nonetheless serve a pedagogical function by discussing performances from a large range of critical perspectives. Chapter Five turns to examine some of these perspectives by way of a number of topics or themes appearing throughout the collection of reviews: acoustics, virtuosity, historical anachronism, politics, biography, interpretive allegiance to the score, and the problematic relationships between words and music. The underlying purpose is to demonstrate how richly a supple journalistic concert reviewing may imitate and aspire to the aims of a sophisticated academic music criticism.

McMaster University Library

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