Published by The Boydell Press
Approaching this review with a slight trepidation, as a writer, writing about another writers work, which is written about one of the most influential writers of musical criticism of his generation!
Anyway, here goes, so please bear with me, as I delve into this very interesting book. Interesting, I say, because, throughout its pages we see how Newman’s changing thoughts and opinions of absolutely everyone, and everything, over his entire career – sometimes very contradictory and provocative, but as we’ll see thoughts change as do all our knowledge and experiences grow. Especially interesting, is how critics have come and gone, leaving thier reputations as an artistic legacy for us all to mull over at out leisure and pleasure too.
So, in this case, I am writing about the renown music critic and author of musical biographies Ernest Newman, a little daunting, perhaps, if thats the right word, who weaved his professional life amongst some of the greatest performers and composers, with a foot in two centuries of major musical change – a long career indeed, so must have been doing something right, or what both the musical establishment, editors and public enjoyed reading, to sustain his career .
Both Newman and Paul Watt, the author of this in depth and very well researched tome, were and are, excellent writers, different generations, yes, but approaching their subject in the same methodical and inquisitive and enlightening way, I feel.
In yet another excellently produced and presented book by The Boydell Press, we find ourselves travelling through the musical life of the late 19th Century to the middle of the 20th. Hearing about every form of performance, performers, composers and their works, as newman gives his critical thoughts on the many musical interests, that enabled him to maintain a very high profile career for around seventy years. With his large of output of work, Watt has tapped into this, taking us along on his personal journey into the both the mind and work of a true musical intellectual – although, at times, I feel Newman comes over a little self indulgent in his thoughts and unwilling to accept anyone else’s ideas. Mr Watt guides the reader through the whole output of Newman, from his earliest writings for critical journals and local papers, to the nationals press, such as the Sunday Times, Manchester Guardian, etc, etc, to his critically acclaimed biographies of some major composers, amongst such as those on Wagner.
You get the feeling, well, at least I do, that as you read Watt’s words, as he quotes from Newman’s writings, as well other contemporary critics of his, that Newman and his critical thought process, is actually in a form of free flux state. Strong opinions change, in some cases complete opposite critical thoughts and arguments spring up, sometimes out of nowhere, it seems? Mind you, as someone of a very creative thinking instinct as Newman, that is of course is to be expected, because, if you do not constantly question your own thoughts and critical powers, and creative intellect, how could you possibly ever analyse, or give a truly critical opinion on any artistic work – this was Newman’s mantra in a way, I suppose, and it worked very well for him over the years, writing columns, articles and reviews for many major publications, as well as the domestic press readers, like me.
Using such a large amount of material available, from lectures, these journalistic articles, books, etc, which, indeed, is in itself, an amazing output for just one writer, Mr Watt really delves into the life and writings of Newman, which, certainly enlightens any of us willing, or wishing, to know more about such a major influential figure in both musical criticism and biography.
Reading the reviews of concerts, musical compositions, etc, are well worth the purchase of this publication alone, and when Watt shows how Newman’s changing criticism, particularly in his own books on Wagner, which over the years, seem to change dramatically, well, this gives a real insight into his developing thoughts on his subject. This should prove thought provoking indeed, for us all, who love and appreciate the art of music!!
This, is indeed a very good and stimulating read – thank you very much Mr Watt.