Category: Nostalgia

  • Fare Thee Well/Careless Love

    In his memoirs, John Lomax described collecting “Dink’s Song” in Texas in 1904, at a work-camp for skilled black builders from Mississippi who were constructing a levee on the Brazos River. Dink was one of a group of women imported from Memphis by the camp overseers to keep the workers happy and discourage them from […]

  • Mountain Music

    The sound of the French horn provides one of the most emblematically Romantic timbres in nineteenth-century music. Why is that? The French horn derives its origin from the hunting horn (in German, waldhorn or forest horn) — a brass instrument played while hunting on horseback to call back the hounds from the hunt. Some horns, […]

  • “Yes, Brahms is evil . . .”

    I do not know who wrote the short-lived and now-defunct-blog called Nihilism, Optimism, and Everything In Between. I found this piece a long time ago, and I’m very glad that the author hasn’t taken it down. It is about Brahms’s profoundly Romantic, deeply moving Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor, op. 15: Brahms, you […]

  • Authenticity, part II: Living Music Inspired by Ghosts

    When you hear a musical recording that’s scratchy and distant, you might naturally assume it’s old: a relic from the early days of sound recording. But what would modern music sound like were it subject to the same limitations that musicians faced in those days? That’s the question posed by The 78 Project, which gives musicians the […]

  • Authenticity (part I)

    The protagonist of Hari Kunzru’s 2017 novel White Tears, a young white recording engineer named Seth, describes days spent listening to music with his college friend, Carter Wallace: We worshipped music like [Lee “Scratch”] Perry’s but we knew we didn’t own it, a fact we tried to ignore as far as possible, masking our disabling […]

  • Cultural Appropriation or Cross-Cultural Encounter?

    Trigger/content warning: racist language, blackface minstrelsy. Rihanna wearing a Catholic bishop’s mitre at the gala for the Metropolitan Museum show “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” The lines between cultural appropriation and a more innocent cross-cultural borrowing can be blurry. Are there rules for determining which is which? Is this cultural appropriation? (Watch the […]

  • Is Absolute Music Possible?

    Or does music always have an invisible program? Consider Johannes Brahms, the ostensible champion of absolute music. Brahms as an old man, the way he’s most often pictured. Brahms in 1853, the year he met the Schumanns. The night of their first meeting, Robert Schumann wrote in his diary: “Visit from Brahms (a genius).” Soon […]

  • Going Home

    The second movement of Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”). What is the instrument that plays the poignant solo? It was thought that Dvorak took this melody from an African-American spiritual that his student and assistant, the composer Harry T. Burleigh, sang for him.  (For more on Harry T. Burleigh […]