SPIRITED THINKING SINCE 1888
Michael White

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June 26, 2020
One, Two, Three, Four: The Beatles in Time By Craig Brown Fourth Estate, 656pp, £20 The Beatles generated something close to a religion of their own. When John Lennon claimed to be more famous than Jesus, he didn’t endear himself to many Christians but was drawing a comparison that others half-conceded – even sceptics like
March 12, 2020
In the world of opera, nuns are frequent visitors and fair game. They’re exotic, not infrequently neurotic, blistering with fervour and not difficult to costume (you can hire the habits off the peg, they never need a perfect fit).   More seriously, nuns on the opera stage deliver opportunities for a composer and librettist to reflect
November 14, 2019
Shostakovich: Critical Lives By Pauline Fairclough Reaktion Books, 240pp, £11.99/$19 There’s a popular image of Shostakovich – encouraged by books such as Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time and by music history of the kind you hear on Classic FM – which has the Soviet composer sleeping with a packed bag by his bed, ready
October 10, 2019
Rough Ideas By Stephen Hough Faber, 464pp, £18.99/$21.46 Stephen Hough is famous for a lot of things, mostly to do with playing the piano. He ranks high among the leading keyboard geniuses of our time – and genius is not an idle word here: it’s a status formally acknowledged in the US with what’s known
September 19, 2019
Music and Faith By Jonathan Arnold Boydell, 288pp, £30/$40 Few readers of this magazine would, I imagine, challenge the idea that music is a Good Thing with a proper place in liturgy. It hardly seems a controversial statement. And it might not seem to warrant a 288-page book to argue the point. But then, Jonathan
August 15, 2019
Christmas came early to Gloucester last week where, on a sultry August day before an audience in summer shirts and sandals, the cathedral gave the premiere of a new Christmas Oratorio – packaged for good measure with Britten’s Ceremony of Carols as part of a concert that will broadcast in December to listeners who’ll have
July 18, 2019
Michael Tippett: The Biography By Oliver Soden Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 768pp, £25/$34.95 It’s virtually a law of nature that composers fall from fashion when they die. And a distinguished victim was Sir Michael Tippett, whose reputation as the grand old man of British music could hardly have been higher when he died in 1998, aged
June 20, 2019
Arnold Schoenberg By Mark Berry Reaktion Books, 224pp, £12/$19 Arnold Schoenberg was a composer much given to statements of sweeping portent which, even in print, seem to call for drum rolls and the clash of cymbals; and an example came in 1921 when he announced that he had “made a discovery through which the supremacy
April 25, 2019
Catholics will, one hopes, have spent the Easter Triduum on their knees with open hearts. But those who also managed open ears might have observed the way that festivals of sacred music during Holy Week are almost standard practice nowadays. And few are more impressive than the one that happens in the Chapel Royal at
April 25, 2019
One Hundred Miracles By Zuzana Růžičková (with Wendy Holden) Bloomsbury, 368pp, £18.99/$25 Holocaust survivor stories follow a regrettably (in every sense) familiar pattern, so you tend to know what’s coming next. And it’s not usually a comfort read. But these are stories that demand persistent telling, if only to remind us of how fragile our
April 11, 2019
In a few days’ time, as has become its custom, the concert venue of St John’s Smith Square in London will revert to something like its origins as a church and celebrate Holy Week – not, alas, with liturgy but with a festival of choral music sung by whatever the collective noun is for conveyor-belts
March 14, 2019
Competitions are the Marmite of the music world, applauded by the public for their bloodsports element but loathed by plenty of musicians for exactly the same reason: putting tender talent under too much pressure. Sitting on the fence, I’d say they were a necessary evil to get young performers noticed, and a timely introduction to