Fall 2011

Greg Sandow

Google Voice phone number (finds me almost anywhere): 646 484-8163

you can text me there, too


email me  


go to my website

 read my blog on the future of classical music

read my in-progress online book on the future of classical music

read the course overview

read today’s New York Times music reviews

read my wife’s reviews and blog in the Washington Post


Classwork and assignments


This schedule might change, depending on how long some of our discussions take. Assignments might change, too. You’ll find links here to all reading assignments, and also to the optional listening, which (like the reading) you’ll be able to do online. I’ll e-mail all updates, including links to any assignments that change.

All assignments should be done by the date they’re listed under. We’ll be discussing them in class.


September 14

Introduction to this course. What do we think about music criticism and music critics? (class discussion)

September 21

More discussion of music criticism. How critics do their work.

September 28

Reading assignment

Some of my own reviews (so you’ll know what kind of critic your teacher has been)

Classical reviews, from the Wall Street Journal:

Enigmatic Debut

Putting the Music First

When the Solid Dissolves

You’ll see that I added a long postlude when I put this review on the web. You don’t have to read this extra part unless you want to.

Conduct(or) Unbecoming the Boston Symphony

One pop review, from the late ‘80s, when I was chief pop music critic for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner:

Vintage Talent’s Pop Wine: Rocking Chair’s Got ‘Re, James B” (about Aretha Franklin)

One of my reviews from the early ‘80s, when I was a columnist for the Village Voice, specializing in new music:

Cage Speaks Louder When the Street Gets Noisy

October 5

Ways to write about music

Reading assignment

Some unusual music writing:

E.M. Forster writes about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in his 1910 novel Howard’s End

Jack Kerouac goes wild about jazz in his novel On the Road (the Beat Generation classic from the 1950s)

Two music reviews by Tom Johnson, my predecessor as new music columnist at the Village Voice:

Charles Ives in Brooklyn

optional listening: Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, which Tom writes about in this review

Yoko Ono’s Snow

Rock critic and literary figure Greil Marcus goes into the heart of an early Van Morrison song, “Mystic Eyes.” (The song comes from the first album of Morrison’s first band, Them. Greil’s take on it comes from his book, When That Rough God Goes Riding, about Van Morrison)

Optional listening:

Mystic Eyes

October 12  

George Bernard Shaw’s music reviews (written in London in the 1890s)

Reading assignment. Please compare these two reviews. How are they different? How are they similar?

Shaw, “The Most Utter Failure Ever Achieved

Anthony Tommasini, “A Tale of Sex and Disdain in Wharton’s Berkshires” (from the New York Times, September 2, 1999)

October 19

no class -- Greg in San Antonio, adopting a baby

October 26
(class held by email)

More on Shaw

Reading assignment

Five Shaw reviews:

Municipal Bands and Opera Tricks” (excerpt)

 “Bayreuth’s Indifference to Beauty
 “Herr Mottl’s Insight

 “Form and Design in Music

A Sentimental Voluptuary” (an attack on Brahms)

November 2

Virgil Thomson’s music reviews (written for the New York Herald-Tribune in the 1940s and ‘50s)

Reading assignment

two reviews of a Jascha Heifetz concert in 1940, written by Thomson and by Olin Downes of the New York Times. Please compare them. How are they different?

Two more Thomson reviews:

Schuman’s Undertow” (about William Schuman)

Gloomy Masterpiece” (about Berg’s Violin Concerto)

read my outline of how to write a music review.

Discussion of how to write a music review

November 9

First paper due. Please write a two-page review of some music I’ll put online.

Please e-mail this and all other assignments to me. I don’t happily accept late assignments. If you’re going to be late with your work, you absolutely must let me know in advance, and arrange another due date

More on Thomson

Reading assignment

Four Thomson reviews, of four pianists. I think the reviews are very different from each other. But I think they also have some things in common. What’s your view?

Master of Distortion and Exaggeration” (about Vladimir Horowitz)

Equalized Expressivity” (about Artur Schnabel)

Dramatizing the Structure” (about Clifford Curzon)

Warm Welcome” (about Myra Hess)

November 16

Rock criticism

No assignment. We’ll listen to Elvis’s very first record, and find ways to talk about it.

November 23   no class; Thanksgiving week

November 30

Rock criticism

Reading assignment

From Nick Hornby’s Songbook:

Nelly Furtado: ‘I’m Like a Bird’

                        optional: listen to the song

From The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll:

Ellen Willis, “Janis Joplin

optional listening: three Janis Joplin songs:

Piece of My Heart

Ball and Chain” (live)

Me and Bobby McGee

December 7

Second paper due. Please write two or three pages about a concert you’ve gone to.

Jazz criticism

Reading assignment

Stanley Crouch:

an essay on Charlie Parker (an excerpt from Crouch’s review of Bird, the Clint Eastwood film about Parker)

optional listening: Charlie Parker, “Koko”

December 14

Final discussion. Take-home exam due.

December 21 – no class; many of us will be gone for the holidays