In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Western European Music Criticism, c. 1700-1970

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Portals
  • Journals and Special Issues
  • Methods

Music Western European Music Criticism, c. 1700-1970
Katharine Ellis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0216


Music criticism is understood within this article as a journalistic response to an event, publication, or newsworthy musical phenomenon, published in the daily or periodical press. Most entries accordingly deal with the late 18th century onward, the center of gravity being the long 19th century. This chronological distribution reflects the current state of published scholarship and the rapid international expansion of the press itself, while not excluding important proto-criticism occurring in Paris and Venice in the 17th century. The vast majority of scholarship on music criticism is concerned with a single writer or country, and the same pattern has been adopted here. Inevitably, it reinforces the idea of a canon of critics (usually composers); but it also reveals the dispersed and youthful nature of a field where much is pioneering research, with follow-up studies yet to appear. The field is also changing rapidly, and when members of new scholarly networks devoted to 20th-century criticism begin to publish their work, the balance will shift away from the 19th-century dominance reflected here. The traditional utility of music criticism for scholarship has been as a source of information about the reception of specific composers. Save for anthologies of criticism devoted to particular works, reception studies as such are not included here; the emphasis is on those who wrote music criticism, their writings, and the journals in which their writings appeared. That said, the sheer scale of activity of certain “star” writers, and the voluminous literature they have inspired, precludes anything more than selective treatment in this article, which is intended to scope out the field. Those wishing to follow up leads on the writings of “Eduard Hanslick,” “Louis-Hector Berlioz,” “Robert Schumann,” “Franz Liszt,” or “Richard Wagner,” for instance, are directed to the Oxford Bibliographies articles on these figures. The symbiosis of developments in criticism and the industrialization of print media demand that the first be studied in the context of the second, and the methods scholars use to interrogate music criticism are changing in response to the large quantities of primary material now available online: a section on methods brings together diverse approaches from literature and musicology, and reflections on them.


Historical introductions to music criticism such as della Corte 1961; Noble 2007–2017; Tadday, et al. 1997 tend to set journalistic criticism in the context of more general philosophical and aesthetic writings. The most relevant starting points for a pan-European history of journalistic criticism are Maus, et al. 2007–2017 and Fellinger, et al. 2007–2017, which preserve a good balance between national traditions. However, Fellinger deals only with the specialist press. Those interested by developments in Spain, Italy, and Germany specifically are best served by Casares Rodicio 1995; della Corte 1961; and Tadday, et al. 1997, respectively. For a contextual and thematic introduction to the study of music criticism in the 19th century, Eckart-Bäcker 1965 remains a good model. Monelle 2002 is unusual in the attempt to counter the overwhelming emphasis on works, rather than practices or performances, within music-critical scholarship.

  • Casares Rodicio, Emilio. “La crítica musical en el XIX español: Panorama general.” In La música española en el siglo XIX. Edited by Celsa Alonso González and Emilio Casares Rodicio, 463–491. Oviedo, FL: University of Oviedo Press, 1995.

    A concise survey. Traces the main axes of Spanish music criticism, through the general arts, newspaper, and music presses in Barcelona and Madrid, from the 1820s to Salazar. Main themes include the history of Italian opera versus Spanish zarzuela; the mid-century beginnings of instrumental music reviewing; and 1870s Wagnerism, press expansion, and French modernist and historicist influences c. 1900.

  • della Corte, Andrea. La critica musicale e i critici. Turin, Italy: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1961.

    Classic two-part general history of international criticism (broadly defined), stretching from Glareanus to the early decades of the 20th century. Part 1 discusses philosophies, definitions, and modes of critical discourse. Part 2 outlines developments in (increasingly journalistic) criticism by country to c. 1900, covering Italy (one of the most detailed accounts available, pp. 649–668), Germany, France, Spain, and England. The final chapter considers early-20th-century criticism, including in the United States.

  • Eckart-Bäcker, Ursula. Frankreichs Musik zwischen Romantik und Moderne: Die Zeit im Spiegel der Kritik. Regensburg, Germany: Gustav Bosse Verlag, 1965.

    Reception history of Parisian music from 1848 to 1913 through the lens of the musical and general arts periodical press. In its insistence on themes rather than major personalities (the role of the critic, the utility of criticism, the impact of snobbism), the opening chapter remains an important point of reference for its analysis of music criticism as practiced in Paris throughout the period.

  • Fellinger, Imogen, Julie Woodward, Dario Adamo, et al. “Periodicals.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007–2017.

    Indispensable general overview for its worldwide coverage and chronological range. A critical history is followed by a detailed country-by-country listing of titles arranged chronologically. Nevertheless, the scale permits only thumbnail portraits of each country. Coverage is limited to specialist music publications rather than including general cultural journals or daily papers.

  • Maus, Fred Everett, Glenn Stanley, Katharine Ellis, et al. “Criticism.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007–2017.

    An excellent starting point. A wide-ranging discussion of the nature of criticism and the responsibility of the critic precedes a historical survey organized chronologically by geographical area.

  • Monelle, Raymond. “The Criticism of Musical Performance.” In Musical Performance: A Guide to Understanding. Edited by John Rink, 213‒224. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Gives a useful historical survey of work-oriented criticism in the 19th century, as prelude to a rare academic discussion of the history of performance-oriented concert reviewing.

  • Noble, Jeremy. “Criticism.” In New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007–2017.

    Concise and trenchant historical account of opera criticism, from the debates giving birth to opera to current concerns. Takes a broad view of the definition of opera criticism, to include journalism, pamphleteering, and discursive scholarly writing.

  • Tadday, Ulrich, Christoph Flamm, and Peter Wicke. “Musikkritik.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2d ed. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 1362–1388. Sachteil 6. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1997.

    Technical, terminological, and historical introduction covering the 18th century to the late 20th century, with a section on the criticism of popular music. The working definition of “criticism” is broad, taking in Kant and Barthes. The historical section focuses more narrowly on press criticism giving attention predominantly to Germany (pp. 1367–1375) and, among Western European traditions, offering brief comments on France, England, and Italy (nothing on Spain).

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