Commentary Magazine

Dissonance in Music

To the Editor:

Samuel Lipman’s adieu to Rosina Lhevinne [“Confessions of a Prodigy,” May] pictures her in 1965, in her eighties, listening in “rapt attention” as a student plays the Opus 119 Klavierstücke of Brahms. When the student is finished, and Rosina finally speaks, it is to say “Listen to the dissonances!” Mr. Lipman at first wonders “What dissonances?” And he continues: “Then I realized: the pieces had appeared in 1892, when she was twelve years old. Those were her dissonances, and for me to have lived and played in her world, I would have had to hear them as mine. That I could not, I suppose, meant that at long last I was on my own.”

Allow me simply to suggest that the dissonances belonged not to Rosina Lhevinne, not to 1892, but rather to Brahms, to Opus 119, and to all listeners—and performers—who can respond to the music.

Robert K. Wallace
Northern Kentucky University
Highland Heights, Kentucky



Samuel Lipman writes:

For Robert K. Wallace—the authorized biographer of Rosina Lhevinne—both history and experience would seem to be irrelevant. Brahms is graven in stone, as is Mme. Lhevinne; the teacher’s remarks no less than the composer’s music are givens, to be experienced and worshipped unchangingly through the centuries. Notwithstanding the comfort such a position no doubt brings its holders, times change, and with the change come altered perceptions of both artistic content and styles. One period’s dissonance may be another’s consonance; the conventions of yesterday are often the peculiarities of today. To deny the role of flux in aesthetics bespeaks a lucky innocence, a state of affairs which the uncharitable might even call naiveté.

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