Selling Dvorak Short
WHAT MAKES a composer great? The quality of his music is the obvious answer-and the right one. But few listeners (and surpris- ingly few critics) are self-confident enough to vouch for a composer solely on the basis of their own un- supported evaluation of his art. In- stead, they look for reassuring out- ward signs of significance. Was he born in Austria or Germany? Did he turn out a body of large-scale works that employ the sonata-alle- gro form? Was he careful to keep “local color” out of his music, other than for occasional effect? Above all, was his private life sufficiently messy to make possible the writing of a readable biography? The high- er a composer scores on this check- list, the more likely that he will be acclaimed as great.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.