Rupert Christiansen rss

Memoirs of a Leavisite, by David Elllis - review

15 June 2013
Memoirs of a Leavisite: The Decline and Fall of Cambridge English David Ellis

Liverpool University Press, pp.224, £25, ISBN: 9781846318894

As the author of this wise, patient and delightful book wryly reminds us, Stephen Fry — who, of course, knows everything — has recently written F.R. Leavis off as a… Read more


Bookends: Byronic intensity

20 April 2013

A year before he died from emphysema in 1990, the composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein agreed to be interviewed by the music journalist Jonathan Cott for Rolling Stone. Dinner with Lenny (OUP,… Read more

Working at the Old Mill, Snape, December 1946

The music man

9 February 2013
Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century Paul Kildea

Allen Lane, pp.688, £30, ISBN: 9781846142321

Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Volume VI, 1966-1976 Philip Reed and Mervyn Cook

Boydell Press, pp.880, £45, ISBN: 9781843837251

When Humphrey Carpenter published the first major biography of Benjamin Britten in 1992, many of the composer’s associates were still alive and breathing down his neck. Carpenter’s knowledge of the… Read more


Hall of mirrors

4 June 2011
And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-occupied Paris Alan Riding

Duckworth Overlook, pp.399, 20

After the Nazi occupation of Paris was over, Sartre famously said — somewhat hypocritically, given his own slippery behaviour — that the only possibilities had been collaboration or resistance. After… Read more


The wow factor

18 December 2010
Franco Zeffirelli: Complete Works edited by Caterina Napoleone

Thames & Hudson, pp.512, 95

‘Nothing succeeds like excess,’ quipped Oscar Wilde, and Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Aida at La Scala, Milan in 2006 bears him out: for sheer jaw-dropping, applause- garnering theatrical bling, I… Read more

Dancing in the dark

9 September 2009
Different Drummer: The Life of Kenneth MacMillan Jann Parry

Faber, pp.758, 25

Kenneth MacMillan was once described as ‘the Francis Bacon of ballet’ — not an analogy that gets one very far, but there’s something in it. Kenneth MacMillan was once described… Read more


A monumental achievement

25 February 2009
Civilisation Jonathan Conlin

BFI Classics/ Palgrave, pp.150, 12

Like virtually everyone middle-aged and middle-class in this country, I am a beneficiary of the cult of Civilisation — Kenneth Clark’s ‘personal view’, stretching in 13 episodes from the Vikings… Read more

But where is Colonel Blimp?

3 December 2008
The Triumph of Music Tim Blanning

Allen Lane, pp.404, 25

The Triumph of Music, by Tim Blanning This is an often entertaining, occasionally illuminating, but cur- iously unsatisfying book, written by a distinguished historian of early modern Europe. Subtitled ‘Composers,… Read more

Highs and lows of a musical career

13 August 2008
Handel: The Man and His Music Jonathan Keates

Bodley Head, pp.352, 25

Handel: The Man and His Music by Jonathan Keates Since 1985, when Jonathan Keates first published this exhilarating critical biography of Handel, there have been enormous advances in the study… Read more

A gift for friendship

11 June 2008
Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Volume IV, 1952-1957 Edited by Philip Reed, Mervyn Cooke and Donald Mitchell

The Boydell Press, pp.633, 45

This magnificent edition of Benjamin Britten’s letters reaches its fourth volume under the auspices of a new publisher, the Boydell Press (despite subsidy, Faber simply couldn’t make it pay), and… Read more

Plunging into the hurly-burly

27 February 2008
The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century Alex Ross

Fourth Estate, pp.624, 20

‘Avoiding both the pigeon hole and the blackboard I have tried to trace a connecting line between the apparently diverse and contradictory manifestations of contemporary music,’ wrote the composer and… Read more

Lives less ordinary

21 November 2007
Modernism: The Lure of Heresy Peter Gay

Heinemann, pp.640, 20

Peter Gay opens his survey of the culture of Modernism with a discussion of Baudelaire’s call to artists to draw their inspiration from contemporary urban realities, and closes it with… Read more


What Winnie did with Hitler

15 August 2007
Winnie and Wolf: A Novel A.N. Wilson

Hutchinson, pp.pp. 361, �

Winnie and Wolf: A Novel by A.N. Wilson In her infamous five-hour ‘confession’ filmed by Hans-Jurgen Syberberg in 1975, Wagner’s English-born daughter-in-law Winifred talked openly and unashamedly about her close… Read more

Keeping cool over Wagner

2 November 2006
On Opera Bernard Williams

Yale, pp.19.99, 224

Opera has fallen out of fashion as a recreation of our humanist intellectuals. Even when I was an undergraduate in the mid- 1970s, the tide was beginning to turn in… Read more

A good man among ambiguities

26 October 2006
William Empson: Volume II, Among the Christians John Haffenden

OUP, pp.720, 30

The second volume of this superb biography opens in 1939, as William Empson returns to London after two years of high adventure and real privation in a China up against… Read more

Problems of production

11 October 2006
Wagner and the Art of the Theatre Patrick Carnegy

Yale, pp.461, 29.95

Shakespeare aside, there isn’t a dramatist whose work has proved more protean than Wagner’s. Patrick Carnegy explores the astonishing variety of interpretation it has provoked, in a book that has… Read more

Departing wisely from the text

21 September 2006
Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera Philip Gossett

University of Chicago Press, pp.704, 22.50

This enthralling and important book offers vital reading for anyone with a serious interest in opera. Its author Philip Gossett describes himself as ‘a fan, a musician and a scholar’;… Read more

Not all Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

3 August 2006
Seventies: The Sights, Sounds and Ideas of a Brilliant Decade Howard Sounes

Simon & Schuster, pp.472, 18.99

Born in 1965, Howard Sounes was scarcely out of short trousers by the time that Margaret Thatcher took power and kicked us out of the mire of complacent consensus and… Read more

Firebrand turned diehard

20 July 2006
Robert Southey: Entire Man of Letters W. A. Speck

Yale, pp.305, 25

‘Do you pronounce it Sowthy or Suthy?’ asked a friend when I mentioned I was reviewing this book. Today, that small controversy probably marks the limit of public curiosity as… Read more

The outsider who felt the cold

11 March 2006
Adam: An Anthology of Miron Grindea’s Adam Editorials Rachel Lasserson

Vallentine Mitchell, pp.260, 45

The journal ADAM — an acronym for Art, Drama, Architecture and Music — was the life’s work of a Jewish Romanian exile Miron Grindea (1910-95), who was its only editor.… Read more

The thinking man’s poet

12 November 2005
Arthur Hugh Clough Anthony Kenny

Continuum, pp.304, 25

‘The most intellectual British poet of the 19th century’ is Anthony Kenny’s judgment of Arthur Hugh Clough — a tribute which implies the absence of Tennysonian musi- cality in his… Read more

Antipodean wit and wisdom

5 November 2005
The Meaning of Recognition: New Essays, 2001-2005 Clive James

Picador, pp.367, 14.99

Shocking, I know, but I hadn’t paid much attention to Clive James since my dim distant undergraduate days 30 years ago, when I remember being vastly amused by his verse… Read more

Brillo boxes and marble nudes

4 June 2005
What Good Are the Arts? John Carey

Faber, pp.298, 12.99

Professor John Carey is at his most acerbic, combative and impassioned in this brilliant polemic, developed from lectures he gave at University College London last year. Just don’t expect the… Read more

A master of ambiguities

30 April 2005
William Empson: Volume I: Among the Mandarins John Haffenden

OUP, pp.692, 30

School reports can be remarkably prescient. William Empson’s headmaster noted, ‘He has a good deal of originality and enterprise: I hope he is learning also to discipline his vagaries.’ It’s… Read more

Stooping, but not to conquer

6 November 2004
Stephen Fry’s Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music Stephen Fry, as told to Tim Lihoreau

Boxtree, pp.320, 16.99

Here is yet another attempt to interest a wider public in classical music, in the form of a book ‘as told to’ Tim Lihoreau by Stephen Fry, based on a… Read more