Fiona Sampson

When atonal music was original and exciting

In the 1960s and 1970s, British music was transfixed by the Manchester School. Led by the composers Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr and Peter Maxwell Davies, this northern powerhouse of art music also included the brilliant pianist John Ogden and the conductor Elgar Howarth. All five had studied in the city in the early 1950s. Yet

Walt Whitman’s poetry can change your life

To describe a new book as ‘eagerly awaited’ is almost unpardonable. Yet Mark Doty’s What is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life is exactly that. It’s not just that Doty is an extraordinarily fine writer whose every word sings on the page. Poetry has a tendency to come into its own at exceptional times

Back from the brink

Hugo Williams’s wryly candid reports from the front lines of sex and family life are a perennial delight. Often timeless, they also frequently bring the styles and music of the 1950s and 1960s back to elegant life. These pleasures can be found once again in Williams’s new book, Lines Off; but this time they’re not

Lost and found | 2 May 2019

One of the oddest of Bloomsbury’s event venues must be the Foundling Museum. The handsome building on Coram’s Fields houses what remains of the London Foundling Hospital, which opened on the site in 1745. Its imposing rooms are lined with oil portraits of past patrons and among the artefacts on display is the original score

Feeling sorry for Frankenstein’s monster is hardly new

In the last couple of days my Twitter feed, always a cheerful place, has been more full of jokes than usual. The source of the mirth is Exeter University academic Nick Groom, and his ex cathedra pronouncements on Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. According to Groom, it is possible – gasp – to read Frankenstein’s creature

An uphill struggle

‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’, perhaps the most famous line Nan Shepherd wrote, is carved in the slate paving of the Writers’ Museum’s Close in Edinburgh. But many who read it, either there or on the new Scottish £5 note, will be surprised to learn that it is not actually taken


Småland’s wooden cottages with sunflowers lack nothing. Brightly-painted, small in the distance like stories, they call the eye on and on. Their painted wood is clean as thought, as the clean-cut hearts let into their shutters.