This week: music history, the Northern Renaissance, Venetian art and architecture, Edwin Lutyens, Bach’s keyboard concertos & more.
A Little History of Music, by Robert Philip (Yale University Press): The art historian E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World (1935) was conceived partly for children, whom he thought perfectly capable of following complex ideas and developments so long as the author took care to present them clearly. (Compare the humanities today, where inscrutability is meant to signal complexity.) The Third Reich blacklisted Gombrich as a pacifist, of course, but the work circulated through much of Europe in translation; the author, however, insisted on personally overseeing the English version. So its publication was delayed until 2005, shortly after Gombrich’s death in 2001 but with his advice and consent. Picking up where Gombrich left off, Yale University Press has wisely used that translation as the starting point for its “Little History” series, which has since expanded to include art, archaeology, philosophy, religion, economics, and more. Robert Philip’s new entry, A Little History of Music, is the latest in a string of pearls. —RE
The Other Renaissance: From Copernicus to Shakespeare: How the Renaissance in Northern Europe Transformed the World, by Paul Strathern (Pegasus): The Renaissance, it is widely believed, began in Italy. One typically associates the term with the city of Florence, the Medicis, Galileo, Machiavelli, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. Yet as Paul Strathern argues in his new book, The Other Renaissance, the transalpine rebirth lent just as much to the formation of the modern world. Key members of the Northern Renaissance—Bruegel, Brahe, Van Eyck, Luther, and Shakespeare, to name a few—made contributions rivaling those of the Southern Renaissance. Following the great minds of the period in insightful biographical chapters, Strathern’s book sets the record straight on this second revival. —JW
Venice and the Doges: Six Hundred Years of Architecture, Monuments, and Sculpture, by Toto Bergamo Rossi (Rizzoli Electa): If you want to understand the great serenity of La Serenissima, look no further than its succession of doges. Through its stable leadership, Venice’s ducal republic endured for over a thousand years, even influencing America’s founding, until its destruction by Napoleon in 1797. Venice and the Doges: Six Hundred Years of Architecture, Monuments, and Sculpture, a lavish new book from Rizzoli Electa, looks to the history of the 120 doges through their surviving funerary monuments. Written by Toto Bergamo Rossi, the director of the Venetian Heritage Foundation, with photographs by Matteo de Fina, the book reveals such highlights as Pietro Mocenigo’s monument in the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (1476) and the Contarini tomb in the Church of San Francesco della Vigna (1624/84). Taken together, the book’s elegant memorials speak to the life, and lives, of the Venetian Republic. —JP
“The Lutyens Memorial Volumes,” with David Frazer Lewis, at the General Society Library (May 31): A few months ago, Abbott & Holder, the reasonably priced London art dealers, featured a sketch of the architect Edwin Lutyens (1869–1944) in one of their twice-monthly lists of newly offered stock. I emailed back immediately and was told that there had been a run of emails asking to purchase the drawing; I was not the first. Such is the continuing interest in arguably the twentieth century’s greatest architect, a man whose studied engagement with the past yielded stylish, classical (in the broadest sense of that term) buildings that impress for not only their details but also for their massing and proportions. Or maybe instead of “continuing interest” I should have said “revival of interest,” for there was a time when Lutyens was—as Clive Aslet, now the chairman of the Lutyens Trust, wrote in our pages—“a bête noire to the zealots of the Modern Movement; they hated his romanticism, classicism, and (as the architect of the Viceroy’s House at New Delhi) imperialism.” It was a 1981 exhibition in London that restored Lutyens’s place in the architectural pantheon, and interest has continued apace since. Further indication of Lutyens’s staying power may be gleaned from the republication of the “Lutyens Memorial Volumes,” a set of books commissioned by Country Life after the architect’s death in 1944 that presented Lutyens’s work in fine detail, serving as a masterclass for architects and appreciators. The first republished volume, Country Houses, is out now from ACC Art Books, which has stunningly recreated the books in collaboration with the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. The other two volumes will follow this year, but to celebrate the publication of the first, the ICAA is hosting a lecture this Wednesday by David Frazer Lewis, a professor of architectural history at Oxford. The lecture and books are not to be missed. —BR
Keyboard Concertos with Jeremy Denk, Orchestra of St. Luke’s Bach Festival, Carnegie Hall (June 6): J. S. Bach’s keyboard concertos, BWV 1052–1065, are the wellsprings of the modern piano concerto repertoire. Their origins are somewhat obscure, some apparently descending from Hausmusik, pieces that Bach composed for performance at home in concerts with his children and friends. Some seem to be based on earlier concertos for various instruments; conjecturing whether a solo part is haunted by the ghost of a violin, an oboe, or an organ amounts to an interesting parlor game among musicologists. As with so much of the Bach patrimony, we have the Mendelssohn family to thank for preserving and passing it down. This coming Tuesday at Carnegie Hall, Jeremy Denk will perform all but one of the single-keyboard concertos with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s as part of OSL’s annual Bach Festival, closing with the D-minor, a Mendelssohn favorite dating all the way back to the pianist Sara Levy, Felix’s great aunt. —IS
For our Circle members:
“Peter Thiel receives The New Criterion’s 2023 Edmund Burke Award.” A special offering for our Circle of Supporters: watch Peter Thiel give remarks on “The diversity myth” at The New Criterion’s annual gala.
From the Archives:
“Detroit chronicle,” by James Panero (October 2016). On the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit & the role of art in the history of the city.
“‘Out, damned spot!’” by Sean McGlynn. On “Hogarth’s Britons: Succession, Patriotism, and the Jacobite Rebellion” at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, United Kingdom.