Recent links of note:

“A sneak peek at France’s first cultural venue celebrating stained glass”
Sarah Belmont, The Art Newspaper

France’s very first museum of stained glass, La Cité du vitrail, will be opening next year in the medieval town of Troyes (home of Chrétien de Troyes, the beloved twelfth-century writer of Arthurian romances). The region contains over two hundred churches and over one thousand stained-glass windows, hence its unofficial designation as the nation’s stained-glass capital. The museum will contain a research facility and space for temporary exhibitions, and it will also have a permanent display drawn from its 750-piece archive. Among the pieces on show will be a delicate seventh-century fragment on loan from Le Musée des antiquités in Rouen and a new window designed by the contemporary painter Fabienne Verdier and manufactured by a local workshop. This weekend the museum, which sits in the newly restored Hôtel-Dieu-le-Comte, founded as a hospital in the twelfth century and rebuilt in the eighteenth, will be giving preview tours to a lucky few before its grand opening next spring.

“Nothing but Sheer Racket: On the music and mind of Franz Liszt”
Susan Tomes, Lapham’s Quarterly

According to Susan Tomes, who has written a new book, The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces, excerpted in the Lapham’s Quarterly blog, Liszt has always been divisive. A charismatic performer, he pioneered the solo concert in tours across Europe and even became the center of a personality cult (crazed fans would preserve, à la Harriet Smith, his cigarette butts and broken piano strings). Nevertheless, his music has always had detractors who find it, as Tomes explains, “emptily virtuosic and annoyingly melodramatic.” Among them was Clara Schumann, who, upon receiving a manuscript of Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor—that dark, passionate, mysterious masterpiece, his only completed piano sonata—declared it “nothing but sheer racket,” an opinion seconded by none other than Brahms. Lucky for us, Clara did not have the final word on the sonata, which is rumored to have been inspired by sources ranging from Faust to Paradise Lost. Still performed regularly, the piece is often adapted for other instruments and ensembles to great effect. Humphrey Searle, for instance, created an orchestral arrangement in 1963 for the choreographer Frederick Ashton, who used it in his tragic ballet starring Fonteyn and Nureyev, Marguerite and Armand. This work has taken on near-sacred significance for ballerinas and is often chosen by dancers today for their farewell performances—including, most recently, Tamara Rojo, Zenaida Yanowsky, and Greta Hodgkinson. 

“Dickens’ Multitudes”
Ruth Bernard Yeavell, The New York Review of Books 

This week, Ruth Bernard Yeavell, the Sterling Professor of English at Yale, reviews two recent books on Dickens for The New York Review of Books. The first, The Artful Dickens by John Mullen, explores the many “tricks and ploys” the author used to conjure up his thrilling tales—from the coincidences in his plots, which he accentuated instead of hiding, to his outlandish “as if” constructions and revival of dead metaphors. The second book, The Mystery of Charles Dickens by A. N. Wilson, delves into the shadowy portions of Dickens’s personal life, such as his decade-long relationship with the young actress Nelly Ternan, profiled by Claire Tomalin in her 1990 biography The Invisible Woman, as well as his discreet charity work establishing and overseeing a home for “fallen women” with the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts. Yeavell also discusses the remarkable variety of his professional guises—whether as an actor, parliamentary reporter, playwright, or travel writer.  

Podcasts:

“James Panero on ‘New Worlds.’ ” A new podcast from the Executive Editor of The New Criterion. 

Dispatch:

“The music that is in you,” by Jay Nordlinger. On arts and letters, popularity and unpopularity. 

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