My ears prick up. My heart misses a beat. Nico Muhly has a note on his blog saying that he plans to resume writing there. A sleeping beauty awakes.
How do I love Nico Muhly’s blogging? Let me count the ways.
First, he has a joyfully uninhibited writing style ranging from the chatty to the near-mystical.
Second, he approaches the work of others with the expertise and shared delight of a practitioner. His post on ‘Beyoncé’ is surely one of the finest record reviews ever written.
Third, when he writes about his own work, he gives a dazzlingly persuasive account of the composer’s creative process. This, I think, makes him unique among current writers. Not just bloggers — writers.
Not since Thomas Mann’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ has a novelist done a decent job of capturing a composer’s inner life. I fell hungrily and hopefully upon Julian Barnes’s novel about Shostakovich, ‘The Noise of Time’, only to find that Barnes’s Shostakovich is a composer in name only; Barnes gives him the inner life of a writer; there is no music there.
I cannot give popular music the emotional investment now that I could in my earlier youth, but even so, I very rarely feel that I am seeing new writing about popular music to compare with the best of what was being written in the 1970s.
As for classical music, the only people who seem able to write well about it are a handful of pianists (I think of Jeremy Denk, Alfred Brendel, the late lamented Charles Rosen); and Jay Nordlinger; and Nico Muhly.
The claim that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, which I have seen attributed variously to Miles Davis, Elvis Costello, Eno and Frank Zappa, suggests we should be grateful to find anybody writing about music at all. But the claim contains a category error. If music is architecture, then musical compositions and performances are buildings. They have form. They exist in the world. Trying to photograph a piece of music would be futile; writing about it would not.
And, come to think of it, dancing about architecture also sounds like a promising idea. I find it hard to believe that some ingenious choreographer — Mark Morris, say — has not already given us the works of Frank Gehry in modern dress. Should it happen, Nico Muhly would be my choice to write the score.
Robert Cottrell is editor of The Browser, which recommends five or six pieces of exceptional writing available online each day. He was previously a staff writer for The Economist and the Financial Times.