Investigating critical practice

Alessandri, E. and Eiholzer, H. and Cervino, A. and Senn, O. and Williamon, A. (2011) Investigating critical practice. In: International Symposium on Performance Science 2011, 24-27 August 2011, Canada.


This article offers a preliminary overview of a large-scale study of 845 reviews of commercial recordings of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas published in The Gramophone between 1923 and 2010. Data regarding publication date, repertoire reviewed, pianist(s) reviewed, music critic, label, release status, and length of the text were extracted and analysed. The results highlight that, despite the high number of critics (n=59), labels (n=136), and pianists (n=216) involved, a large proportion of reviews were written by relatively few critics (n=7) of recordings released by few labels (n=8) and of performances given by few pianists (n=17). The analyses showed that labels and pianists who produced more recordings received longer reviews. Two of the seven most prolific critics seem to have been given more freedom to write idiosyncratically, with particularly long and short reviews. In a second phase, a pilot text content analysis was carried out on a subset of 63 reviews. Results reflect an increasing focus on interpretative issues over the course of the century, with later reviews providing more text on interpretation. This is in line with the growing quantity of reviews of reissues (from the 1950s) and releases of old recordings (from the 1980s) found in the full dataset.

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