Alex Ross has a wonderfully good essay on Mozart in this week's New Yorker:
In 1991, the Philips label issued a deluxe, complete Mozart edition--a hundred and eighty CDs--employing such distinguished interpreters as Mitsuko Uchida, Alfred Brendel, and Colin Davis. The set has now been reissued in a handsome and surprisingly manageable array of seventeen boxes. During a slow week last winter, I transferred it to an iPod and discovered that Mozart requires 9.77 gigabytes.
On a computer, you can use search functions to create cross-sections of Mozart--a dreamworld of Adagios; a neo-Baroque swirl of fantasias and fugues; a nonet of Quintets (all major works). To listen to his twenty-seven settings of the 'Kyrie' is to appreciate his inexhaustible invention: they range from the entrancingly sweet to the forbiddingly severe, each a convincing simulacrum of the power of the Lord. But the obvious challenge was to go through the whole megillah--to begin with the Andante in C Major (K. 1a), which Mozart wrote when he was five, and proceed to the bitter end, the Requiem (K. 626), which he left unfinished at his death, at thirty-five. It took me three months. I can't claim to have given every bar close attention; a patch of recitative in the early opera 'La Finta Semplice,' for example, was disrupted by a protracted public-address announcement at Detroit Metro Airport, and most of the Contredanse No. 4 in F (K. 101) was drowned out by the crack drum corps Drumedies performing in the Times Square subway station. All recordings are fake events, and MP3 files heard on headphones are faker than most. But I got a rough aerial view of Mozart's achievement, and was more in awe than ever.
Whenever I read Ross's criticism I'm just staggered by how perfect it is, perfectly to my tastes at any rate: intellectual, imaginative, perceptive, immensely knowledgeable, funny and of course extremely well-written too. I feel it shows up a lot of other arts criticism as undistinguished (I'm not knocking the other New Yorker stuff, it's usually very good--Hilton Als is probably my other favorite there); I can only think of a handful of for-a-general-audience literary critics in their 30s and 40s who have this kind of authority for me, Daniel Mendelsohn probably first among them. Interesting to think, in any case, about what makes really good criticism work....
(Oh, and a personal New Yorker literary bonus: in the very good story by William Trevor--also in this week's issue, nice when things are available on-line...--the protagonist in the opening scene is reading one of my favorite minor Hardy novels--yep, you guessed it, The Hand of Ethelberta! I love all of Hardy; because I'm always rooting for the underdog I am particularly partial--though I can't say that they're really of the caliber of the famous ones--to the crazier and lesser-known ones like A Pair of Blue Eyes and A Laodicean. . . .)