John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Friday, September 11, 2009

A catholic taste

The mark of a mature taste is the ability to appreciate excellence in different forms — Carolina barbecue as well as steak au poivre. Thus, in proper appreciation of writing, one should be able to appreciate a writer who adheres to the most formal conventions of usage as well as one who writes colloquially with flair.

Here’s a parallel. I admire and appreciate the work that has been done in music with period instruments and period technique. I love the recordings that Nikolaus Harnoncourt and other musicians have done with the music of Bach, for example.

But once, more than thirty years ago, the formidable Lili Kraus came out on stage at one of the Mostly Mozrt concerts at Lincoln Center to play as an encore the Rondo Alla Turca from Mozart’s A-major piano sonata. She didn’t play it on some tinkly little reconstructed pianoforte; she banged out the bejeezus on a Steinway grand, and I can hear that glorious sound in my head to this day.

You have to be able to appreciate both.


  1. "once should be able to..."

  2. This philistine wonders whether that example is something like appreciating both the Ramones and the Sex Pistols.

  3. Most fortepianos are not "tinky little reconstructed" instruments; some are the real thing, which have been cared for and played over the centuries, and some are built to the specifications of Mozart or Haydn by superb craftsmen. I really don't want to hear anyone "bang the bejeezus" out of anything.It invariably sounds as if the pianist is playing with his feet. And when the piece is a Rondo and not a Czardas, the effect is ruinous. One can play with joy, brio and determination without sounding like "Bang On a Can."

  4. Does this mean I have to think that Dickinson is a good poet or I don't have refined tastes? If so, refined me damned.


  5. Anonymous might like Emily Dickinson better if he never left the house. I believe it helps in the reading of her poetry. Empathy and all that...(I'm not a fan but others are, I believe.)