Olin Downes
Olin Downes (January 27, 1886–August 22, 1955) was an American music critic.

He studied piano, music theory, and music criticism in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 and Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

, and it was in those two cities that he made his career as a music critic—first with the Boston Post
Boston Post
The Boston Post was the most popular daily newspaper in New England for over a hundred years before it folded in 1956. The Post was founded in November 1831 by two prominent Boston businessmen, Charles G...

(1906–1924) and then with the New York Times (1924–1955). He was also known in radio broadcasting for his contributions to an intermission feature during the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts
Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts
The Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts are a regular series of weekly broadcasts on network radio of full-length opera performances. They are transmitted live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City...

, "The Metropolitan Opera Quiz." Occasionally, he appeared as a guest lecturer at universities and music conservatories. He gave the eulogy at the funeral of opera contralto
Contralto is the deepest female classical singing voice, with the lowest tessitura, falling between tenor and mezzo-soprano. It typically ranges between the F below middle C to the second G above middle C , although at the extremes some voices can reach the E below middle C or the second B above...

 Sophie Braslau
Sophie Braslau
Sophie Braslau was a contralto prominent in United States opera, starting with her debut in New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1913 when she was just 21 years of age....

 on December 24, 1935.

While conservative in many regards, he was a champion of some new music in the first half of the 20th century. In particular, he often promoted the works of Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century...

, Shostakovich
Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century....

, Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

, Charles Ives
Charles Ives
Charles Edward Ives was an American modernist composer. He is one of the first American composers of international renown, though Ives' music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. Over time, Ives came to be regarded as an "American Original"...

, and Hovhaness
Alan Hovhaness
Alan Hovhaness was an Armenian-American composer.His music is accessible to the lay listener and often evokes a mood of mystery or contemplation...

 before they achieved worldwide fame.

By far his favorite living composer was Jean Sibelius
Jean Sibelius
Jean Sibelius was a Finnish composer of the later Romantic period whose music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity. His mastery of the orchestra has been described as "prodigious."...

, whom he championed throughout his career. Downes wrote a short biography of the Finn, Sibelius the Symphonist (48 pp.). His lengthy correspondence with Sibelius has been edited and annotated by Glenda Dawn Goss
Glenda Goss
Glenda Goss is an author and music historian whose special interests are music and culture, early modernism, critical editing, and European-American points of cultural contact...

 in an appendix to her study Jean Sibelius and Olin Downes: Music Friendship, Criticism. Goss also shows that as a music critic for the New York Times, Downes was an influential voice for Sibelius in American music circles, although not the only force contributing to the Finn’s popularity in the United States in the first part of the twentieth century.

Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 honoured Downes and invited him to speak in honor of Sibelius's 75th birthday. According to some sources, the music of Sibelius became part of the standard orchestral repertory in the United States largely because of the championship of Downes.


Occasionally his reviews could be blistering, especially regarding the music of the Second Viennese School
Second Viennese School
The Second Viennese School is the group of composers that comprised Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils and close associates in early 20th century Vienna, where he lived and taught, sporadically, between 1903 and 1925...

 and avant-garde
Avant-garde means "advance guard" or "vanguard". The adjective form is used in English to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics....

 music, as these examples demonstrate:
  • "Varèse's
    Edgard Varèse
    Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse, , whose name was also spelled Edgar Varèse , was an innovative French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States....

     Hyperprism reminded us of election night, a menagerie or two and a catastrophe in a boiler factory." (The New York Times, 1924)

  • "Symphony for Chamber Orchestra of ... Anton Webern
    Anton Webern
    Anton Webern was an Austrian composer and conductor. He was a member of the Second Viennese School. As a student and significant follower of Arnold Schoenberg, he became one of the best-known exponents of the twelve-tone technique; in addition, his innovations regarding schematic organization of...

     is one of those whispering, clucking, picking little pieces which Webern composes when he whittles away at small and futile ideas, until he has achieved the perfect fruition of futility and written precisely nothing." (The New York Times, 1929)

  • (On Berg's
    Alban Berg
    Alban Maria Johannes Berg was an Austrian composer. He was a member of the Second Viennese School with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and produced compositions that combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique.-Early life:Berg was born in...

    Lulu (opera)
    Lulu is an opera by the composer Alban Berg. The libretto was adapted by Berg himself from Frank Wedekind's plays Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora .-Composition history:...

    ): "Rapine, suicide, murder, the prevailing flower of a highly diseased eroticism are, perhaps, just so much promising material for a musical Freud or Krafft-Ebing to work upon." (The New York Times, 1935)


Downes died in New York, aged 69. Downes was an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia
Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia
Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia is an American collegiate social fraternity for men with a special interest in music...

, the national fraternity for men in music.


He is the father of music educator and radio host Edward Downes.


  • Slonimsky, Nicolas
    Nicolas Slonimsky
    Nicolas Slonimsky was a Russian born American composer, conductor, musician, music critic, lexicographer and author. He described himself as a "diaskeuast" ; "a reviser or interpolator."- Life :...

     (1965). The Lexicon of Musical Invective. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-78579-9.
  • "Olin (Edwin) Downes." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2.
  • Glenda Dawn Goss
    Glenda Goss
    Glenda Goss is an author and music historian whose special interests are music and culture, early modernism, critical editing, and European-American points of cultural contact...

    . Jean Sibelius and Olin Downes: Music, Friendship, Criticism. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press, 1995. ISBN 1-5553-200-4
  • Goss, Glenda Dawn. Vieläko lähetämme hänelle sikareja? Sibelius, Amerikka ja amerikkalaiset. Trans. from the English by Martti Haapakoski. Helsinki: WSOY, 2009
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