Jonathan Freedland at The New York Times:
In these lectures and reviews, he argues that the high culture that was once the basic diet of the European bourgeoisie is shriveling fast — either unknown to new generations or else swamped by today’s deluge of permanent, round-the-clock electronic entertainment, “the great simultaneous circus show of sound, shape, image, color, celebrity and spectacle that constitutes the contemporary cultural experience.” Addressing the Salzburg Festival, he cites as an example “the crisis in classical music, whose fossilized repertoire and aging public” mean that a once vital form is now reduced to a handful of great works repeated as if on a loop, performed in lavish but subsidized opera houses to a rich but diminishing audience. With a knack for the telling fact, he reports that the core public for live classical music in New York is estimated “at no more than some 20,000 people.”
Again and again, he mourns those features of the European cultural landscape that have been erased. One chapter is devoted to the disappearance of Mitteleuropa, its once ethnically mixed, plural cities now rendered monochromatically “mononational”; another laments the destruction of the place Jews made for themselves within German culture. The grief of that observation is personal. For Hobsbawm — though born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1917 — grew up in Austria and Germany. He was a schoolboy witness in Berlin the day Hitler was sworn in as chancellor. And yet, departure from Germany was not solely a relief. It was also a loss.