Music critic and weblogger Steve Hicken of Listen comments on the two principal methods of writing about and analyzing a piece of music the "hardcore technical," and what Steve calls the "impressionistic" and suggests that a marriage of the two in critical writing for what Steve refers to (after art critic Dave Hickey) as the "community of desire" for classical music (or as Steve calls it, "concert music") is what ought to be aimed for.
Notwithstanding my criticism, even excoriation, of "hardcore technical" analysis in such critical writing (here, here, and, somewhat indirectly, here), and my praise for "impressionistic" analysis (e.g., here), I agree there's room for both methods, and that a marriage of the two is desirable when handled in such a way as to serve a better understanding of the music under discussion rather than as things in themselves. It's just as egregious an error to wax over-the-top poetic in "impressionistic" analysis as it is to discourse in academic detail and at academic length in "hardcore technical" analysis of a piece of music, or to take the position, as did one academic musicologist, that the only way to analyze a piece of music is by means of "the dispassionate, the unbiased, the scientific, the musicological way."
And what exactly do I mean when I say that "a marriage of the two is desirable when handled in such a way as to serve a better understanding of the music under discussion"? I mean that only when the "hardcore technical" is used to provide clarifying or illuminating concrete example of an "impressionistic" point made in general critical writing on music (as opposed to, say, critical writing for use in music theory courses or other specialist venues) is it being used as it ought to be used, and that its use in any other capacity in such critical writing is decidedly out of place, and hugely counterproductive.
Perhaps the ne plus ultra master in achieving the proper marriage of the two methods was the late Leonard Bernstein. In his writings books, papers, and liner notes and in his famous university and broadcast lectures, Bernstein knew just how, when, and where to use each method to best illuminative effect in explicating to his intended audience the music under discussion, and in demonstrating whence it derived and how it achieves its power to move us, which power is the very raison d'être and sine qua non of all music, and the only proper and worthwhile subject of non-specialist, explanatory critical writing on music.
At present (and pace Michael Tilson Thomas), we do not, to my knowledge, have another with anything even approaching Bernstein's special genius for this sort of critical writing and lecturing on music. But even lesser-gifted practitioners of the art and craft ought to adopt Bernstein's approach as their own, and put it to use as best their capabilities will allow, and as best they can. In that way will we all be the beneficiaries, and classical music best be served.