Music

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

Music can be a tough subject to make interesting, and the author mostly succeeds. This is a long book, but the diversity of the topics covered and their inter-relationships is clear and well-executed. This may be a bit dry for some readers, but the author has deep knowledge and is a good writer. 

I really appreciate the copy for review!!
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Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia started out by surprising me and ended up by blowing me away. Not what I had expected, as in: much more than I expected.

I love to read music histories. Most tend to be about a specific genre, maybe about an era, sometimes about an instrument. The few I have read that are a history of music as a whole still tend to be selective with what is considered music (or at least what they deem worthy of inclusion) and/or limited by a broad style (western vs eastern; tonal vs atonal). This book not only covers all of these but goes so far as to start with the Big Bang. Yes, that Big Bang.

The breadth of topics covered through the portal of music and musicality is breathtaking. From prehistoric ideas of how music might have been used through various institutional attempts to control and limit music to the idea of music as primarily entertainment divorced from any practical purpose, Gioia cuts a wide path through not just music history but human history.

He manages to not only cover all of this information but make some arguments for how music has been pivotal in history itself and even some insight into specific musicians (Beethoven, Parker, etc). I think because of the wide sweep through history this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, though admittedly certain sections may be more appealing than others. For scholars in various disciplines this may well indicate how music (broadly defined) might be incorporated into future research. For casual readers I think Gioia has managed to not get bogged down in any one area or time so that even if your primary interest might be a specific time the rest of the book will still interest you. And the early points he makes serve quite often as part of the foundation for later discussions in the book, so reading every section, even if not your main interest area, is highly recommended.

While acknowledging that there will no doubt be some people who don't want this exhaustive or comprehensive history of music, I can't really think of any particular group of readers to whom I wouldn't recommend the book.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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Gioia notes early in this book that he's been writing it for 25 years. That shows: his conception of how music history is taught and written about and discussed is about 25 years out-of-date, and his work in this book suffers badly from it. The book would have been a powerful call to action and change two decades ago, but today, with hundreds of  fantastic, progressive, new, and radically different approaches to music historiography in practice, both for "art" and "pop" musics, Gioia's work is out of touch, and the book's claims come far too late for it to be relevant or useful.
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A fascinating and well written book that gave me a lot of food for thought and helped me to understand the relationship between the human and the music.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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Writing about music can be very difficult indeed--explaining with words what really is best heard with one's own ears. The cultural history of music is equally as complex, with every piece having a wide array of sources and influences, as well as some coincidental resemblances.

Ted Gioia has done well at emphasizing the interconnected nature of music as it relates to our experience as humans. The reader gains a kind of bird's-eye-view of why and how we make music, as well as lots of interesting facts that will impress your friends or trivia night competitors.
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