THE STORY OF MUSIC by Howard Goodall


From Babylon to the Beatles: How Music Shaped Civilization
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A celebrated British composer and broadcaster surveys the evolution and cultural significance of music, from prehistoric caves to Coldplay.

There’s been nothing too new under the sun about the fundamentals of music since about 1450, begins Goodall (Big Bangs: The Story of Five Discoveries That Changed Musical History, 2001). Then he whisks us back to caves and prehistoric instruments (flutes, whistles) and begins his swift journey through the centuries. He recognizes that the subject requires much inference until the ages of notation, print and recording, but he plunges bravely into the lake of darkness and manages some illumination. We pause to look at “the magic of musical pitch,” the concepts of octaves and harmony, the invention of the musical staff (A.D. 1000), and the evolution of rhythm, chords, chord progressions, musical keys and tempo. Goodall also explores the invention and modification of significant instruments—the violin, organ, piano—and the creation of various musical forms—songs, operas, oratorios, sonatas (a subject that bores him, he writes). The big names retain their size in his account. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and myriads of others will surprise none by their presence and prominence. The author is also alert to the significance of popular music and has some passages about Broadway and the movies, blues, rock ’n’ roll (whose origin he traces to Benny Goodman!), jazz and hip-hop. Goodall also discusses the effects of political systems on music and musicians—from pre-revolutionary France to Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union and others. The author continually reminds us of technological advances—print, recordings, radio, films—that enabled music to spread as never before. He does not like conventional terms for musical periods (e.g., Classical, Neo-Classical) but finds himself forced to use them occasionally.

Cultural history with some attitude and considerable rhythm and melody.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60598-538-1
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Pegasus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2013


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