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Customer Review

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New ears for old music, 18 Mar. 2010
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This review is from: The Aesthetics of Music (Paperback)
Having read other Scruton titles I was initially rather discouraged when I realised that this was going to be a much tougher job of work than I had been looking for. I was hoping for a gentle introduction to aesthetics, a general survey or bluffer's guide, but instead I found it to be an earnest work of philosophy, including carefully developed arguments and theories of his own, in a field that would seem to have few, if any final answers. What I had also not anticipated was that Scruton's musical erudition would be on a par with his philosophical acuity, as the numerous examples and the penetrating analyses that accompany them, which he uses to illustrate his arguments attest. To be honest, I think I understood about 60% of the book, but have had my ears opened to new levels of musical understanding that have made the struggle eminently worthwhile. I have every intention of reading this book again one day, but want first to brush up on a bit more harmonic theory before I do, in order to get even more out of it the next time around. Mercifully, each chapter tends to examine a different aspect of the musical puzzle, so even when one chapter left me puzzled or confused, I could retain some hope of maybe better understanding the next. In fact, this is a rare example of a book that gets (a little bit) easier as it progresses.

Aside from pointing the way to a level of aesthetic apprehension I had not even glimpsed before, there are several aspects of music which Scruton has caused me to reconsider, there being two broad areas I can articulate with relative ease. Firstly, at the basic metaphysical level, my respect for the ineffability of our experience of music has been refreshed. That our cognitive faculties endow us with the capacity to find such depths of meaning and communicative intent in patterns of sound turns out to be one of those human intangibles that, like language or consciousness, becomes more mysterious the more closely we examine it.

Secondly, in more 'practical' aesthetic terms, I have been obliged to radically reappraise my concepts regarding tonality and atonality. I have a renewed understanding of what they are, what they each bring to the table, and what is lacking in the latter that must be made up for in 'less musical' ways, like extreme dynamics or timbre, if it is to be able to project form and structure. I had always held what I see now as a naive view, that tonality was there to be transcended. That one could train oneself through `sufficient' listening to 'comprehend' ever more extreme departures from the world of tonality. I'm still considering Scruton's arguments, but their implication is that atonality can only ever really be a style or fashion, and that where it works best, or even at all, it has to rely on ways of hearing that were initially acquired by our common experiences of tonality. This has had a direct impact on my listening in that I have a new respect and admiration for composers of the late romantic era, particularly Brahms and Tchaikovsky, that I have always ignored until now, in favour of more modernistic composers. It has also helped me to put my finger on the growing suspicion that, while I have always had a bit more of a taste for dissonance than is typical, I only really enjoy dissonance when it is rooted, even if to a minimal degree, in some kind of tonality. I have accepted at last that pure atonality does nothing for me. It turns out I'm not quite as modern as I thought, but then I'm OK with that.

This is a demanding but profoundly rewarding book if you have the musical background required to engage with it.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Mar 2010 21:24:01 GMT
Last edited by the author on 23 Mar 2010 21:24:20 GMT
Basilides says:
A wonderful review for all sorts of reasons. I think I might even be able to sign off the forum now.

Posted on 13 Mar 2011 09:37:07 GMT
Thank you for a very thoughtful review. Though I don't agree with your conclusion, and presumably Scruton's, that there are some 'essential' elements to human appreciation of music, which are 'rooted' in tonality, you've raised some useful questions, and shown me where to look if I want to engage further with, and better understand, this point of view.

Posted on 28 Oct 2014 18:36:25 GMT
As I remarked on the U.S. Amazon site, this book might also lead the listener to an appreciation and understanding of such unjustly overlooked late- or postromantic figures as Franz Schmidt, Pfitzner, Schreker, etc., whose reputations suffered from the rapid rise (and institutionalisation) of musical modernism.

Posted on 6 Aug 2015 12:16:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 6 Aug 2015 12:21:27 BDT
Josef K says:
An exemplary review, written by an engaging person willing to learn rather than show off what he knows already (which seems to be a lot, incidentally) and with a talent for whetting the appetite and informing the reader. I feel that the state of my own musical appreciation is probably very similar to Mr Ferngrove's and would benefit in the same measure as his clearly has. I have ordered the book on his recommendation. Thank you, Mr F.
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