I have very much enjoyed reading this book. I saw the TV programmes and realised that this is the right level of discussion about music for me. I love music and playing the piano but am self-taught and very ignorant, and this book and the TV series have broadened my understanding of the chronology of both musical invention and lives of famous composers. I still find musical theory very difficult, but Goodall's explanation of the big developments in composition and the impact of new technologies through the centuries has been most enlightening. I suspect that some experts would query his conclusions about some developments in so-called classical music in the late twentieth century - but I find his comments very comforting as I find some modern work very difficult too!
Howard Goodall has it all: the academic background (a First in music from Oxford), award-winning achievements on stage and TV, a gift for exposition - and a wonderfully light touch. Impossible not to learn a lot from this great book (which goes into more depth than the TV series).
Never having the opportunities to hear much music in earlier days (apart from TV and radio theme tunes and film scores) or to play an instrument, I bought this book to try to gain an overview in a relatively short time. Howard Goodhall had presented a radio programme called The History of Music in a Fifty pieces, a whistle-stop tour of key figures in the production of mainly western music and this book seemed like a more comprehensive companion. It is. And it is less a novel or discursive format than a work book, used with the amazingly helpful Spotify where almost all the pieces discussed can be easily accessed - I used an i-Pad and headset - and with some of the earlier songs referenced, downloading the lyrics from one or two web sites. So, it is a learning curve if you are new - ish to the subject but may be a decent refresher for some more favoured folks, especially as there is a short bibliography for further reading. It has taken me a couple of weeks to engage with the whole process, because if the Listen with Howard approach, but that was how I benefited and felt a novel buzz to be able to recognise a composer heard on the radio a little after completing my 'course'. Also I could put a name to the music I had heard but never previously labelled. the author goes on to include a good smattering of inclusive references to what we have called 'pop' music. If you are better informed to start with there are still lots of ideas, cross references and absence of pretentiousness which makes for a very user friendly refresher but I have written this review from the viewpoint of relatively unspoilt ignorance! I still don't get the Circle if Fifths but could manage other examples I found this book to be a very competent introduction and I have written all over the margins, underlined and highlighted chunks, so it's one of the few books I won't be lending.
"We press 'play' and a million styles, sounds, aural colours, echoes and voices breeze in towards us as if at an opened window. We are like children with a thousand games at our fingertips. We have, at last, reached a point where there are no right or wrong decisions about what music we may or may not enjoy - just one gratifyingly simple instruction: 'play'".
So ends Howard Goodall's breathless account of 42,000 years of music in 324 pages.
I love music - I have hundreds of CDs by hundreds of artists from Dolly (Parton, ofcourse) to Dvorak to Dizzie Gillespie. It is one of the most important things in my life, but I can't read music, have no formal 'appreciation' skills, I can't (so I've been told) even sing in tune: I just know what I like. And that is music which moves me. And all good music does.
However, there comes a point when you want to know how the story of music hangs together. You want to know why certain sounds and rhythms affect you and how we got to a point where Emile Sande, Dizzee Rascal and Elgar's Nimrod among other musical forms can sit happily on the same bill as they did at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in the summer of 2012.
I think Howard has done this in spades and at just the right pitch (all puns intended). He has clearly picked me as his audience and is determined to give me the whole story, with just enough theory to stretch me and plenty of modern examples of form and melody to let me get his point even without the luxury of an accompanying CD or TV programme. For example, "Syncopation is LIKE talkING with THE emPHAsis on THE wrong words TO creATE a jerKY sound." He uses well known tracks by Adele and Beyonce to illustrate how this works and why it's important.
He begins his story in 41,000BC - 'The Age of Discovery' with the discovery of an ancient flute in Slovenia and a discourse on how music was not just for the soul but for our language development, even for our very survival. From there we romp through various ages, "Discovery", "Penitence", "Invention" among them which describe how music developed through these ages to the present day, sometimes in sync with the other great shifts in human development like industrialisation and religious reform, sometimes not. He covers the importance of musical notation and tuning, the invention of key instruments, the influence of the great composers and their quite often forgotten mentors, globalisation and so much more besides........I'm risking sounding as breathless as Howard does: anxious to get it all in, and in the most straightforward way possible.
The best I can do is to say that if you are like me: you love music, but "don't really know that much about it", read this book and use it as a springboard to more reading and listening. With 42,000 years of material, the emphasis is on what is wrongly called 'Classical' music (I know why this is wrong now), but I hope to see Howard's more of fantastic pedagogy on the "Popular Ages" soon. Oh, and I can't wait to see the TV series.
The book is quite engaging up to the 20th century where the author loses his way with a typically BBC bias against nationalism and in favour of multiculturalism, diversity and immigration. He claims that America, the land of immigration, somehow took over the musical torch from Europe whose inhabitants' alleged obsession with their ancestral identity somehow narrowed the scope of their musical imagination. This is nonsense. From Wagner to Sibelius, nationalism has been a powerful inspiration to musical achievement and America has yet to equal the achievements of European art music. We don't need politically correct BBC lectures in a history of music.