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The Story of Music

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Published to coincide with Howard Goodall's major new BBC TV series, this is an accessible history for all music lovers. For many of us, music is an intrinsic part of everyday life, and yet the history of its development from single notes to multi-layered orchestration can seem bewilderingly complex and specialised. In his energetic tour through 30,000 years of music, from Published to coincide with Howard Goodall's major new BBC TV series, this is an accessible history for all music lovers.   For many of us, music is an intrinsic part of everyday life, and yet the history of its development from single notes to multi-layered orchestration can seem bewilderingly complex and specialised.   In his energetic tour through 30,000 years of music, from prehistoric instruments to pop, Goodall does away with stuffy biographies, unhelpful labels and tired terminology and leads us through the story of music as it really happened, so that each musical innovation strikes us with its original force. He focuses on what changed when and why, picking out the discoveries that revolutionised man-made sound. Along the way, he also gives refreshingly clear descriptions of what music is and how it works: what scales are all about, what happens in harmony, why some chords sound discordant.   The story of music is the story of our urge to invent, connect, rebel -- and entertain. Howard Goodall's beautifully clear and compelling account is both a hymn to human endeavour and a groundbreaking map of man's musical journey.


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Published to coincide with Howard Goodall's major new BBC TV series, this is an accessible history for all music lovers. For many of us, music is an intrinsic part of everyday life, and yet the history of its development from single notes to multi-layered orchestration can seem bewilderingly complex and specialised. In his energetic tour through 30,000 years of music, from Published to coincide with Howard Goodall's major new BBC TV series, this is an accessible history for all music lovers.   For many of us, music is an intrinsic part of everyday life, and yet the history of its development from single notes to multi-layered orchestration can seem bewilderingly complex and specialised.   In his energetic tour through 30,000 years of music, from prehistoric instruments to pop, Goodall does away with stuffy biographies, unhelpful labels and tired terminology and leads us through the story of music as it really happened, so that each musical innovation strikes us with its original force. He focuses on what changed when and why, picking out the discoveries that revolutionised man-made sound. Along the way, he also gives refreshingly clear descriptions of what music is and how it works: what scales are all about, what happens in harmony, why some chords sound discordant.   The story of music is the story of our urge to invent, connect, rebel -- and entertain. Howard Goodall's beautifully clear and compelling account is both a hymn to human endeavour and a groundbreaking map of man's musical journey.

30 review for The Story of Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    The previous book about music I read did a decade in 500 pages, one chapter per year. By contrast, this one covers the years 40,000 BC to 1450 AD in the first 42 pages and subsequent chapters cover 200 years at a time, so the scope is plainly quite different. Nonetheless it is excellent with lots of detail that one might not know after years of studying music, though it is aimed at the neophyte with basic explanations of key and harmony. It would probably be a great textbook for a college The previous book about music I read did a decade in 500 pages, one chapter per year. By contrast, this one covers the years 40,000 BC to 1450 AD in the first 42 pages and subsequent chapters cover 200 years at a time, so the scope is plainly quite different. Nonetheless it is excellent with lots of detail that one might not know after years of studying music, though it is aimed at the neophyte with basic explanations of key and harmony. It would probably be a great textbook for a college freshman survey course and the author conveniently links to Sptfy playlists from his website. Goodall is quite accomplished in the area of film and television music (including "The Catherine Tate Show"!) which causes him to lay more emphasis on the significance of film composers as inheritors of classical orchestral music than ordinarily occurs to me. Also his desire to observe, and celebrate, the continuity of the popular song tradition right up to his publication date is admirable, but putting Bruno Mars in the same sentence with Prince, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan and Cole Porter just seems wrong - there must be some more worthy contemporary! Of course, bickering about these kinds of judgements is half the fun.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Melbie

    Music lovers! Be alerted! If you love music as much as I do -- and I mean ALL music -- you must read this book. (Actually, only those who read as much as I do would even read a book like this!) One of the things Goodall mentions in his book, something that I have always felt to be true, is how universal music is on our planet. I have witnessed the magic of music first hand and I concur; music makes us one.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kam

    Some books need music. Not all of them do, of course: a lot of books are best read in silence, with the mind providing any noise pertinent to the story. But some books require a soundtrack, and depending on the book, the contents of that soundtrack (or, more properly, playlist) will vary: it may contain instrumental works from film, television, or the classical catalogue (both Eastern and Western), or it may be dominated by vocal tracks from artists across the spectrum of popular music, or it Some books need music. Not all of them do, of course: a lot of books are best read in silence, with the mind providing any noise pertinent to the story. But some books require a soundtrack, and depending on the book, the contents of that soundtrack (or, more properly, playlist) will vary: it may contain instrumental works from film, television, or the classical catalogue (both Eastern and Western), or it may be dominated by vocal tracks from artists across the spectrum of popular music, or it might even be a mixture of both. Either way, when a book needs music, one has access to a variety of options for listening to that music, as well as a near-infinite number of artists to choose from. Depending on which corners of the Internet one inhabits, one might even be able to find prebuilt playlists for any book—or any mood—one can conceive of, as well as have the ability to build and share one’s own playlists, all for free. But the amazing variety and ready availability of any kind of music at nearly any time to almost any listener is a relatively new phenomenon. As late as the early 1900s, it would have been difficult for even the most avid music-lover to even hear their favourite song more than twice or thrice a year, especially if said song was part of a long-format work like a symphony. Music wasn’t a cheap hobby, either: getting into a concert could be expensive. Not until the invention of radio, and then audio recording technology, was it possible for the average person to have ready access to music. This introduction of technology would also be the cause of a split between what is commonly called “classical music” and “popular music”—a split that is in some ways more imagined than real. In his book The Story of Music: From Babylon to the Beatles, Howard Goodall attempts to chronicle several thousands of years of music history in a manner that is both informative and entertaining. He does so for specific reasons: first, to show that classical music (such as most people commonly understand it) is not dead, but alive and well in the musical scores of film and television; and second, that music can and will continue to thrive as musicians share, borrow, and in many cases steal, ideas and techniques from other genres of music from around the world. Music, therefore—especially Western music—is not as monolithic an idea as some hidebound scholars might think (or want to think) it is; instead it is a constantly flowing, shifting, changing, altering landscape, with the old becoming new and the new becoming old and back around again almost as regularly as the change of the seasons. One of my primary considerations when I pick up a nonfiction book is the author’s voice. Much of my own personal enjoyment can be easily made or broken by the way the author tells a story, and can determine whether I stick with a book or not, no matter how long it gets. Fortunately, Goodall has an entertaining voice to read: a voice honed by time spent as a radio and television host, as he is apparently the BBC’s go-to man for anything and everything to do with musical history and theory. There are, however, some parts that feel a bit dry, or go over my head, particularly when Goodall is explaining some point of musical theory that is really a lot more complex to the layperson than I think he’s aware of. These moments don’t happen very often, thankfully, and an incomplete understanding of those more confusing moments does not detract from understanding the rest of the book. As for the content, about three-fourths of the book is fairly standard coverage of Western musical history, with some theory thrown in for good measure. It’s all very fun and very easy to read, with Goodall throwing in some interesting (often hilarious in a more acerbic vein) running commentary on whatever he happens to be discussing at the moment. In his chapter titled “The Age of Penitence, 1460-1650”, Goodall describes the quality of church music during the time period covered by the chapter thusly: …church music was a rather more sombre affair, and the ordinary churchgoer prior to the Protestant Reformation is likely to have found singing in church a miserable, largely non-participatory activity. To ask forgiveness, repeatedly, was what congregations were mostly expected to do, all the while listening to choirs and priests singing at great length abut the same sentiment. Take, too, this sharp criticism of the practice of creating castrati: male singers who were castrated while still young boys to maintain their soprano singing voices through into adulthood, in the chapter “The Age of Invention, 1650-1750”: The practice of castrating young boys so that they could continue to sing soprano for the rest of their adult lives was promoted in the sixteenth century by the Vatican, envious of Protestant church choirs that had young women singing a soaring top line. Women were forbidden to sing in Catholic churches so the competitive cardinals chose instead to mutilate children. Goodall readily applies his witty, easy-to-read, occasionally sarcastic voice to Western music’s greatest musicians, too, comparing Haydn and Mozart thusly in the chapter “The Age of Elegance and Sentiment, 1750-1850”: The main difference between Haydn’s style and Mozart’s s really quite simple: if you can instantly remember the tune, it’s by Mozart. A brutal assessment, but a true one. Technically, Mozart’s approach was similar to Haydn’s - the same orchestra, the same chords, the same architecture - but he had the melodic gift of a god. If he composed it, a tune sings like no other. As the selections above clearly show, reading Goodall’s writing is the farthest thing from a chore, even if he can get a bit confusing at times when he tries to tackle something a bit more theoretical. What really makes this book worth reading, though, are the last three chapters, which deal with music towards the end of the nineteenth century all the way to the music of the early twenty-first. This is where Goodall discusses the issue of white mainstream musicians borrowing—or stealing—from non-white, marginalised cultures, musical traditions, and musicians. He talks about this early on when talking about rock music, which began with black musical styles and black musicians: All that was now needed to turn this cocktail into a mass youth movement with electric guitar at its throbbing centre was for some white guys to repackage this black music for an even wider audience. We have already witnessed black music being ‘bleached’ for greater commercial appeal a number of times, often to the dismay of its original performers. … But there was no stopping the inexorable takeover of rock and roll by big-name white musicians, and there were plenty of candidates to become the heart-throbs of a generation. Goodall shows that rock—a genre dominated by white performers, as it has been since Elvis Presley swaggered his way onto a stage—is, at its core, based on the innovations of black musicians, a fact which most people have forgotten; certainly very few people claiming to be rock aficionados are aware of this, or if they are, they perhaps choose to ignore it. This particular issue still resonates today, as white artists like Eminem and Iggy Azalea infringe on hip-hop and rap music, which have generally been dominated by black artists. Increasing awareness as led to an increasing amount of pushback: a notable example being the recent revelation that Iggy Azalea plagiarised content from Kendrick Lamar. Also in these chapters, Goodall makes some very powerful statements regarding the split between “classical” and “popular” music, which was not only due to technology, as it turns out, but also due to a brand of elitism that began as a tiny seed with Richard Wagner, and reached its full flowering with Arnold Schoenberg. Goodall had this to say about Schoenberg’s innovations: Schoenberg’s theoretical rebellion, which later acquired the labels ‘serialism’ or ‘atonality’, produced decades of scholarly hot air, books, debates and seminars, and - in its purest, strictest form - not one piece of music, in a hundred years’-worth of effort, that a normal person could understand or enjoy. … One thing is for sure: Schoenberg and his fellow-travelers in the redesigning of the Western note system were not courting a mainstream audience. When, during the next half-century, audiences reacted with hostility to serialist works, it seemed to confirm to the movement’s adherents that it was a cause so noble that ordinary, lesser mortals without ‘the knowledge’ would inevitably reject it. ‘Elitist’ is an overused word, tinged with resentment, but in describing serialist self-justification of the twentieth century it is spot on.’ Goodall later points out that this dedication to serialism is the main reason why there are no truly famous classical composers from the early twentieth century to sometime in the seventies or eighties; it wasn’t just that popular music became more widespread and more commercially viable, it was also that the most well-known composers of the time were those who worked in what Schoenberg and his disciples would have scornfully called “popular” music: musicals, dance (especially ballet), and the growing industry of film. Later on in the book Goodall follows up the above with another interesting assertion: that classical music (as it is popularly understood, meaning instrumental music a la Mozart and Beethoven and all the rest) never really died, it simply found another venue. That venue was—and continues to be—film: To this day, millions of people who might never set foot in a classical concert hall thrill to the symphonic sound of film scores that are often made up entirely of classical orchestral styles and techniques. If anyone tells you classical music is dead in the twenty-first century, all it means is that they don’t go to the cinema. While it might do to remember that this confident statement is being made by a man who does a lot of composition work for the BBC’s movies and TV shows and is likely biased, there is a very large grain of truth to it, as well. For many listeners of classical music in the late twentieth century to today, our first introduction to classical music is via film and TV scores. Some of us continue the engagement by not only listening to the works of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, but by actively seeking out and listening to film and TV scores by Howard Shore, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Ramin Djawadi. But why stop at film and television? This gap is probably more an indicator of Goodall’s age than an intentional snub, but his assessment ignores another place where classical music may continue to thrive the way it does now in movies and TV: video games. While it’s true that the tinny 8-bit musical accompaniment to many arcade classics cannot be compared to John Williams’ sweeping scores for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies (except in terms of nostalgia value), rapid advancements in technology now mean that there’s a trend of video games moving increasingly towards a more cinematic approach to visual style and storytelling—as well as an equally more cinematic musical score. From the East-meets-West, past-meets-present compositions of Japanese composers like Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts); to the grandiose, epic drama of Jeremy Soule (The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim); to the quieter, elegant musicality of Austin Wintory (Journey); video games are a new frontier for classical composers, and will someday soon gain the same kind of legitimacy now given to film scores. One immediate problem with this book, though, is that it’s a book that discusses music, but there’s no music to listen to. Fortunately, Goodall is caught up enough with the times that he offers a fairly comprehensive playlist of musical pieces towards the end of the book, along with a link to his website, which has even more comprehensive Spotify playlists (http://www.howardgoodall.co.uk/works/...). My only complaint is that I wish the list had been put at the beginning of the book, instead of at the end, so that I knew it was there and could make use of it throughout the course of my reading. It rather defeats the point of having that list in the first place if the reader must go through the entire book first before finding out that they could have had musical accompaniment at any time. Overall, The Story of Music: From Babylon to the Beatles is pretty much what it says on the tin: an overview of Western musical history from the BCEs to the current CEs, done in a manner that focuses on the most important bits while trimming off the unnecessary minutiae. Goodall goes through a lot of history in a very short amount of time, managing to do so without sacrificing accuracy or historical detail. His voice is entertaining and easy to read, though he can be a bit dry in places, and there are moments when he gets bogged down in technicalities while trying to explain a particular musical theory. Fortunately, these moments don’t last very long, and do not detract from overall understanding of the book’s contents. Goodall reserves his strongest and most important assertions regarding Western music, and the direction he thinks it’s headed, for the last three chapters of the book. Those assertions may be slightly problematic (not least his discussion—such as it is—of white mainstream musical artists appropriating the art of their non-white marginalised fellows), but it does provide some insight into what’s going on under the hood and behind the scenes music today, and where it might be going in the future.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    This book is written to non-musicians but will likely be read by a large number of professional musicians, but there's a good possibility it will appeal to neither. I actually enjoyed the occasionally witty and always informative writing style, and the author's background in music composition made his insights even more interesting and helpful than music appreciation books written by , well, music appreciators. It has an inherent drawback of trying to tell a long story in a short way, so there This book is written to non-musicians but will likely be read by a large number of professional musicians, but there's a good possibility it will appeal to neither. I actually enjoyed the occasionally witty and always informative writing style, and the author's background in music composition made his insights even more interesting and helpful than music appreciation books written by , well, music appreciators. It has an inherent drawback of trying to tell a long story in a short way, so there were some issues there that probably simply can't be helped. My biggest issue was the worldview that editorialized, colored, and skewed some of the story in the process of telling it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Hiebner

    This is a must read for anybody taking music appreciation. It is the story of the first songs ever sung, the role music played in early life, where notes came from, grouping of notes and also the development of instruments through history. This story is about all the types of music that developed through time, the change makers in music from opera to concerts to symphonies. Also a discussion of classical and modern music development, of blues and jazz, the Latin influence, rock ‘n’ roll, and This is a must read for anybody taking music appreciation. It is the story of the first songs ever sung, the role music played in early life, where notes came from, grouping of notes and also the development of instruments through history. This story is about all the types of music that developed through time, the change makers in music from opera to concerts to symphonies. Also a discussion of classical and modern music development, of blues and jazz, the Latin influence, rock ‘n’ roll, and hip-hop. This book is a wonderful book for anybody interested in in music at all. A must read!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susan Liston

    Obviously a book about the entire world history of music that is only 350 pages long is an introduction to the subject more than anything else. But it accomplishes that pretty well. The book goes nicely with the BBC series which is available on YouTube, it could be read before, during or after. I had seen the program a year or so ago, and while reading the book I kept thinking I will have to go back and watch it again, it is a bit frustrating to READ about music. Then at the END of the book, Obviously a book about the entire world history of music that is only 350 pages long is an introduction to the subject more than anything else. But it accomplishes that pretty well. The book goes nicely with the BBC series which is available on YouTube, it could be read before, during or after. I had seen the program a year or so ago, and while reading the book I kept thinking I will have to go back and watch it again, it is a bit frustrating to READ about music. Then at the END of the book, here is a link to all the pieces he mentions. That should be at the BEGINNING of the book!! So go to the back first! I'm sure having that to play along would have made my reading experience a million times more enjoyable.

  7. 4 out of 5

    George

    Goodall takes the reader on a brisk tour of the history of Western music, starting with the music and instruments of ancient civilizations (to the extent that we have been able to discover them) to the present day. It's a fascinating story, and Goodall pauses just long enough to let us appreciate some of the key moments. I was particularly interested in his discussion of how early attempts at annotation eventually gave way to the system that we still use today and how somewhat pragmatic Goodall takes the reader on a brisk tour of the history of Western music, starting with the music and instruments of ancient civilizations (to the extent that we have been able to discover them) to the present day. It's a fascinating story, and Goodall pauses just long enough to let us appreciate some of the key moments. I was particularly interested in his discussion of how early attempts at annotation eventually gave way to the system that we still use today and how somewhat pragmatic decisions regarding the best way to divide up an octave led to our conceptions of "in tune" and discordant (and why they differ among cultures). There is also plenty of discussion of the individual people who have helped to shape Western music over the past several hundred years, from the big names who you'd expect to lesser-known contributors who, Goodall contends, played just as big a role. The book could easily have been several times longer, but it's not intended to be encyclopedic and in order to keep it to a very readable 324 pages (not counting back matter), Goodall has to make some editorial choices. There's a good chance that many readers will chafe at the fact that their favorite composer is relegated to a brief mention while some less-deserving individual is given a more substantial role. It's fairly easy to tell who Goodall's favorites are and who he considers overrated (he almost seemed to be struggling with himself in his discussion of Wagner). For me, the book falls apart a bit in its discussion of the post-WWII era. He makes some interesting points about the role film scores have played in the life of classical music, and it's hard to fault him for his enthusiastic take on the Beatles, but there is something that just doesn't feel right about referencing Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars in this kind of book so early in their careers, and I'm not sure if he was on less comfortable ground or if he was trying to wrap things up, but the closing sections felt a bit rushed to me and not as insightful as earlier chapters. Reading about music is bound to be a somewhat frustrating enterprise. I found myself jotting down names of songs and composers I want to investigate further. I am glad to have read the book for that reason, if no other. Goodall's love of music is infectious and while I will never be the type of person who listens to a song and thinks about chord progressions, books like this do help me to appreciate music in a different way.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: Music history allegro Goodall spans the entire history of music (including why musical notations like allegro are in Italian) in just over 300 small format pages. The coverage of the roots of music as sound, as oral communication, as notations that can be read and repeated, as emotional and spiritual and political devices, and as recorded entertainment is fascinating and deep and worth the price of admission. The coverage of more recent history as music has exploded into popular Review title: Music history allegro Goodall spans the entire history of music (including why musical notations like allegro are in Italian) in just over 300 small format pages. The coverage of the roots of music as sound, as oral communication, as notations that can be read and repeated, as emotional and spiritual and political devices, and as recorded entertainment is fascinating and deep and worth the price of admission. The coverage of more recent history as music has exploded into popular mass consumption, and recording and playback technology have improved in quality and lowered in price is necessarily not as deep; the chapter on music since World War 2 is only 30 pages long. But where Goodall and his subject really come to life are in tracing the early history of music. The technical explanations of what music sounded like before recording and how and why it sounded the way it did are deeply fascinating. We often say a person can read music as if musical notation were a single universal language and as if reading musical notation was the same as making music. After reading Goodall (even if you can't read music) you will start to see and hear the difference--it was centuries after humans were making music (20,000 year old cave paintings show musicians playing flutes) that we figured out how to write it down. And the why is equally interesting. Much of the early musical innovation was driven by worship music--David's Psalms name musical instruments and gives their purpose as making a "joyful noise" into God (he must have known about my future drum playing), and Martin Luther adopted and adapted popular secular tunes with worshipful lyrics because he wanted his congregation to worship actively not just listen passively. So if you want to learn about the distinctions between the numerous shadings of musical genres on your iPad, this probably isn't the place to end up, but it might be a good (and enjoyable) place to start.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Gonçalves

    Music is part of every human soul. It is a collective gathering of organized sound that encapsulates the precise definition of culture. But only very recently have we come to dominate it. The emergence of recording devices and media playback allowed for the mass commercialization of this sumptuous art. Millions of songs of hundreds of distinct genres flood the internet. Despite this, we cannot forget its illustrious past. From the archaic melodies of the ancient Sumerians, to the elegant Mozart Music is part of every human soul. It is a collective gathering of organized sound that encapsulates the precise definition of culture. But only very recently have we come to dominate it. The emergence of recording devices and media playback allowed for the mass commercialization of this sumptuous art. Millions of songs of hundreds of distinct genres flood the internet. Despite this, we cannot forget its illustrious past. From the archaic melodies of the ancient Sumerians, to the elegant Mozart symphonies, music has had various adventures. In this book the author goes in depth through the period where classical music reigned supreme. Well written and with good research, this will inform you about the evolution of music in all its detail.

  10. 4 out of 5

    TheSkepticalReader

    DNF-d this at 48%. Why? Because I picked it up thinking I would learn something new and fun about the history of music and my favorite artists but found it to be more detailed and vigorous then I’d thought. I figured since it covers the entire history of music, it cannot be as detailed as other books which tackle one period after another individually—alas, it was detailed and not something I wanted to listen to after a while. Fault clearly lies with me here, not with the book, so I will refrain DNF-d this at 48%. Why? Because I picked it up thinking I would learn something new and fun about the history of music and my favorite artists but found it to be more detailed and vigorous then I’d thought. I figured since it covers the entire history of music, it cannot be as detailed as other books which tackle one period after another individually—alas, it was detailed and not something I wanted to listen to after a while. Fault clearly lies with me here, not with the book, so I will refrain from rating it as to not skew the average rating of the book itself.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sydney

    Well-written and accessible, this history of music will delight those familiar with the topic and those who are picking it up for the first time. I especially loved the deep, thoughtful discussion of ancient music, which isn't so often discussed, but is so important to how we understand our ancestors. I absolutely recommend this book to anyone to believes that music is an important part of who we are.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cam Netland

    I literally could not put this down, there is so much incredible and mind blowing history explaining how we came to understand how music works and the pioneers and innovators throughout the 30,000+ years it had existed. As the driving force of my life, I feel incredibly fulfilled and blessed to have discovered this book and am now determined to experience the classical canon I have sorely neglected hitherto. Music has always been the panacea for man’s suffering and by reading this book I have I literally could not put this down, there is so much incredible and mind blowing history explaining how we came to understand how music works and the pioneers and innovators throughout the 30,000+ years it had existed. As the driving force of my life, I feel incredibly fulfilled and blessed to have discovered this book and am now determined to experience the classical canon I have sorely neglected hitherto. Music has always been the panacea for man’s suffering and by reading this book I have only increased my undying love for the art. Highly recommended for anyone also wondering how we went from discovering how many notes exist through plainchant to composing overwhelming masterpieces in the span of 1000 years. Music is the sound of the will and the culture that produced it and those that strive for innovation and posterity are the ones who have impacted the art and humanity for the better. Warning: this book focuses predominantly on classical music but for me that made it even more interesting because I do not know enough about classical music. Thanks to Mr. Goodall I am about to change that!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Faolán

    A stunning read. I rarely write reviews but I was compelled after finishing this. Goodall takes you from the very beginning of mankind's musical aspirations from our most ancient days to modern times step by step, tune by tune. Simply a must for any lover of music. What many reviews fail to mention is that the author also provides a lovingly put together Spotify playlist for each chapter so you can hear the progression while you read. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Its not without its A stunning read. I rarely write reviews but I was compelled after finishing this. Goodall takes you from the very beginning of mankind's musical aspirations from our most ancient days to modern times step by step, tune by tune. Simply a must for any lover of music. What many reviews fail to mention is that the author also provides a lovingly put together Spotify playlist for each chapter so you can hear the progression while you read. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Its not without its downsides, sometimes he does become bogged down in music theory which I imagine someone who is not a musician would find dull but these moments are few and far between.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Really liked this one. It touched on major events and figures spanning hundreds of years and put things in context well. The accompanying Spotify playlists are fantastic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I suppose I'd give this 2 1/2 stars if we could do half stars. Of course, taking on the history of music is setting up oneself for failure, and Goodall's work is informative but severely limited. It starts by the dismissal of pretty much all much except that made by white Europeans. And then the majority of the book is dedicated to the development of what is now called classical music. The early part of the book is devoted to just how instruments and vocal styles came to be. This is, by far, the I suppose I'd give this 2 1/2 stars if we could do half stars. Of course, taking on the history of music is setting up oneself for failure, and Goodall's work is informative but severely limited. It starts by the dismissal of pretty much all much except that made by white Europeans. And then the majority of the book is dedicated to the development of what is now called classical music. The early part of the book is devoted to just how instruments and vocal styles came to be. This is, by far, the most successful part of the book. Then the main part of the text goes chronologically through classical composers. As someone with a very limited knowledge of such music, this was informative. Goodall certainly has his critic hat on, which isn't a bad thing. Things fall apart from there, as his discussion of music from the late 19th century on is cursory and conclusory, pretty much paying lip service to the rise of various forms of popular music. It seems the only reason Goodall bothered is because no one would publish a book comprised solely of his views on venerated classical music. Meh.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rishav Mukherji

    This should be retitled The History of "Western" Music. The author alludes to south Asian and easy Asian music a few times but never provides any details. As someone who studied south Asian classical music for almost a decade, I can tell the book misses some important historical figures given how old those musical cultures are. That said, for western music it does a great job of providing a historical timeline of how music evolved.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    324 pages to get you from Babylon to the Beatles in music history is a pretty ambitious task. There are little gems here and there of music history. Not sure you'd like this if you don't have some basic music training.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steve Kohn

    Let it first be clear that Mr Goodall's clipped toenails have more musical talent than all of me at my peak. Which makes me wonder how I can possibly pass judgment on anything he does. The second point is that this book is a companion to his 6-hour BBC series “The Story of Music.” I thought the series even better than the book, especially the episodes from 1650 forward, but at this writing, I can't find the series for sale anywhere, not at Amazon, not even at BBC.com. It's on YouTube in its Let it first be clear that Mr Goodall's clipped toenails have more musical talent than all of me at my peak. Which makes me wonder how I can possibly pass judgment on anything he does. The second point is that this book is a companion to his 6-hour BBC series “The Story of Music.” I thought the series even better than the book, especially the episodes from 1650 forward, but at this writing, I can't find the series for sale anywhere, not at Amazon, not even at BBC.com. It's on YouTube in its entirety, but unlikely that will last forever. In this book, Goodall combines scholarship with his musical gifts, and his thoughts are often delightfully expressed. The book was enjoyable and educational from first page to last. But if I could sit down with the author, I’d ask him "Why didn’t you spend more time telling us ..." -- How rock merged with folk to become so integral to the 1960s. (Civil rights, Vietnam War, women’s liberation, drugs, rebellion against parental controls ….) -- Why bebop, which is for me unlistenable, didn't sink into instant obscurity. -- Why rap/hiphop, again for me unlistenable, has become so inexplicably popular. -- Why Aram Khatchaturian isn’t mentioned once, with the Spartacus and Gayane ballets having some of the most luscious melodies and orchestrations in the entire history of music. -- Why or how western classical music has spread throughout the world. (I'll never forget a concert by an excellent Inchon Symphony Orchestra in Seoul in 1989, every musician Korean, and the performance exceptional.) I can’t argue with Mr Goodall’s giving Stevie Wonder so many pages and so much praise, for Goodall’s the expert musician and I’m certainly not. I’ll just say SW isn't represented by a single CD in my large collection, and I can think of many other musicians more influential, certainly more enjoyable. Likewise with Mr Goodall’s respect for Cuban music that I don't understand, even knowing Goodall and Ry Cooder love it so. And his granting Steve Reich so much importance, which I’d give to his contemporary, the much more accessible Philip Glass. Enough negatives. What I did like about the book is how it helped me understand music evolving over time, and how some musicians fit their times and then influenced others. I’ve long loved Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven; I now better understand them and their place in music. I also enjoyed Goodall's observations, as for example, "Vast swathes of the music written in the sixty or so years after 1750 slavishly hung on these three master chords -- the same three, as it happens, that dominate rock and roll and its various twentieth-century offspring." Another: "Musicians and poets [of the Romantic period] saw the countryside as a roughly hewn wilderness, supplying countless images to convey the swirling emotional torrents of the yearning lover. Of course, none of them actually had to WORK the land. You observed peasants from the comfortable distance of your artistic nook but you wouldn't want to be one. They were more like present-day privileged Western students trawling the developing world and writing blogs about how the world's poorest people enabled them to broaden their horizons." Or: "Listening to Faure after Brahms, Liszt, Wagner or Tchaikovsky is comparable to someone spring-cleaning and redecorating a teenage boy's bedroom. Gone are the posters of death, psychological torment, superheroes and tragedy. The augmented piles of clothes have been put away, and the windows have been opened to dispel the diminished air." Or: "...the RITE OF SPRING is the twentieth century's most thrillingly explosive, iconic piece of orchestral music; it is still astonishing a hundred years later. It is a rebellion in sound. While Mahler had layered melody on melody, tangled together like a twisted knot [aha, now I see better why I don't enjoy him], and Debussy had manipulated blocks of adjacent sound melting into each other, Stravinsky went one step further, superimposing simultaneous rhythms on top of each other." We may not always agree with Mr Goodall's musical opinions, but no denying the pleasure reading them. I hesitate to post this “review” and display my ignorance for all to see. I offer it to those, amateurs like me, hoping to gain a broader view of music. You will not go wrong reading this book. I just wish the author had talked with me as he was writing it. (Ha!)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mahmut Homsi

    Do you have a packet of Lurpak butter to hand? Good. See the two twirly things on either side of the central heraldic device? They're lurs, curved brass horns popular in the first and second millennia BC in and around Denmark. A set of six of them were found in a field in Zealand in 1797, still in playable condition, and the Danes were so proud of them they eventually gave their name to one of the country's most famous and tasty exports. By the time Monteverdi wrote the first successful opera, in Do you have a packet of Lurpak butter to hand? Good. See the two twirly things on either side of the central heraldic device? They're lurs, curved brass horns popular in the first and second millennia BC in and around Denmark. A set of six of them were found in a field in Zealand in 1797, still in playable condition, and the Danes were so proud of them they eventually gave their name to one of the country's most famous and tasty exports. By the time Monteverdi wrote the first successful opera, in 1607, most of the kit of musical parts we still have today had been developed and honed - a process that took a thousand years. In Monteverdi's hands, using all the techniques then developed, music could express complex, conflicting, and even combustible political emotions. The orchestra; the overture, which led, ultimately, to the symphony; satisfying chord sequences, which gave music a forward momentum; modern tuning, which, for the first time, allowed composers to move from one key to any other they chose, and for different instruments to easily play together; the concerto, the oratorio, and, not least, the piano. This was the age of Corelli, Vivaldi, and the Four Seasons, Bach, and Handel. Vivaldi developed a form of concerto where a charismatic solo violin was pitted against the rest of the orchestra. Bach was the master of counterpoint, the interweaving and layering of tunes. All Bach's music was composed to glorify God. To do so, not least in his monumental St John and St Matthew Passions, he wrote some of the most subtly complex, heartfelt music of all time. Handel, most famously in Messiah, brought all the techniques of the preceding hundred years to a brilliant pitch, in a work that was as crowd-pleasing - and patriotic - as it was sacred. The paying public had arrived on the scene, and music was to change profoundly. In the era of 1800 and so, the symphony was born. Initially, as a musical form that was purely abstract, an enjoyable and brain-teasing meander through variations of a simple tune. The music of Haydn and Mozart - with the exceptions of some of Mozart's operas - ignored the darker side of life, and concentrated on the upside. In the hands of Beethoven, though, the template for the tormented composer-as-genius, music radically changed gear. Beethoven's music became deadly serious, rather than aimed at pleasing an after-dinner audience. His orchestras grew bigger and bigger. Nature itself became a metaphor for the composer's own psychology. Beethoven's near contemporary, Schubert, brought the melancholy voice-and-piano love song to the status of high art. In the hands of an artist like Adele, it's still with us today. The Age of Elegance & Sensibility closes with Chopin, whose delicate, deceptively complex piano music inspired a generation to learn to play the new factory-made instruments, for which vast swathes of piano music was written. The piano, at last, gave women a chance to compose music. the music of the middle to late 19th century, in which a craze for operas and music that dealt with death and destiny swept Europe. Inspired by Berlioz and his Symphonie Fantastique, music written about witches, ghouls, trolls and hellish torment became the norm. Even Italian opera succumbed to the death and destiny obsession, with Verdi's La Traviata. The tragic death of its heroine was also a comment on the hypocrisies of the wider society. The composer who was the most influential figure of the mid 19th century was the cosmopolitan Hungarian-born Franz Liszt. The composer Liszt most influenced, though, not least in terms of musical nationalism, was his own son in law, Richard Wagner. Wagner reinvented opera, and introduced into it darker, more unstable harmonies. Wagner's operas are a towering achievement. But they had a dark side. Wagner's operas - and his political writings - were later to act as an inspiration for Hitler. The swirling, nationalistic, romantic, nihilistic undercurrents of the music of this period is still troubling today. The death of Richard Wagner in 1883 led, not to a series of pseudo-Wagners, but to a series of developments that in many ways were in opposition to his monumental ambitions. In France the uncluttered and 'chillaxed' music of Gabriel Faure, Erik Satie and others was like a long hot lazy afternoon. The symphonies of Gustav Mahler invited all forms of music, including Jewish folk music into their generous embrace. Elsewhere folk music was beginning to make an impact on musical form and texture. The self-taught Mussorgsky actually sounded Russian - unlike Tchaikovsky, the most famous Russian composer of the day! When Mussorgsky's music came to the Paris World Fair in 1889 it astonished non-Russian composers, especially Claude Debussy. He was also greatly influenced by the music of Java, also showcased at the World Fair. These influences from abroad were to change mainstream music and prefigure what we'd now call 'World Music'. And when Diaghilev and Stravinsky collaborated on a series of ballets, the results - also using Russian folk forms, with revolutionary rhythms attached - astonished, terrified and scandalised the audience in equal measure, in works like the ground-breaking Rite of Spring. So too the extraordinary dissonant and erotic operas of Richard Strauss, especially Salome. Modern music had begun. But meanwhile another crucial building block of modern music was sliding into place. More than anything recording brought the music of America - particularly the folk idioms of African Americans, Chinese, and Irish and Scottish labourers into the mainstream as the blues, ragtime and then jazz developed, and then swept the planet. Classical music - for a time - retreated into a golden summer of nostalgia, exemplified by the enduring appeal of Elgar's Enigma Variations, written as the nineteenth century drew to a close. And before the First World War ripped Europe apart. the last hundred years in music. It has been a period when classical music, as it is now generically styled, seemed to many to be in retreat, crisis or even terminal decline. Howard Goodall believes that rumors of its death have been exaggerated. While some cutting edge works proved too challenging to win the hearts of a mainstream audience, the DNA of classical music, as it had been constituted since the time of Monteverdi in the 1600s, is alive and well in musical theater, in the cinema and in much popular music. Beginning with Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, a jazz-classical hybrid first performed in 1924 that became a much-loved standard - despite its sniffy reception by highbrow critics at the time. Indeed it was popular music, after the First World War, that was more likely to comment directly on the things that were on most people's minds - the rise of fascism, and the racism aimed at African-Americans in the USA. The Beatles, meanwhile, had utilised a bewildering variety of different styles and techniques, some rediscovered, some invented by themselves. With George Martin and the engineers at Abbey Road, they explored and instituted new possibilities offered by recording technology. And, thanks to albums by The Beatles and others, styles from other cultures began to become better known in the west. 'World music' had begun and is still going strong. But classical music during the Second World War had connected with a mainstream audience, in works like Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony - written as his home city endured an apocalyptic siege - and Aaron Copland's optimistic ballet, Appalachian Spring. If some of the wilder shores of experiment had failed to carry the mainstream audience with them, these works once again connected leading composers and the public. The circle was complete with the arrival, in the 1960s and 70s, of minimalism - and composers like Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams. Reich, in particular, who was inspired by Balinese drumming music, and who also became the godfather of 'sampling', was enormously influential on cutting edge 'popular' music.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Snicketts

    I bought this book because I had seen the TV series that it accompanied a few years ago. That series had made me rethink a lot of what I thought about music and made me very grateful to be alive now, when whatever kind of music I'm in the mood for, I can access without fuss. The book has the same kind of historical timeline, emphasises the leaps forward and highlights influences. It's a very interesting read for anyone who has an interest in music origins and history. The best thing about the I bought this book because I had seen the TV series that it accompanied a few years ago. That series had made me rethink a lot of what I thought about music and made me very grateful to be alive now, when whatever kind of music I'm in the mood for, I can access without fuss. The book has the same kind of historical timeline, emphasises the leaps forward and highlights influences. It's a very interesting read for anyone who has an interest in music origins and history. The best thing about the book was how it placed music in the context of world history - how events shaped music and, in some cases, how music shaped events. The snippets about the lives and influences of the famous composers were also very welcome. The worst thing about this book was the dryness of the explanations - this is where the tv series was able to immediately back up every part of the narrative with an example, indeed for much of the series, Howard Goodall was sat in front of a keyboard to illustrate each musical breakthrough. Conveying the same information through text is an impossible task unless your reader has a pretty solid grounding in reading music and playing a musical instrument. It's more like a three and a half stars from me really - the way it shifted my perspective of not only music, but of history itself is worth the extra half.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Miller

    This book was not written for professionals, which made it surprisingly difficult to maintain focus as I read. He took what seemed to be a long time to explain such foundational things as the harmonic series, triads, and serialism, among other more or less technical aspects of music, that slowed down the continuation of the history. Even worse, these concepts seemed to be rather poorly or confusingly described. Maybe it just was that way to me because I came to the book with prior understanding, This book was not written for professionals, which made it surprisingly difficult to maintain focus as I read. He took what seemed to be a long time to explain such foundational things as the harmonic series, triads, and serialism, among other more or less technical aspects of music, that slowed down the continuation of the history. Even worse, these concepts seemed to be rather poorly or confusingly described. Maybe it just was that way to me because I came to the book with prior understanding, but I think it is equally possible that for Goodall, an accomplished composer himself, wiring about basic elements of music is more difficult than writing about the complicated ones. As a teacher, that is a problem I deal with regularly. When we know something because we have done it every day for years, it becomes particularly difficult to break it down effectively for those who don't know it already. In my opinion, he did not succeed in that breakdown. The historical parts of the book ranged from interesting to rather controversial. He spent a lot of time on Wagner, which I suppose is his call. I have two main and unforgivable complaints. One, he referred to Indiana Jones as a bounty hunter. Um, what? And two, he did not mention Rachmaninoff a single time. I did enjoy his analysis of the minimalism of the 1980's. I can't say I enjoyed the majority of the book very much.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Literary Chic

    I absolutely loved Mr. Goodall’s, The Story of Music. It took me several weeks to get through it. However, that was not a reflection of the work but rather my lack of focus. The writing is not at all the flat, textbook style, “Music History 101” from college. The author breaks down music’s history into broad time periods and treats music like the protagonist with the composers playing supporting roles. It was an interesting approach that kept my attention. At just over 300 pages, the story I absolutely loved Mr. Goodall’s, The Story of Music. It took me several weeks to get through it. However, that was not a reflection of the work but rather my lack of focus. The writing is not at all the flat, textbook style, “Music History 101” from college. The author breaks down music’s history into broad time periods and treats music like the protagonist with the composers playing supporting roles. It was an interesting approach that kept my attention. At just over 300 pages, the story doesn’t get lost in the minutiae and maintains a good pace. My only concern is that a moderate musical knowledge would probably be a necessity to ensure the maximum benefit from this book. I studied classical piano performance for a good portion of my life and I still found myself googling particular references. This was definitely one of my favorite books this year! If you’d like to gain a general knowledge or need a readable music history refresher, this is a great source.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mark Jones

    If I could, I'd probably give this book 3.5 stars as 3 sounds a bit mean but 4 a little too generous. Its focus is very much on "western" music although it does occasionally call out the differences between this and music from other areas of the world. The author charts the history and development of music from over a thousand years ago to the modern day, explaining musical terms and how they came into being. My main criticism is that the book seems very rushed at the end, covering the If I could, I'd probably give this book 3.5 stars as 3 sounds a bit mean but 4 a little too generous. Its focus is very much on "western" music although it does occasionally call out the differences between this and music from other areas of the world. The author charts the history and development of music from over a thousand years ago to the modern day, explaining musical terms and how they came into being. My main criticism is that the book seems very rushed at the end, covering the development of the many modern genres of music over the past 100 years in little more than a chapter. Perhaps condensing some of the early chapters and expanding the later ones would have convinced me to move it up to a 4 star rating.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    I really loved this book. I took it out of the library and must return it tomorrow, but someday, I’d like to own it so that I can reread and study certain parts. Goodall’s writing is so accessible, just right for the lay reader, and his scope is truly breathtaking. It’s too bad that it was completed around 2012 and published in 2013—too many years ago to include a discussion of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” I would have loved to hear what he would have said about it during his final I really loved this book. I took it out of the library and must return it tomorrow, but someday, I’d like to own it so that I can reread and study certain parts. Goodall’s writing is so accessible, just right for the lay reader, and his scope is truly breathtaking. It’s too bad that it was completed around 2012 and published in 2013—too many years ago to include a discussion of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” I would have loved to hear what he would have said about it during his final discussion of musical borrowings and the absorption of different musical techniques into contemporary music. I hope he writes a second edition someday!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leftbanker

    This book is like running through a wonderful museum at a sprint so if you aren’t already a bit fit—in this case at least a bit knowledgeable about music—you may want to take the walking tour, wherever that is. I just had a refresher course in music theory after taking up the piano again after a ten year break so I wasn’t lost during the technical aspects discussed in the book. Of course, at almost every paragraph in the book you could insert an entire book that would better explain whatever he This book is like running through a wonderful museum at a sprint so if you aren’t already a bit fit—in this case at least a bit knowledgeable about music—you may want to take the walking tour, wherever that is. I just had a refresher course in music theory after taking up the piano again after a ten year break so I wasn’t lost during the technical aspects discussed in the book. Of course, at almost every paragraph in the book you could insert an entire book that would better explain whatever he is talking about but I had a lot of fun reading about all of these artists in one quick and very compressed story.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robin Jose

    I watched the 2013 TV series (BBC), and then decided to read the book. So, I was looking for more facts and insights than in the TV Show, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a fascinating take on how music evolved over time, and how certain musicians influenced the music of the future. I am out of my depth (understatement) to even evaluate on his concepts, so I won’t go there. I’ll take it as gospel and be happy with it. A wonderful read, and highly recommended. But I would also recommend to watch I watched the 2013 TV series (BBC), and then decided to read the book. So, I was looking for more facts and insights than in the TV Show, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a fascinating take on how music evolved over time, and how certain musicians influenced the music of the future. I am out of my depth (understatement) to even evaluate on his concepts, so I won’t go there. I’ll take it as gospel and be happy with it. A wonderful read, and highly recommended. But I would also recommend to watch the TV series if you can - preferably before reading the book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robert Traller

    While the author writes well enough and many of the threads he developed are fascinating, much of this book - particularly the earlier portions - are peppered with references which those without an academic background in music or music history will find arcane. Still, I found it a very worthwhile read and learned much about the development of musical styles, instruments, notation and scales. It is a book which would be an outstanding classroom text if accompanied by many demonstrations of the While the author writes well enough and many of the threads he developed are fascinating, much of this book - particularly the earlier portions - are peppered with references which those without an academic background in music or music history will find arcane. Still, I found it a very worthwhile read and learned much about the development of musical styles, instruments, notation and scales. It is a book which would be an outstanding classroom text if accompanied by many demonstrations of the music it describes as simply reading about them is often not nearly enough to grasp the concepts

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A breezy overview of Western music that often breezes over entire artistic movements. Also there are some blatant errors such as claiming Bach embraced equal temperament. Well-tempered is not the same thing. Bad Howard. Also the subtitle of how music shaped civilization is exactly backwards. The whole book describes how music responded to other events in the world. And one more peeve, there are a few times when he traces revolutionary works and genres back to English country music. It felt like A breezy overview of Western music that often breezes over entire artistic movements. Also there are some blatant errors such as claiming Bach embraced equal temperament. Well-tempered is not the same thing. Bad Howard. Also the subtitle of how music shaped civilization is exactly backwards. The whole book describes how music responded to other events in the world. And one more peeve, there are a few times when he traces revolutionary works and genres back to English country music. It felt like the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding explaining the etymology of kimono.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Daniel B-G

    Possibly not the best history of music out there, but the best I've read, it's not a subject I delve into frequently. The list of composers I've committed to listening to more of thanks to this book. Mahler Stravinsky Faure Liszt John Field Mendelson Shumann (Robert and Clara) Mozart (I've always struggled to find the really good bits, there's just so much) Vivaldi Corelli Monteverdi and Symphonies in general (I tend to get stuck on Chamber music and Concerti)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ameya Warde

    Despite ~7 years of playing Viola and ~5 years of choir, I didn't really understand a lot of the technical speak, especially in the beginning, but it wasn't too bad. I did find it interesting, and this is another one that I hope to re-read in the future and hopefully absorb more info since the language will be more familiar to me.

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