01 August 2015

Book review: Music, A Very Short Introduction (1998) by Nicholas Cook, ***

Beethoven nears the end, by Batt
Synopsis

What is music? How is it constructed? How is it consumed? Why do you enjoy it at all? Nicholas Cook invites us to really think about music and the role it plays in our lives and our ears. Drawing on a number of accessible examples, the author prompts us to call on our own musical experiences in order to think more critically about the roles of the performers and the listener, about music as a commodity and an experience, what it means to understand music, and the values we ascribe to it.

This very short introduction, written with both humor and flair, begins with a sampling of music as human activity and then goes on to consider the slippery phenomenon of how music has become an object of thought. Covering not only Western and classical music, Cook touches on all types from rock to Indonesian music and beyond.


Review

Music is an agent of ideology: we must not just hear it, but "read" it as an intrinsic part of the society and culture that produces it. Until the second part of XX century mostly studied in conservatories, not universities as musicology. Does music need words? Can it be read without words? Yes, though a few words can help set the context.

Beethoven is a recurring reference for the author. He did not just revolutionize music, he had something to say about the decay of aristocratic Europe. He never wanted a fixed, salaried position: he wanted to write the music he wanted to write, when he wanted, if he wanted. Cook argues this was the opposite of Rossini, who thrived in that Europe of pomp and ostentatious luxury. Others would disagree: Rossini mocked the rich and the noble in his operas, just look at the Barbiere di Siviglia, where everyone is a crook.

Mass production of records, now internet streaming: talk about music as you talk about cuisine: everything is available everywhere. Also, the average technical quality of musicians is on the rise, musicians face harder competition to emerge.

This is indeed a very very short introduction to music, but a useful one to stimulate interest especially for those who maybe listened to music but never thought about it, and never "read" it!

Buy the book on Amazon here:






About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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