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66 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I remember the First edition of Grout's "A History of Western Music"--it was the main text in use when I was a first year undergraduate student. In fact it was one of the standard texts in use at a large number of colleges. The good news is that I was pleased to see the excellent changes. I didn't have to look far to find my first (1 st) edition Grout ( I've used it still until I purchased this new 6th edition several weeks ago)--there are 101 more pages of text. In reality there is much more to look at as the 1st edition book was only 6 x 9 inches. The new 6th Edition is larger: 7 1/4 by 10 1/2 inches. In addition, there is a highly attractive layout; the best feature? A wonderful highlighted-in-blue area (appearing every 40 pages or so) in which the composers themselves speak about a wonderful range of topics such as Francois Couperin 'On the Union of the Italian and French Styles' or, the great J.S. Bach's description of one the church service's he organized (known as an 'Order of Service') taken from a collection of his memoirs.
Lastly, I enjoyed seeing the addition of an overall "Time-Line of Events" which prefaces each unit. This includes not only items from music, but any historical event which remotely affected change in music or musical thought.
My singluar critical note is perhaps something which the authors had little time to devote to. The 6th edition ends with composers who, in this reviewer's opinion, were certainly not 'mainstream'--like John Cage (1912-1992) (who's infamous "4'33" is actually a period of four minutes and thirythree seconds in which the 'performer' remains totally silent). Cage was popular in the late 70s more for his extremism than anything else. The last paragraph of the book does state, in effect, that composers are being more sensitive to their audiences. (No doubt! Their INsensitivity nearly killed classical music in the 70s) As with any textbook, deadlines must limit speculation--there will undoubtedly be a 7th edition to address more changes in our musical world.
Lastly, the reader should take note that the current author of this work, Claude V. Palisca, is also the author of the "Norton Anthology of Music" which can be used in conjunction with this text. Also, the publisher, W.W.Norton and Co., has a website for readers (which is also mentioned in the text: [...] The website is still active (I just visited it) and has a wealth of information and listening resources---too bad we didn't have this back in 1967 !
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Before I say anything else, you should know that the everyday price for this 6th edition hardcover book is much less at your local bookstore (not at liberty to state where). Why on earth does Amazon charge so much!?
I was delighted to hear that Palisca had released yet another edition of this fine reference on the history of Western art music. I present pre-concert lectures & talks for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival and other local orchestras and I find this reference to be a good starting point for refreshing my knowledge of the historical context behind a piece of music I've been asked to talk about. The writing gets clearer and easier to read with every new edition. I found the 6th edition a very easy read, engrossing and wonderfully thorough given the scope of what it sets out to achieve.
Since I want this reference to assist me with historical context, I found that it does a terrific job up to the late 19th century, and is somewhat lacking from then on. The reference treats the late 19th and 20th century on a composer-by-composer basis and doesn't link the overall trends very well. For instance I couldn't find much on why Shostakovich and Prokovief composed as they did, whereas composers of the 18th and 19th centuries are placed in larger trends and movements rather easily. I understand that it takes time and dedicated scholars to reveal the many layers that make up an era and its art, so I am forgiving if still a little frustrated.
I was impressed that Palisca set out to have each and every section & composer reviewed by scholars in their respective fields of expertise. For instance, I had read a recently published and excellent book that set out to challenge the generally accepted view on Haydn and his place in history as a composer of symphonies, and that author is referenced as a source for the section on Haydn in this 6th edition. Palisca's desire to be thorough and to reflect the lastest research and thought on composers and their eras makes this 6th edition an even more valuable resource for my personal library.
I also found the revised glossary to be outstanding and incredibly helpful!
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Contrary to the views of the reviewer from San Francisco, the newly-revised fifth edition is much improved over the third and fourth editions. While I will agree that some book companies promote "newness" as a novlety, I don't agree that such is the case with this book. New discoveries are made about the history of music, especially early music, every year. If books such as this one weren't revised on a regular basis, the text wouldn't necessarily be accurate. Imagine writing a research paper on space travel using a set of enclopedias from 1962; it just won't work. This is by far the best book in its field. For some readers, it may be too concise, as I've heard many complaints that it's dry, boring reading. Well, it's a history textbook, not a Danielle Steele novel, so what would you expect?
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
"A History of Western Music" is a standard reference text for the academic study of "classical" art music from antiquity to the present (i.e. 1960). As an example of this book's scholarly authority, the 5th edition is commonly the sole information source for many Master's of Music history qualifying exams. Author and Cornell professor emeritus Donald Grout writes with a straightforward style and elucidates his prose with many colorful pictures and musical examples. All those looking for a thorough, single volume survey of Western art music should make this book the first addition to their library.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is agreeably the most popular and complete text for any serious student of music history. It is straightforward, concise, and without unnecessary embelishments other authors may find necessary. This straightforward writing style, I must admit, does not make it the most exciting text available. When I was in undergraduate school, I found that Grout's book was often the most effective cure for insomnia.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Grout and Palisca are the Microsoft of music history. Over the years the book has been refined again and again to the point where the whole thing does what it does very well, has what an a very large number of people need, and is acceptably easy to use. On top of all that, it's been backed up with extraordinary marketing savvy. The result is that right now it has little serious competition. Which doesn't stop me from wishing there were a history of music that had flair, had a strong individual perspective, had a new way of looking at the world--none of which you'll find here.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This book is Donald J. Grout's masterpiece. Scholarly, detailed, and carefully considered, it includes analyses of pieces from every period in the history of western music. Grout interweaves the development of harmony, rhythm, and usage with the evolution of various instruments and vocal trends, and presents all in the context of social and political history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2000
Format: Audio Cassette
This book remains the standard music history reference for graduate and undergraduate students throughout the United States. It does not pretend to represent every branch or trend of musicology, or even begin to touch upon the vast subject of ethno-musicology. It does provide a sound and thorough reference as to the developments of Western "classical" music.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I own used this book, and the anthology and CD's, and used them for my intermediate Music history studies; I still use it as a quick reference or starting point for my current more detailed studies. When I want more detail about a period or specific composers or styles, then there are numurous more detailed books available. I have found it comprehensive in coverage, informative, easy to read and containing enough information without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. I believe there could be more on 20th century composers/techniques, but given the scope of music development for that period, I believe a more dedicated book should be used. I must agree that as a general student text book, it is rather pricey; sadly the CD's are also very useful and NOT cheap either. Still definitely worth buying and keeping as a reference.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
When I found what I believe to be the first edition (from 1960) in a thrift store for $1, I had no idea that this was considered the pre-eminent music history textbook. Consequently, I approached it as "pleasure" rather than assigned classroom reading. And I am in full agreement with the assessment that the writing is dry in the extreme - and I admit that I skimmed certain sections rather than reading them all the way through. Compared to the writing of critics such as Donald Tovey,Norman Lebrecht,Alex Ross, Jonathan Saville, or August Kleinzahler, Grout is not "entertaining;" as I explain below, he does not even meet the definition of "critic."

My own systematic introduction to Western art music began with the Baroque period, with a brief mention that there was something called Gregorian Chant which preceded it. Grout's treatment is the polar opposite of this approach; he begins with Greek antiquity and proceeds forward through the medieval and renaissance periods in such detail that Bach is not encountered until the book's halfway point. Yet despite this inclusiveness, there is no mention of Hildegard von Bingen, who I had assumed to be a major early Renaissance composer. As an introduction to the field, this may not be the most useful approach; the neophyte may wish for greater concentration on the composers he is more likely to hear. Sensibly, Grout limits his presentation of the 20th century to the giants (Stravinsky, Schoenberg) whose significance was apparent at the halfway point, with brief mentions of others; he may be forgiven his extensive section on Hindemith, who may have appeared more important in the 1950s than he has since become. Nevertheless, I give the book five stars for inclusiveness.

I must temper this position by awarding three stars for the nearly complete absence of any context within which the music took form. Grout not only neglects any discussion of the historical events surrounding the composers; there is no mention of events within the composers' own lives that may have affected their creativity. It is as if the music took form within a vacuum, with no relation to anything except the music that came before it, whether in continued development or opposition. The timeline in the appendix is woefully inadequate in this regard, a mere chronology with no relation other than temporal to the events noted.

It is a modern convention that art is more properly understood through historiographical analysis; that some relationship exists between artistic creativity and the society within which it is created. It goes without saying that an artist's work also springs from his own life experiences. Shostakovich cannot be understood without the awareness that his music was an expression of his opposition to Soviet Communism; it is of interest to note Mozart's complete subservience to his own political environment. If it is unfair to criticize this edition of Grout for not exploring pathways which to us seem obvious, then by the same token, the book is itself subject to historiographic deconstruction. It is valuable not so much as a resource for information on Western art music composers, but as a snapshot of the academic attitude toward those composers current in the 1950s. As I have not read any later editions, I can't comment on whether this deficit has been corrected - but this would have required a complete reorientation of the author's philosophy.

Most inexcusably, Grout concludes with a brief observation of the rift between the public and classical music composers (especially the modern ones), with no thoughts as to the implications this may have on the future of this art form. Again, the music is viewed as existing in a vacuum, unrelated to the world at large and the lives of the composers who created it. This bespeaks the astonishing opinion that Western art music has no importance for anyone outside the small circle of specialists directly concerned with it. It was, and is this very attitude that to a large extent is responsible for the peripheral place this great tradition has in society today, and the risk of its continued marginalization in the future.
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