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A Student's Guide to Music History (Preston A. Wells Jr. Guide to the Major Disciplines) Paperback – January 15, 2008
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From the Author
Interview with R. J. Stove
author of A Student's Guide to Music History
How did you decide what material to put in and what to leave out?
The flip answer would be, “with a heavy heart”. If I’d included everything I’d originally wanted to include, the book would’ve been at least ten times its present length, and wouldn’t have been amenable to incorporation in the ISI student guide series. My chief criterion was this: when I came across material which made me say “this has got to go into the book, whatever else must be sacrificed to make way for it”, then it went in.
Why did you impose a cut-off date of 1945?
There had to be a cut-off date imposed somewhere, and the end of World War II seemed better than most. Rachmaninoff, Bartok, Manuel de Falla, and Richard Strauss all died during the 1940s. So even at the time there was a sense - stronger in retrospect - of a whole generation passing away. It’ll be years before posterity forms some sort of lasting verdict on the composers who emerged only after 1945. Until then, partisan agendas are likely to cloud the issue, particularly when tax money (via national broadcasting networks) is used to further those agendas. As it often has been, to an extent that was utterly unimaginable (outside dictatorships, anyhow) before the war. Of course, the post-1945 notion of the composer as ward of the state warrants a separate book in itself. Someone else should write that book. I’m not qualified to do so.
What’s the point of reading classical music history, when classical music can be enjoyed perfectly well without such reading?
Well, yes, even I - who, as a mere Australian, am cursed with an abominable ignorance of baseball - could probably gain some limited level of enjoyment by watching a game, without knowing the difference between a double play and a strikeout. But wouldn’t it make more sense for me to wish to increase my enjoyment by trying to increase my actual understanding? And if this is the case for baseball, why shouldn’t it be the case for music? There’s a bit in this book’s preface which is, I think, relevant, as a defense of reading about classical music history. There, I argue that when one’s listening to music, “a certain historical awareness gives, as it were, a three-dimensional effect to what one hears. It imparts the element of the composer’s individual humanity; it banishes the assumption that the music concerned is a mere exercise in pattern-making.”
Will readers need a classical music background in order to benefit from your book?
No! That’s precisely what they won’t need. I’ve deliberately written the book with a minimum of specialist musical terms, although naturally “a minimum” doesn’t mean “a complete absence”. Again, if I may go back to sporting analogies: no author could write in public about baseball if he had been forbidden from using specialist terms such as “bunt”, “pitcher”, and “shortstop”. For the musical terms that really couldn’t be avoided, the book contains a glossary. I hope that will be of some use. The only background needed to read this book is the ability to follow literate English prose. At the same time, I’ve done my readership the courtesy of assuming that it consists of adults. It drives me up the wall when writers on classical music try to appear hip by treating their readers like moronic brats.
If you could take only one CD to a desert island, what would it be?
Scarcely a day goes past when I don’t ask myself this question. I’m not much closer to answering it than I was a year ago, when this whole project began. But perhaps my choice would be, ultimately, Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, “little organ book”. It sums up everything Bach achieved in the field of sacred music; it does so in the form of perfect, easily digestible miniatures; and it’s far more varied in mood than most people would expect from a collection of organ solos. Had Bach written nothing in his entire life save the Orgelbüchlein, he would still have been among the human race’s supreme specimens. But when you recall what else he wrote . . .
About the Author
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I guess a real newbie to musical history could use this introduction, but most people with the interest of buying it will already know half its content, or more.Published on January 3, 2013 by Olivier Goessens
I was looking for a brief summary of the history of western (art) music. This book was the authors thoughts about certain composer's and a few works but would hardly be useful for... Read morePublished on December 7, 2012 by Richard R. Bunbury
If I was rating this book for it's scholarship and style, as most other reviewers have done, it would get five stars. The term "student's" is used too broadly in the title. Read morePublished on May 11, 2009 by oxbridge