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Understanding Music: Philosophy and Interpretation 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1847065063
ISBN-10: 1847065066
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The prolific philosopher turns his attention back to music, exploring the fundamental elements that make a great piece. Ranging from Wagner to Hoagy Carmichael and even a final chapter on 'the disaster of pop', this is trademark, provocotive Scruton." - Bookseller, 20 May 2009.


'As a welcome addition to Roger Scruton's continuing canon of fascinating works on the nature and meaning of music, this short, dense book amply supports his genuine and lifelong belief that aesthetic contemplation offers the key to proper understanding of motivation and meaning, not just in ourselves, but in everything around us.' - Literary Review


BBC Music Choice - 5/5 stars
'Illuminating ... touching ... much to inspire. Anyone who is capable of being deeply moved by music should read it.' - BBC Music Magazine

'Roger Scruton presents a depth of knowledge and understanding that could make listening to a symphony all the more meaningful ... worthwhile for those who would like a deeper relationship with classical music.' - Good Book Guide


4/5 stars
'Aesthetic arguments are well summarised, disagreements presented very largely without querulousness; [Scruton] ... avoids shrill dogmatism. And while he makes substantial reference to music theory, he does so without the cack-handedness of many non-specialist music students.' - Classical Music


BBC Music Choice - 5/5 stars
'Illuminating ... touching ... much to inspire.  Anyone who is capable of being deeply moved by music should read it.' - BBC Music Magazine

Book Description

Roger Scruton explores the fundamental elements that constitute a great piece of music, now in paperback for the first time. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum; 1 edition (August 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847065066
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847065063
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #488,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have often been frustrated by not being able to articulate just what music is. Words fail me with such an emotional topic. It was nice to know that it is not simple to define or explain and deals with both philosophical concepts and personal taste and interpretations. This book is an excellent, deeply thought out analysis of our universal love and need of music.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Philosophers of music go to great lengths in attempting to explain music philosophically. This says something about the great depths of music. I suspect that the complexity of these books comes about because the philosophy of music is really a philosophy of the mind, and not a philosophy of notes. Music taps into all areas of the mind, down to the most basic areas, dealing with the physical world.

In this book, Roger Scruton is not shy about using the full force of technical terminology about both music and philosophy. He moves quickly from idea to idea and nimbly covers his subjects.

Scruton emphasizes the wholistic nature of music. Music is at once technical and emotional. Form and content are inseparable. The composition itself and the performance itself work together.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I is called "Aesthetics." Part II is called "Criticism." I found part I to be quite interesting and often convincing. Part II did not hold my attention. Part II is full of superlatives and gushing praise and harsh condemnations.

I have to admit I liked the final chapter, an extended criticism of Adorno. I have always found Adorno's writing on music to be bizarre at best.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got in a little over my head on this one, as I should have expected. Roger Scruton has a deep knowledge of SOME forms of music, and when he is talking about things that he knows, like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or Wagner's Ring Cycle, he has much to say, and probably, much that is valuable. I say "probably" only because I, having no real musical training, and no real philosophical training, am not in a position to judge.
I have, however, read a bit of Adorno, and listened to a fair bit of jazz. So it was somewhat interesting, but mainly disappointing, to read Scruton's glancing treatment of Adorno's attitudes towards jazz. Scruton seems to have a high opinion of some forms of jazz -- he mentions the soulfulness of Monk's "Round Midnight," but he sort of stops there. And he seems to share at times, Adorno's dismissal of a good bit of jazz, but with reservations, because he notes that Adorno relegates a lot of popular music to the scrap heap, only to say, paradoxically, that it doesn't represent the "music of the people." Now, I am not sure I have gotten Scruton's position on Adorno down to a "T", but I don't think I'm far off.
I listen to jazz and rock more than classical, and this is really a book for classical listeners, in my opinion. As I've said, Scruton sometimes mentions artists such as Thelonious Monk, and Genesis, and some other rock groups. And he doesn't fail to mention the contributions of African rhythms and polyrhythms to the development of American musics. But he doesn't go deeply into how African rhythms work or have their effects. He doesn't talk at all about Brazilian music, which I would have liked. And generally, as I have said, his analyses of Mozart and Wagner, etc...are beyond my musical grasp. This is not his failing, of course, but mine.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read several of Scruton's books and find him to be very enlightened in the realm of philosophy. In this book his critique of Adorno is very insightful and it alone is worth the price of the book. His view regarding aesthetics is another matter.

Scruton has composed some, so he's not a complete novice when it comes to musical matters. However, his views of music on several key issues are questionable. He says, for instance, that "music does not move." Most musicians (of which I am one) will tell you quite the opposite. Because any performance of music goes from point A to point B, it certainly does move over time. We refer to "chord progressions" as such because there is a progression of harmonic events that occur over time. Rhythm is the subdivision of time over a linear time line. Harmonic rhythm is a primary aspect of most Western music.

Also, he states that sound are events "which don't happen to do anything." Not true. Musical sounds (pitches) move airwaves in a vibratory fashion and thus activate, or "move" parts of our hearing apparatus (our ears). Whether air is being blown through a pipe, or a string is plucked or frictionized by a bow, or vocal chords are activated, something IS happening when we produce or encounter sound/music. Later he contradicts his "movement" premise saying (page 5) that we hear "a movement between tones, governed by a virtual causality that resides in a musical line." We perceive the sequential moment from on pitch to another because that's precisely what is taking place.
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