Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Music History

A Student’s Guide To Music History, by R.J. Stove

Although I deeply love music history, I must admit I read few books on it [1].  It is especially rare for me to read books on music history that attempt to cover the subject in a large span rather than dealing with artists or artistic movements individually.  This book is written with an ambitious scope, but the author is well aware of his limitations as an author, not least the fact that he admits that he is unable to focus on as many non-western and non-classical artists as he would wish.  Even with these limitations, though, the author does a good job at putting musicians within a larger historical context that recognizes the influences between them and that also encourages this reader at least to do a lot more listening to some obscure composers that I am not familiar with.  I think that alone makes this book a stellar success, as this book does a good job at aiding the reader in appreciating a long history of good music and not only a few of the better known composers but very obscure ones who deserve to be better known.

The author spends more than 100 pages writing about music history here, even with its limitations of (mostly) European and North American composers and those who became famous before World War II within the classical world.  As might be imagined, the author spends a great deal of his time talking about the history of music by looking at those who made (good) music.  After a short preface the author discusses the beginnings of music to 1600, pointing out that we simply do not know a great deal about the music notations and therefore the sounds of a great deal of music for the vast majority of human history.  After this there is a discussion of music history from the Gabrielis and Monteverdi to Bach and Handel, dealing with the baroque era.  After this comes a look at bluck and Bach’s sons to Beethoven and Schubert, covering the “classical” period.  A chapter follows looking at music history from Weber and Rossini to Wagner and Verdi, and then one from Brahms and Bruckner to Sibelius and Stravinsky.  After this there is a look at music history in the interwar period and then a short epilogue of the (mostly sad) state of classical music since 1945 before a helpful glossary and bibliography.

When looked at completely, it can be said that the author at least covers European and North American classical music as thoroughly as possible and provides people with the sort of music they are likely to enjoy.  Whether we are dealing with Gregorian chants or motets or operas or symphonies or concerti grossi, there is a lot to appreciate here.  Even though a great deal of music that we happen to know about has been lost, there are still at least a few pieces that are good enough to be on the repertoire that are not too widely known yet, and so this particular book ought to be something consulted by classical musicians who wish to perform music that is both worthwhile and sufficiently obscure to draw some interest from those who may have been a bit fatigued by hearing the same few pieces over and over again–not that these pieces are themselves bad.  This book gives readers insight into a larger world of classical music than most are likely to be familiar with, with the hopes of having them listen to and perhaps even play more than they are used to, and that can only be a good thing.

[1] But see, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Music History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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