Musicologist, singer and academic, Lehmann brings all these attributes to this fascinating journey through the origins of music and its role in human development, culture and society.
The opening section examines the first stirrings of music in animals, birds and fishes, before moving on to humans in prehistoric times, and how it is an integral part of our nature to make musical sounds for family bonding (e.g. singing a baby to sleep) and social occasions. The second section follows the evolution of musical culture from ancient Greece and the educational theories of Pythagoras and Plato. After the predominantly religious music of the Roman/Christian era, the first great musical landmark was in 1000 AD, when Guido di Arezzo devised the stave and music could now be written down instead of just being passed on verbally. The author examines the relationship between ‘art’ and folk music (in the Middle Ages, the former was in Latin and the latter in the vernacular), and goes on to explore the flowering of secular music, the development of conservatoires to teach music and the democratisation of music with the rise of the middle classes and salon music. In 1877 came the second great landmark: Edison’s invention of the phonograph. Now for the first time music could be repeated and preserved, listened to anywhere, alone or in company.
The third section deplores the decline of singing in our society and how we are becoming a race of listeners rather than music-makers. It considers our personal reactions to music – emotional, intellectual, subconscious and therapeutic – and the effects of the present-day ubiquitous ‘muzak’ which has made music a part of everyday life but also made it independent not just of the performer, as previously, but of the listener as well. It is now experienced impersonally, like the weather or the scent of flowers. With modern technical developments pop music has become the only really lasting ‘new music’ and the chain of ‘serious’ musical development has been broken.
Few books on music are as rewarding as this one. Anything remotely technical is clearly described and yet the musically well-informed are not patronised. Well-chosen examples and amusing asides help to make this a highly informative and extremely readable book – a must for anyone interested in the development of music and how integral it is to the human condition.
All recommendations from Spring 2011