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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Social History of Music From the Middle Ages to Beethoven

BOOK REVIEW
A Social History of Music From the Middle Ages to Beethoven
by Henry Raynor
p. 1972
Crescendo Press

  It's funny to me that you would need to specifically modify a history of music with the word "social" to be allowed to write about this subject, but this book is from 1972.  No matter what type of music or time period is under discussion, all music exists as a social construction.  Music requires and Artist and an Audience, and if you are missing one of the two you don't have music.  Thus, any long term survey of the social history of music must address the changing relationships between Artists and Audiences over time.  In the time period surveyed in this volume (one of two), Raynor looks at three main developments:  Church music in the Middle Ages, the rise and spread of Opera after the Renaissance and the development of the Artistic composer of the late 18th and 19th century (Beethoven, for example.)

  Along the way, fascinating chapters on the early growth of music printing and publishing are interspersed with turgid technical descriptions of opera seria.  Ultimately though, the social history of music from the Middle Ages to Beethoven is limited by the lack of a large audience- it isn't until the very end of the book that anything approaching a "popular" audience begins to develop.  Indeed, perhaps the most crucial chapter in this volume is the one on the development of the Public Concert- for it was only after that point that an audience large enough to support an autonomous musician developed- prior to that a musician had to either be itinerant (traveling from place to place) or the house musicians of a noble man or independent city state.

  For most of the time period covered in this book, the audience literally summoned the musicians into existence- initially through the church and monarchs, and later through independent cities and princes.  Only with the development of the Public Concert and the development of music publishing could the Artist attain the heights of public prominence that we now take for granted.

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