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Monday, August 18, 2014

Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries by F.M. Scherer



Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
Princeton University Press, 2004
 by F.M. Scherer

  This is a very interesting, unfortunately dry book about the economic history of music composition in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  This was a critical time and place for the role of music in the West, and many of our "received ideas" (a favorite term of the Author) about art and artists and their relationship with their Audience come from some of the people included in this book: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven.

  The method employed is that of a trained social scientist, and the hypotheses tested are those that come from other disciplines (history and pop social science.)   Scherer looks at other commonly accepted ideas about this subject- the idea of the "star system,"  the idea that better transportation led to increased wages in this system, the idea that the "arms race" among German principalities in terms of having choruses and orchestras.

  It's hard to detect any bias or agenda other then the method itself- using quantifiable data sets (Composers) and then creating graphs comparing changes over time and trying to explain change by using "multiple regression" analysis.  The main reason I didn't pursue graduate level social sciences was because I'm not a huge fan of the academic side of statistics, but it's hard not to think that statistics is having a kind of renaissance in the form of "analytics" or "big data" and its easy to look at this book and think of other similar experiments to run using the Google Ngram tool.

   Scherer keeps the heavily academic stuff in a series of appendixes that can remain unread by a general interest reader.   While not a text for the general reader, it is a must for anyone who is interested in ways to make data talk about art in an intelligent, intellectually sophisticated fashion.  Graduate students, writers, cultural reporters, bloggers etc.

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