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The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory Hardcover – May 13 2002


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"This first single-volume history of music theory in English is a significant addition to literature about music. [...] It should be part of all academic music collections" Choice

"[This] work is an extremely valuable contribution to the history of music theory...the essays are of high quality, and the scholarship is impeccable...Nearly every reader will find something of value herein. The book can serve both as a reference work and as a snapshot of current theoretical opinion. It belongs on the shelf of every scholar who has a serious interest in music theory and its development." Isis

This remarkable book not only offers the reader a detailed account of the entire history of theoretical writing about Western music from the ancient Greeks to modern times, but also provides an incisive critique of the original objectives and ultimate significance of such writing. The various contributors are all specialists well able to encapsulate as well as clarify the essence of complex materials. In addition, the excellent selection of plates, tables and examples, coupled with comprehensive bibliographies, provides rich and vivid contexts for subject-matter that is never merely abstract, but satisfyingly linked to the particulars of musical works. All teachers, researchers and students who take music seriously will find The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory enormously stimulating.--Arnold Whittall, Professor Emeritus of Music Theory & Analysis, King's College London

Book Description

The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory is the first comprehensive history of Western music theory to be published in the English language. A collaborative project by leading music theorists and historians, the volume traces the rich panorama of music-theoretical thought from the Ancient Greeks to the present day. Richly enhanced with illustrations, graphics, examples and cross-citations, as well as being thoroughly indexed and supplemented by comprehensive bibliographies, this book will be an invaluable resource for students and scholars alike.

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Music theory, Carl Dahlhaus has warned us, is a subject that notoriously resists its own history. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Superb Jan. 15 2007
By Dr. Lee D. Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Even if one is not a professional musician, music theory can still hold a particular fascination for anyone who is curious about the organization behind music, its physical foundations, and its composition. This book gives an overview of its history through the eyes of academic experts and is sure to please any reader who desires such a summary without getting into the details. Several references accompany each article for those readers who need more in-depth discussion. This reviewer was mainly interested in the mathematical and physical foundations of music theory, and so read only two articles in the book. The review will be confined to these articles therefore.

The article entitled "Music Theory and Mathematics" written by Catherine Nolan naturally begins with a discussion of the Pythagorean influence and its going beyond merely numerical ratios to sophisticated mathematical models incorporating geometry, combinatorics, and algebra. And although the author does not give discuss it, the Pythagorean and neo-Pythagorean influence has found its way into efforts to automate musical composition in the field of artificial intelligence. These efforts have yielded impressive results, and have produced musical pieces that are definitely satisfying to the human ear. The author though gives a highly interesting discussion of the developments over the centuries since the days of the Pythagoreans, particularly the influence of the advances in both physics and mathematics. This was especially true in the seventeenth century, where physics really began to take off, and offered a more realistic foundation for musical theory. There are many other gems to be found in this article, where the reader for example will read about the contributions of Gioseffo Zarlino, the Italian musical theorist and composer who in 1558 extended the Pythagorean `tetractys' to what he called the `senario' and which provided in his view a theoretical justification for the imperfect consonances. The reader will also be exposed to the use of combinatorics to build musical compositions, such that when carried to extreme where are possibilities are considered, one obtains according to the author compositions that go beyond the usual harmonic and melodic syntax. Mersenne's table of possible melodies from 1 to 22 notes is illustrated is illustrated in this article. One also encounters the use of modular arithmetic in the equal temperament scale. The most interesting discussion though in this article is the one David Lewin's use of transformation theory in defining what he calls the `generalized interval system' and `transformation network' The author points to the Lewin musical models as giving an uncountable(!) number of conceivable musical spaces available to music theorists.

Another very interesting article in the book is the one entitled "The Role of Harmonics in the Scientific Revolution" by Penelope Gouk. At first glance one might think that this article is written from the odd "postmodern" viewpoint that to a large extent still permeates historical criticism. It is not however, and the author details a fascinating account of the impact of `harmonics' in the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Most interesting is her assertion that the application of mathematics before the seventeenth century was thought of as `natural magic', which is defined as essentially the use of "occult" forces to bring about changes or effects. Natural magic is to be distinguished from "demonic" magic that makes use of immaterial and intelligent beings or "demons." Thus the phenomenon of "sympathetic resonance" between two bodies was integrated into the new experimental sciences. Readers will remember that Isaac Newton was severely criticized for his universal theory of gravitation due to the belief by some at the time that it's action-at-a-distance property had an "occult" quality to it. But the physics of vibrating strings was developed in due time, and this along with the reaction of Enlightenment philosophers against any traces of the "occult" in experimental science was a reason for the acceptance of harmonics as reasonable and scientific. Extreme views of sympathy were elaborated however proposed, one due to Robert Fludd and discussed by the author in this article. Parts of the universe he thought were "sympathetically interrelated" with actions in one part having influence on another. It is fascinating to contemplate in retrospect that the physical behavior of the pendulum and the vibrating string held so much sway in the minds of philosophers, scientists, and mystics. This continues to this day of course, but in a much more elaborate manner, going by the name of string theory. Any vestiges of the occult are not present in any modern physical theory, and action-at-a-distance has been essentially replaced by the curvature-of-spacetime paradigm of Albert Einstein. Very loosely speaking however, the combination of the (quantized) vibrating string and the Einstein notion of gravity as being curvature of spacetime is what string theory is all about. Harmonics in this sense is therefore alive and well and is deeply integrated into the physics community at the present time.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
It's well worth the price! Sept. 30 2005
By KyrC - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is a very important and useful survey of all major areas of western music theory, including both its history, and current state of things.

Surely it is a bit pricey, but it is a treasury of information and is necessary, I think, to every researcher in the field of music theory and related (interdisciplinary) areas. It also covers psychology of music, and methodology of teaching music. Every chapter tries to give a complete, if brief, overview of the subject, and bibliography is simply great. You won't regret buying it!
29 of 42 people found the following review helpful
You're kidding. A semi-hemi isn't a Chrysler 18-wheeler? Is that a hemi-semi? Dec 24 2008
By Paul Suni - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you ever itched to buy the Oxford English Dictionary but could never quite justify it, this is your chance. Buy this book and you will have an excellent excuse to buy the OED. While you are out shopping, it would also be sensible to pick up a Greek dictionary and a multi-volume course in latin.

The trick here is to pay attention to the title. This is not a book that will teach you music theory, but one that will instill in you the HISTORY of music theory. It appears assumed that you most likely have a Ph.D. in music going in and, considering the sales rank of the book, chances are that you actually wrote one of the chapters. This is not to make fun of an extremely academic text, just setting the expectation level. This is not a casual read.

One test of whether you would enjoy the book is this: If you can read, comprehend, and be delighted with the following sentence (pulled randomly from page 185) then this baby is for you,

"In the primis divide, halving the string segment between the points marking the nete hyperboleon and the paranete hyperboleon and adding a similar length to the segment between the point marking the paranete hyperboleon and the end of the string yields a chromatic tetrachord with pitches we might call e1-f2-f#1-a1 enclosing the 256:243 semitone (90 cents), an 81:76 semitone (100 cents), and a 19:16 trihemitone (298 cents); placing the paranete hyperboleon where the nete hyperboleon lies in the diatonic genus and halving the segment between the points marking it and the nete diazeugmenon yields an enharmonic tetrachord with pitches we might call e1-e+1-f2-a1 (e+1 representing a quarter tone between e1 and f2) enclosing two dieses in the ratios 512:499 and 499:486) and the Pythagorean ditone 81:64 (408 cents)."

Little to none of the terminology is explained in the book, which is why your OED and/or Music Ph.D. will come in handy. This was a little disappointing because to an interested novice like me this book looks quite comprehensive, covering a lot of ground from greek influences through music psychology. The physicist in me was particularly interested in the mathematical aspects of music theory, but I find Wikipedia articles more accessible and to the point.

So, if I admit that my ignorance limits my appreciation, why 3 stars and not 5? Two reasons. First, a lot of potentially interesting stuff is glossed over. For example, if you show a complex frontispiece from a 13th century text with the motivation that the frontispiece was important, why not spend a page explaining what it means? I'd love to know but I don't know latin or the symbology on the page so I can't appreciate it.

Second, the binding of the book is really bad. You cannot open this without cracking the spine to the point where pages will likely start falling out in a few days. I reluctantly returned it after a day of perusing. They probably should have bound this as two volumes instead of one.

Over at the library I found the "Harvard dictionary of music" 4th edition and find that it would make a great substitute for the OED, Greek dictionary, and latin course. While it also doesn't teach you music theory at least it helps explain concepts and terminology.
A unique and complete synthesis Aug. 24 2009
By WALLER - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is a collection of articles by scholars on every aspects of music theory at every period of Western history. Smart,complete and accurate,it synthesises the more recent researches on all those subjects. A treasure and a reference for all musicologists in the world.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great book Feb. 18 2012
By Arminabd - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is great. I needed it for a class, read through it and it was money well spent. Highly recommended


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