From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The daunting task of connecting the most abstract of art forms to society, economics, politics and philosophy is admirably accomplished in this monumental six-volume narrative history. The work is a single interpretive synthesis by musicologist and critic Taruskin, author of Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions (1996), covering the Western classical tradition from medieval Gregorian chant to the contemporary avant-garde, with two regrettably scant chapters on 20th-century jazz and pop. He traces evolving performance and compositional conventions from the earliest written records, focusing on the elaboration of the Western system of tonality, its solidification in the Bach-to-Beethoven canon and its subsequent broadening into dissonance and tonal indeterminacy. He also follows the shifting social and ideological functions that elevated composers from lowly court servants to the alienated geniuses of romantic and modernist myth and transformed music from an adjunct of church ritual to a marketplace commodity, a vehicle for nationalist aspirations and a secular religion of art-for-art's-sake. Taruskin analyzes thousands of musical scores by all the major and many minor composers-the musically inclined should peruse the books at the piano-and his close readings of the esthetic and psychological effects of compositions come as close as one can to putting music's ineffable qualities into words. His account of the larger historical framework is erudite but accessible and stylish, conversant with everything from Aristotelian philosophy to psychoanalysis but wary of reading anachronistic interpretations into the past. The result is a judicious but richly stimulating history, valuable both to scholars and to ordinary readers who want to listen with new ears to the music they love. Photos.
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"Most of the news in classical music takes place on stage or on disc. But at the moment, one of the biggest stories (in more ways than one) is taking place on the printed page." --The New York Times
"Erudite, engaging, and suffused throughout with a mixture of brilliance and delirium...staggering, brilliant, opinionated."--Washington Post
"Readers will profit from his sharp analysis and unabashed opinions... Taruskin has succeeded in writing a stimulating overview of Western society, setting a standard that will not be surpassed for a very long time..." --Library Journal
"Taruskin's chef-d'oeuvre, however, is a feast of contrarian ideas, with enough spice to sting the palate of anyone with a stake in telling the old stories in the old way. It aims for nothing less than the revaluation of practically everything you thought you knew about classical music....Taruskin's magnum opus is a must-read, and in its way, a real page-turner of detective non-fiction. It's a cinch to become the most discussed music title of the year, if not of the decade."-- The Globe & Mail
"The book is nothing short of spectacular" - New Music Box
"There's plenty to keep you amused and enlightened - it's very good reading." - American Record Guide
"Rather than assemble an overview, Taruskin has written a critical, subjective history in which he examines the influence of key figures, works, and musical ideas against the backdrop of world affairs and cultural history."-Berkeleyan
"Musicians, students, historians, and other readers wishing a detailed narrative about the career, patronage, musical influences, reception, and creative production of western composers, as well as the development of musical styles will find this a fascinating and satisfying resource." --Reference and Research Library Book News
"An amazing achievement. For a single musicologist, even one of the stature of Taruskin, to have produced a detailed, accurate, informative and well-illustrated history is nothing short of amazing."--Classical Net Review