In this excellent history, music critic Gioia (How to Listen to Jazz) dazzles with tales of how music grew out of violence, sex, and rebellion. Gioia opens with humans fashioning musical instruments from animal bones, such as a Neanderthal flute made with a bear’s femur, and writes, “When the instruments didn’t come from the dead animal, they evolved from the weapons used to kill it,” such as a hunter’s bow, which became the “earliest stringed instrument.” He then explores the roots of eroticism in music in Sumerian songs and myths, and the divide between the sacred and the vulgar in music. Gioia explains how the early Catholic church elevated the human voice as the only instrument above reproach, since other instruments, drums in particular, were tainted by their pagan associations. In the Middle Ages, passionate secular songs were being performed by roaming troubadours whose new way of singing expressed a deep sensitivity to the inner romantic life. Crisply written with surprising insights, Gioia’s history ranges from Beethoven’s outsider status, due to what was considered to be his mysterious and gloomy music, to the execution and murder ballads in 20th-century folk music, and ending with the rise of rock and roll and hip-hop. Gioia’s richly told narrative provides fresh insights into the history of music. (Oct.)
"In this excellent history, music critic Gioia (How to Listen to Jazz) dazzles with tales of how music grew out of violence, sex, and rebellion... Gioia's richly told narrative provides fresh insights into the history of music."Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Gioia's argument is persuasive and offers a wealth of possibilities for further exploration. This fascinating recontextualization will appeal to anyone who ever wondered why "Hound Dog" became a hit only when Elvis Presley covered it."Library Journal
"A revisionist history highlights music's connections to violence, disruption, and power. In a sweeping survey that begins in "pre-human natural soundscapes," music historian Gioia (How To Listen to Jazz, 2016, etc.) examines changes and innovation in music, arguing vigorously that the music produced by "peasants and plebeians, slaves and bohemians, renegades and outcasts" reflected and influenced social, cultural, and political life... A bold, fresh, and informative chronicle of music's evolution and cultural meaning."Kirkus
"Gioia's sprawling and deeply interesting history of music defies all stereotypes of music scholarship. This is rich work that provokes many fascinating questions. Scientists and humanists alike will find plenty to disagree with, but isn't that the point? 'A subversive history', indeed."Samuel Mehr, Director, The Music Lab, Harvard University
"In this meticulously-researched yet thoroughly page-turning book, Gioia argues for the universality of music from all cultures and eras. Subversives from Sappho to Mozart and Charlie Parker are given new perspective as is the role of the church and other arts-shaping institutions. Music of emotion is looked at alongside the music of political power in a fascinating way by a master writer and critical thinker. This is a must-read for those of us for whom music has a central role in our daily lives."Fred Hersch, pianist and composer, and author of Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz
"As a fan of 'big histories' that sweep through space and time, I gobbled this one like candy as I found myself astounded by some idea, some fact, some source, some dots connected into a fast-reading big picture that takes in Roman pantomime riots, Occitan troubadours, churchbells, blues, Afrofuturism, surveillance capitalism, and much more. A must for music heads."Ned Sublette, author of Cuba and Its Music and The World That Made New Orleans
"One of the most perceptive writers on music has cut a wide swath down the path of history, illuminating details often left in the shadows and broadening our understanding of all things sonic. Gioia vividly points out that the wheels of cultural advancement are often turned by the countless unsung heroes of inventiveness. A mind opening and totally engaging read!"Terry Riley
Musician and music historian Gioia (Love Songs) contends that throughout the history of music, the innovations of the rebellious and the subversive have been coopted by the sanctioned and the institutional. This isn't a new idea, but in drawing from fields such as anthropology, psychology, theology, and folklore, the author raises thought-provoking questions in this wide-ranging survey. Chief among these is the notion that the very study of music has been hampered by mechanisms of formal social, cultural, and religious approval, which privilege certain forms of musical expression over others. He cites a range of examples, from the myth of Orpheus as a magical music-maker to the influence of African Americans, who have been subject to centuries of oppression, on American music. Gioia's argument is persuasive and offers a wealth of possibilities for further exploration. VERDICT This fascinating recontextualization will appeal to anyone who ever wondered why "Hound Dog" became a hit only when Elvis Presley covered it.—Genevieve Williams, Pacific Lutheran Univ. Lib., Tacoma
A revisionist history highlights music's connections to violence, disruption, and power.
In a sweeping survey that begins in "pre-human natural soundscapes," music historian Gioia (How To Listen to Jazz, 2016, etc.) examines changes and innovation in music, arguing vigorously that the music produced by "peasants and plebeians, slaves and bohemians, renegades and outcasts" reflected and influenced social, cultural, and political life. For the earliest humans, writes the author, music-making was far more important than simply entertainment: Songs "served as a source of transformation and enchantment for individuals and communities," embodying myth and cultural lore. Music also was indelibly connected to violence, from troops' drums and horns to rousing anthems. "Every violent group in history," Gioia notes, "has its motivating songs," evidence that music "is a mighty force" for change. Disruption, however, was not limited to martial music. Once the audience emerged "as the judge of aesthetic merit during the late medieval period and Renaissance," music changed from an art sanctioned by aristocracy and the church to one that pleased "the untutored crowd." Popular musicians presented themselves as dramatic, artistic personalities; when they offered works celebrating "love and glory, the singer emerged as the focal point of the lyrics, the real subject of every song." Gioia aims to overturn long-held images of many composers: Beethoven, for example, was hardly "the ultimate classical music insider, the bedrock of the symphonic tradition," but rather a passionate personality whose "strange, peculiar, arbitrary, bizarre, mysterious, gloomy and laborious" music caused him, early in his career, to be considered "a volatile outsider whose impulses needed to be held in check." With Beethoven, writes the author, "everything gets viewed through a prism of revolution, upheaval, and clashing value systems." That desire to upend the status quo has invigorated music, whether it is jazz, folk music, hip-hop, or electrified bands. Despite efforts to quash innovation, "in the long term, songs tend to prevail over even the most authoritarian leaders."
A bold, fresh, and informative chronicle of music's evolution and cultural meaning.