The book is divided into eight sections, Early Beginnings, Music in the Middle Ages, Reniassance and Reformation The Baroque Spirit, The Classical Age, Nationalism and Romance, Music in the Modern Age and Global Music. The last two take up around half of the book, and Global Music covers both classical and world music since 1945 so that this isn't a history which is skewed towards classical music. The only area which is not specifically covered is folk music, though this is implicit in some chapters.
As a sample, I studied the two page biography of Handel in greater detail. The images include a large picture of the young-ish Handel, a picture of the organ in St Katharine Cree Church which was played by Handel, a manuscript of his as well as his tuning fork a contemporary depiction of the Royal Fireworks and an advertisement for Messiah. There is a neatly written biography which gives due weight to the various phases of his career, a list of key works and a time line.
Not every composer has his or her double page spread; if you want to learn about Vaughan Williams then he crops up on a number of pages (notably in the double page spread dealing with nationalism in music). But the index is admirably comprehensive.
The more recent subjects are inevitable rather varied. The last six in the book cover African Instruments, Hip-Hop, Club-Culture, The Korean Wave, New Voices in Classical and Digital Revolutions. These all discuss their subject in an admirably balanced manner. Whilst an expert would not learn anything new; I didn't learn anything from the article on Handel but then I would not expect to, but reading about The Korean Wave I find myself admirably filled in with background.
There is an eight page glossary at the back of the book covering everything from a capella and Boogaloo to Tresillo and Zarzuela, with a visual emphasis on music notation. There is also an admirably capacious index; Handel gets 16 references in addition to his double page spread, and Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen by Neil Sedaka gets an entry too.
The problem with any book like this is that the presentation can either be too thematic so that you loose any sense of history, or too historically driven which makes the reader think that history is a tidy procession. Here we have a nice balance which I think works. Though I do worry whether a reader might find it confusing, but then in the modern internet world, information comes in small bites so that is what we have here.
There is something wonderfully serendipitous about the book, you turn a page and there is an arresting new image, Malcolm Arnold conducting an orchestra in Walton's sound track for the film Battle of Britain, the score of Stockhausen's Mikorphone 1, Kenneth MacMillan's ballet to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The picture researchers have clearly worked over time, and it shows.
The book is £25 which isn't cheap, but given the size and content seems extraordinary value, and if you buy it from Amazon (see box below) then it comes far cheaper.
Alternatively you could enter our Competition to win a copy of the book.
Music: The Definitive Visual History
Elsewhere on this blog:
- WIN a copy of Music: The Definitive History our latest Competition
- BREMF: Profane Delirums - L'Avventura London
- Christiane Karg - Wigmore Hall Live - CD review
- Journeying Boys - Guildhall School
- Taking Music Further - Orchestras Live conference
- Giorgio Berrugi at Rosenblatt Recitals
- Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Royal Hospital
- Lily Afshar and the Collaborative Orchestra
- Sheer delight - Gallay horn trios and quartet - CD review
- Sweet indeed - Douce France - Anne Sofie von Otter - CD review
- Mesmerising and Magical - Breaking the Rules - BREMF
- 40th Birthday - Tallis Scholars in Taverner's Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas - CD review
- Music and Murder - Passion and the Princess - Musica Secreta at BREMF