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Capturing Music: The Story of Notation
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Capturing Music: The Story of Notation

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  91 ratings  ·  24 reviews
In today s digital landscape, we have the luxury of experiencing music anytime, anywhere. But before this instant accessibility and dizzying array of formats before CDs, the eight-track tape, the radio, and the turntable there was only one recording technology: music notation. It allowed singers and soloists to travel across great distances and perform their work with stun ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 3rd 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company
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3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  91 ratings  ·  24 reviews

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Ed Erwin
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: musicology
Fascinating story of the development of musical notation systems in Europe. Modern notation is based on these systems and it is interesting to see where the ideas came from and how they spread, sometimes after initial resistance.

The images of medieval manuscripts are quite lovely, but I'm very glad I don't have to try to interpret them. The systems seem ridiculously complex compared to modern systems, especially for rhythm.

The title is misleading. The book does not really tell the full "story o
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This wasn't bad. At least it didn't feel like a textbook, so that's nice. It almost made me wish I had attended more lecture sessions of my early music history course during undergrad years. But not quite.
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Loved how Kelly connects a human reason to each development in notation: brilliant problem-solving that met very real needs of a living, breathing language as it evolved and became more complex over time. Content is quite academic and meticulously researched, but Kelly has an engaging, impressively succinct writing style. More of my thoughts on this title can be found on my blog at A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall.
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I found this history of the origins of written music notation quite interesting. The focus is entirely on the middle ages, starting with the earliest attempts at writing down music (simple marks to remind performers of things) and following the evolution to the basis of our modern notation, including precise notation of rhythm. He addresses two key aspects of notation: pitch and rhythm, with the focus primarily on rhythm. I appreciated that he delved into the philosophical side of things and hig ...more
Justin Evans
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-etc
How do you make a book about the history of musical notation interesting to those who find the history of musical notation not at all interesting? Turn it into a small coffee table book. I do find it interesting, so I was already on board, but this book is as beautiful as it is interesting. So, it's not an academic-academic book, and you need to look elsewhere for such a thing; nor is it easy to get into, because Kelly's first few chapters are... well, disordered, to put it mildly. Once he gets ...more
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
A lavishly produced book with gorgeous reproductions of medieval music manuscripts, an accompanying CD and a chatty text depicting the innovations of music notation that

This lavishly produced book, with its gorgeous reproductions of music manuscripts and accompanying music CD, belie the enthusiastically chatty text chronicling the medieval innovations of western music notation that recorded their music for the future.
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music-n-sound
4.5 stars. As medieval music notation books go, this is a *much* nicer read for the motivate layman than, say, Apel's "The notation of polyphonic music, 900-1600". Was surprised to see a book published in 2015 include a physical CD instead of some download link. But it did give me an excuse to finally hear what Cordier's "Belle, bonne, sage" sounds like.
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
I rated it three stars for my experience only. This has never been and will never be my area of music. The text is well-explained and well-researched, and interestingly written. However, it's still hard to get through if you aren't into history or measured musical text. Easy to read but hard to finish.
Andrei Faur
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is not intended to be a manual of music notation rules and style, but rather a history of the development of music notation. And a fascinating history it is. If you've ever wondered why the lowest line of the bass clef is a "G", why the grand staff splits at middle C (which is close, but not the middle of a piano keyboard), where the names of the G and F clefs come from, why note lengths are encoded by flags and dots, then this is your book.

Throughout, there are many full-color plates
Jun 29, 2016 rated it liked it
This book looks at the creation and evolution of musical notation in medieval Western Europe, showing how transcription came to focus on pitch and rhythm, and the things people tried to convey those aspects of melody. Kelly is infectiously in love with his subject, and manages to throw in a fair amount of humor or at least lightness of tone, but the book takes some deep dives into medieval music theory, which is likely to be pretty heavy sledding for a lot of readers. It's also somewhat off-putt ...more
Denver Public Library
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: laurie
If you enjoy books about history, philosophy or technology, this is a great read. But if you love music, consider making this book a must read! Kelly calls the creation of musical notation - "a celebration of mankind's technical achievements of the Middle Ages." However, this reader believes the real achievement is the writer's ability to discuss a complex subject in an understandable, easy manner. You don't need to know anything about music notation to enjoy Capturing Music. Beautifully illustr ...more
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Loved it! But I was the music major geek who adored medieval music. I have to go back and sit down with the CD now. The book is also beautiful to look at and hold. When you think about it, it is pretty wild to imagine the first people who tried to preserve and transmit what they heard by writing it down when this had never been possible before. A lovely quote about how a performance is passing from the future to the past (I know I didn't get that exactly right) brings the idea into focus. Cool b ...more
Jul 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
A book about the development of the notation of music could be incredibly dry ... But this book was easy to read and to understand. The development of musical notation is explained from its beginnings with chant to the system we use today. I had never thought about how revolutionary musical notation was -- being able to "write down," as it were, sounds, so they could be reproduced later is something I take for granted! This book has beautiful reproductions of notation from the medieval era, and ...more
Feb 17, 2016 marked it as no-thanks
Shelves: non-fiction, music
There were elements in this book that I found very intriguing, but it was just too slow to keep me awake! It was interesting to think about where our music writing system came from-why it is the way it is, how it evolved, the complexities involved in putting sound on a page, the elements we hang on to and the things we give up when writing notes down--but somehow these thought-provoking ideas weren't enough to keep me reading, and I had to turn the book back to the library when I was only 1/3 fi ...more
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Three stars just for writing about something I've never given any thought to. The early content was fascinating, but in the later chapters when not much changed in notation, I didn't glean much.

A strong music background isn't necessary to enjoy the book, although some passing knowledge of music notation is helpful. I suspect the later chapters mean more to those who identify as musicians.

The most unexpected piece of knowledge in this book? The origins of do re mi.
Jan 05, 2016 rated it liked it
A beautiful book visually. I wish it went a little bit further historically. It stops in the Renaissance era, taking the remainder of notation's history as a fait accompli. Certainly worth reading, but not as good as I had hoped.
Doc Kinne
Jan 04, 2015 rated it liked it
The book was nice and detailed for what it was. While musical notation was certainly an invention of the Middle Ages, and the author gives us a great amount of detail regarding that time period, he breezes past the 14th century in just 5 or so pages. I was left feeling it was worth more than that.
Nov 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Thoroughly researched and recommended for music enthusiasts.
Mills College Library
780.14809 K2986 2015
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Informative and quite readable explanation of the development of music notation - includes examples and even a CD of musical excerpts
I want to read this because of a review in the Wall Street Journal. It is supposed to be about how the system of music notation developed in the middle ages.
Rachael Mellen
Dec 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
I would LOVE to own this book! I do wish that instead of a CD, or as an alternative, you could download the accompanying tracks.
Ruth Dipple
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved it too, though in parts the maths was quite perplexing! I
learned so much from this book, and Professor Kelly's enthusiasm is infectious.
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Jun 20, 2017
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Jun 07, 2018
Kyle Hovatter
rated it it was amazing
Mar 08, 2016
Anna Craig
rated it it was amazing
Jan 03, 2018
Alex Fisher
rated it it was amazing
Oct 15, 2017
Seth Dempsey
rated it really liked it
Jan 28, 2017
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An American musicologist, musician, and scholar. He is the Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music at Harvard University.