Mikael Lind's Reviews > Music: A Very Short Introduction

Music by Nicholas Cook
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's review
Jul 19, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: art, music, philosophy

It is important to have one thing in mind before buying/borrowing this book: If you want a book about music that will teach you about notation, scales, chords or sound frequencies, then stay away from this one. This book is about music in context, and also about music and philosophy (and, to my delight, music and language) and whether you actually can listen to music in a context-free fashion at all. There is an unfortunate confusion (albeit kind of small) with the views of the earlier and the later Wittgenstein, but apart from that the author poses interesting questions about music and representation. (What does music represent? Does music represent something by nature, or does our language used to describe the music also illuminate a certain representation?)
I would have enjoyed a broader spectrum of composers taken into account in this book, as well as some more thoughts on not only modern musicology but also on musical styles (minimalism, serialism, spectral music and so on). There is a lot about Beethoven here. A lot of it is interesting, and I like how the author investigates the social construct of the imagined composer genius that receives musical pieces from above and doesn't have to edit an already finished product (Beethoven were repeatedly revising his musical scores, and composed music by the piano and not only at the desk), but towards the end of the book I would have enjoyed a few words about Glass, Pärt, Feldman, Cage or other important composers. The book gets a bit repetitive; Cook has some important things to say about music and context but I think he shouldn't have done it so much at length for this series. A broader approach would be more in style with the other Very Short Introduction books. (Maybe he wrote the book for other purposes, and then sold it to this Oxford series, but my opinion still stands since I believe the book would have been even more interesting had it been more diverese.)
All in all, still, this is a thought-provoking little book that you should read if you are interesting in music, philosophy and social relations.
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