The Musical Human: A History of Life on Earth

Michael Spitzer. Bloomsbury, $35 (656p) ISBN 978-1-635-57624-5
Musicologist Spitzer (A History of Emotion in Western Music) explores music as a consistent presence in the human experience in this meticulously researched work. He argues that, over time, man has become less an active participant in vocal sound, instrumentation, and body expression and more a passive listener. To bolster his position, he surveys the biblical era, tribal cultures, and the history of European empires, noting, for instance, that ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras “lectured to his disciples behind a screen so that they could hear his voice without being able to see his face.” (His disciples were called the akousmatikoi, translating to “ ‘those who hear’, and the term ‘acousmatic’ came to define the condition of musical listening in the West.”) Ancient civilizations in Africa and Australia, meanwhile, relied on vocalization, rhythm, and movement to preserve the past. As Spitzer weaves through musical developments, he points out how Beethoven’s compositions were about “life, emotion and the spirit,” and examines how cultural attitudes of the 11th century prompted a moving away from primitive sounds in Western classic music. It’s a noble if muddled effort to explain millions of years in sound and the components of it that shaped human lives then and now. This one’s for specialists only. Agent: Jonathan Gregory, Antony Harwood. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 03/29/2021
Release date: 04/13/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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