Music: A Subversive History

Ted Gioia. Basic, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-1-5416-4436-6
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.)
Reviewed on : 07/30/2019
Release date: 10/15/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-5493-5
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