Hit me with your best music macrohistories!
December 28, 2013 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Trying to find the perfect book to scratch a partner's literary itch for macrohistories related in some way to music. Details within.

He has a yen for a good solid macrohistory book related in some way to music - music theory, music history, whatever. Something like "How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care" except that he's already read (and loved) that. He'd like something on a larger timescale than just the history of a particular musical movement over a decade or two - preferably on the order of centuries.

Could be about a style of music, an instrument, a music theory concept, sound engineering, whatever. He's a musician and recording engineer himself, so a pretty wide range of topics are up his alley.

Bonus points if it's available for Kindle, but it doesn't have to be.
posted by Stacey to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross is wide-ranging and immensely entertaining. I haven't even listened to most of the music he references, but I loved it.
posted by Jeanne at 9:17 AM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look into the 33 1/3 books. Most of them cover a single popular music album and the context of its production. It's light and fun reading about popular music.

I haven't read "The Rest is Noise", but I've heard good things about it (from a friend who studied musicology — fwiw). His New Yorker articles are also always entertaining !
posted by agregoire at 9:46 AM on December 28, 2013

Best answer: If you have the money and the time, Taruksin's 5-volume Oxford History of Western Music is about as macro as it gets. I read the whole thing and it's interesting all the way through.

If you're okay with just one century, Gioia's History of Jazz is excellent.

Both of these manage to turn a lot of history into a interesting narrative.

The Rest is Noise is great too.
posted by dfan at 10:11 AM on December 28, 2013

Best answer: Musica Practica by Michael Chanan, and his Repeated Takes is an equally great treatise on the influence of recording on music.
posted by rhizome at 12:16 PM on December 28, 2013

Best answer: These three books Craig Schuftan, explore the links between Romanticism and Rock and Roll, the rise and fall of 90s Alt-Rock, and modern music's links to modern art.
posted by robotot at 2:24 PM on December 28, 2013

Seconding the Alex Ross book mentioned above. It's wonderful.
posted by wittgenstein at 4:07 PM on December 28, 2013

Best answer: The Rest Is Noise is great, but it's mostly a modified collection of essays that Ross had already written for The New Yorker, which means it doesn't quite hang together as a macrohistory so much as a scattered (though fascinating and informative and often brilliant) set of articles that somewhat come together as a history of 20th century music, as long as you don't mind odd diversions like the chapter on Sibelius and the perfunctory feel of the last couple of chapters that take you past the 1960s. Not that there's anything wrong with that, really, just noting the book reads at least as much like a hodgepodge collection of essays as it does a true macrohistory.

There's tons of great stuff in it, though; it's well-written and really changed the way I thought about music, and I recommend it to your partner, for sure.
posted by mediareport at 5:00 PM on December 28, 2013

Best answer: Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History by Arthur Loesser
How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music by Elijah Wald

(links to Kindle editions)
posted by in278s at 7:13 AM on December 29, 2013

Best answer: These are a little off-beat/philosophical but fun:
The Ambient Century (Prendergast)
Lipstick Traces (Marcus)
Musicking (Small)
Noise (Attali)
The Tuning of the World (Schafer)

I'd second the recommendation of How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll. Taruskin's history is the sort of thing you'd read in an undergrad survey, but it's all around excellent and very readable. Hitchcock's Music in the United States is a nice volume that gets you from the colonial era to present day.
posted by rhymes with carrots at 10:14 AM on December 29, 2013

Best answer: Here's an N+1 review for Sound in Z: Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th Century Russia by Andrey Smirnov. I've only read this fascinating appraisal of the history covered, but it's on my wishlist. The description of an ensemble piece covering an entire Russian city with hundreds of vocalists, a segment of their navy firing their cannons on command, semaphore as a conducting medium... Wow.

It's not "on the order of centuries," but the effects of the work described almost fit the bill.

Joachim-Ernst Berendt's, Nada Brahma, The World Is Sound, and The Third Ear, cover music, but also 'sound' as a concept/object of scientific inquiry. This series inspired me to explore some very far reaches of what we think of as music and I keep noticing them on the shelves of lots of improvisors around the world.
posted by artof.mulata at 11:17 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think this is the N+1 review that artof.mulata meant to link. The book looks great.

Also, this overview of the history of opera is really good. It's a big coffee-table book that's full of both great pictures and smart info about the evolution of the genre and its relation to various social and political forces. It's a well-written and very informative intro if your partner has any interest in learning about opera. I liked it a lot, anyway.
posted by mediareport at 9:53 AM on December 30, 2013

Thank you, mediareport. So sorry to everyone else!
posted by artof.mulata at 6:10 PM on December 30, 2013

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