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Gift Giving the Sixth

December 5, 2010

Last week I was entirely stumped over what I should be asking for this Holiday season.  I’m personally privileged enough that when something new comes out, if I’m interested in it, I generally go ahead and get it.  So, I generally have to make up stuff I don’t really want, or things that are a few years old that I forgot I wanted a long time ago.  I also find the idea of requesting things from other people generally weird, so I don’t put very much effort into it.  Anyway, I figured I’d feature a handful of things that I think are pretty cool but not the newest or hottest things that you would find on any featured gift list.  They’ll also all be radio and music related, maybe.

Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence has shaped my thinking in a sort of way few books have.  This text is a history of all of Western Culture and manages to give a broad overview and examine certain moments with specificity.  More important than a simple listing of dates and occurrences, Jacques Barzun traces the evolution of ideas from Martin Luther’s time to the end of the 20th Century.

Considering how certain cultural ideas made their way into the musical minds we still examine today was endlessly fascinating to me.  It was also interesting to consider moments when music influenced other mediums versus when music followed the lead of other cultural trailblazers.

The book’s tone takes an interesting turn coming out of World War I where Barzun begins to lament the death of Western Culture, or at least the end of the Romantic idealism that he seems to consider the height of our society.  He did write a biography on Berlioz after all.  Still, his disgust with the destructive aesthetics that first appeared in response to World War 1 makes for a hard hitting criticism of today.

The book took me a solid amount of time to read, but one of the best features of the best features within the book is a sort of old-school hyper linking.  Ideas presented another time in earlier or future parts of the book are indicated with page numbers within paragraphs to alert the reader.  Along with a solid glossary and a well organized set of themes that are regularly alluded to, the book can be read over time or even used as a sort of reference.  I definitely recommend it for anyone interesting in getting a broader view of how classical music fits into our Western Culture.



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