Books About Music

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Music History: Books and Resources

Welcome to the history section at BooksAboutMusic.Org. Here, music history books are listed and reviewed. Music history is a huge subject, no doubt, and there are many different periods. The history of music has a lot to offer both musicologists and performers. Moreover, it is a field also that has always attracted the general reader, especially those who enjoy listening to classical music.

These are the subcategories within this section. They have been determined according to conventional chronological principles:

Overview | Early Music | Renaissance Period | Baroque Period | Classical Period | Romantic Period | 20th Century

Music history books: Overviews

There are numerous works of literature that do not focus on a specific period within the history of music, but serve more as overviews of the subject. These tend to be more reader-friendly and less academic than those with a more sharp focus.

Books on early music

The pre-renaissance music is generally not very heavily studied at universities, but it is very interesting to read about. The developments in music indeed started long before Palestrina. This subsection lists some of the best readings about early music!

Renaissance Period

music history booksThe renaissance period is, when it comes to music, associated with polyphony, masses, motets and vocal music. Instruments were not as regularly used as during more recent periods, and the musical works most associated with the renaissance are sung à cappella.

Many books on renaissance music is about counterpoint – the study of harmonically interdependent, but melodically and rhythmically independent voices. Studying counterpoint is not just a great way of getting to know the music of Palestrina or Byrd, but will also help you decipher and interpret the music of later composers, such as Bach and Mozart.

Baroque Period

The baroque period was a time of great musical innovation. During this period, which lasted almost 150 years, genres such as the opera and oratorio grew. Musical instruments became a lot more used than during the renaissance period. Moreover, the baroque period is associated with quite constant dynamics, continuous rhythms and melodies, and the development of counterpoint into what we today know as the fugue – the most advanced form of counterpoint.

Classical Period

The classical period is associated with three great names, all part of what is today known as the First Viennese School – Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. During this period, dynamic and rhythmic elements became more flexible and less constant. The general mood of a piece could also change more directly and quickly. Moreover, the opera enjoyed great developments and the orchestras grew larger.

Romantic Period

Many people hold the romantic period as their favorite among all the classical periods. That’s understandable. During the romantic period, everything became larger. The orchestras grew bigger, the melodic leaps increased, and the emotional span contained within the works reached new levels. Moreover, new instruments such as the piccolo flute and the tuba were introduced, leading to an increase the overall range of the symphonic orchestra.

20th Century Music

During the romantic period, tonality was brought to its limits, and towards the end of the period, music suffered a small crisis. “Where to go from here?” This led to some composers turning into atonality, which is specifically associated with the Second Viennese School, and composers such as Arnold Schoenberg. Other composers looked to the past, leading to the development of neoclassical music. Apart from all that, electronic instruments were developed, and many composers of art music liked the possibility of achieving that total control over musical elements, which the electronic medium potentially offered. In short, a lot happened within music during the 20th century!

“Music history books” was published on August 2, 2012

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