Carry a tune, musically inclined titles

1. A theory of virtual agency for Western art music
Hatten, Robert S. Indiana, 2018

One hesitates before designating a work a capstone in a career, but the present volume calls for no such reluctance. In two previous books—Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation (CH, Dec’94, 32-2050) and Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert (CH, Sep’05, 43-0216)—Hatten (Univ. of Texas, Austin) revealed his special perspective, which is informed by immersion in semiotics but propelled, and transformed, by the search for meaning that is as old as human consciousness. The present volume extends the prior work in surprising ways as it introduces a theory of music—subtle, thorough, and consistent—predicated on notions of virtuality, subjectivity, and agency, among other things.
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2. Musical emotions explained: unlocking the secrets of musical affect
Juslin, Patrik N. Oxford, 2019

The premise (and indeed the title) of this book would seem presumptuous were Juslin (psychology, Uppsala Univ., Sweden) not known as a significant and productive researcher. So rather than presumptuous, the book is ambitious and perhaps even audacious. Certainly it describes the current state of knowledge concerning emotion in music, but that is only the starting line. Juslin connects music and emotion to all manner of other human processes (e.g., learning, memory, perception) and, most strikingly, to aesthetics. The author’s direct engagement with aesthetic judgment helps lift the book from something like an impressive compendium (a list of references runs 45 pages) to something much grander and more important.
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3. Music as an art
Scruton, Roger. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018

Scruton (Univ. of Buckingham, UK) is on a mission in this book: to save Western classical music from neglect. He pursues this aim by championing the value of the history and culture that give form to and are preserved by Western classical music. Many of the views Scruton articulated in his earlier works, Understanding Music (CH, Oct’10, 48-0794) and The Aesthetics of Music (CH, Nov’98, 36-1502), are redeployed here, to steadfastly caution against the resistance of young listeners to musical works that require sustained attention to meaning extracted from an original musical impulse over an extended time. What is valuable about Western classical music, Scruton thinks, is discovered and sustained by that attention. It may be that those most in need of this caution will not have the “chops” to follow the argument, which depends on informed references to the Western classical canon.
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4. The sound of a superpower: musical Americanism and the Cold War
Ansari, Emily Abrams. Oxford, 2018

What makes American music American? Ansari (music history, Western Univ., London, Ontario) probes this question as she examines the careers of six 20th-century composers—Howard Hanson, William Schuman, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein. She focuses on the years of WW II and the ensuing Cold War. During this period, European-based serialism and experimentalism competed against American-based tonality, resulting in a polarization of musical choices. Ansari looks at how the composers responded to the social and political changes in this period. Some joined US government-based programs to publicize American music abroad (at times with clandestine CIA support). Some participated in political movements questioning US actions at home and abroad. Here they got caught up in the hysteria of the Red Scare and investigations by US congressional committees.
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5. Future sounds: the temporality of noise
Kennedy, Stephen. Bloomsbury Academic, 2018

In Future Sounds, Kennedy (communication and media, Univ. of Greenwich, UK) seeks to find what can be learned from the relationship of sound and time. He explores that interconnection both within a single moment and in multidimensional movement into the future. In the introduction, Kennedy quotes an essay on Gaston Bachelard by Hashizumi Keiko, who wrote that “melody teaches us what duration is like.” Kennedy posits that if that is the case, “then noise teaches us what the continuous discontinuity of digital time is like.” As his book unfolds, Kennedy shows readers the intricate political, societal, and cultural connections between the constructs of time, space, and sound.
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