Outstanding Academic Titles 2020: Musically inclined titles

This week's sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: books about music and composers.

This week’s sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: books about music and composers.

1. Musical illusions and phantom words: how music and speech unlock mysteries of the brain
Deutsch, Diana. Oxford, 2019

In Musical Illusions and Phantom Words, Deutsch (psychology, Univ. of California, San Diego) proves again why she is a legend in the field of music psychology. She takes readers on a fascinating journey of discovery, sharing her findings about how people perceive and comprehend music. Looking at illusions of music and speech, Deutsch shows that perceptual anomalies are more than just entertainment. These illusions provide information needed to understand the intricate complexities of the auditory system and sound perception. Readers learn that what is heard can be quite different from the actual presented sounds and why that is. Deutsch also explores the many different ways people hear music and the phenomenon of perfect pitch (absolute pitch). Adding to the enjoyment of this book are the audio modules that can be accessed on a smartphone or tablet using a QR code. Each module offers a sample of a musical or speech illusion and a brief description read by Deutsch.
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2. Rubble music: occupying the ruins of postwar Berlin, 1945–1950
Anderton, Abby. Indiana, 2019

At the end of WW II, all four victorious powers set about reviving the cultural life of Berlin. In the area of music (as in all other areas), the occupying authorities sought to eradicate the Nazi legacy and that proved to be a formidable task. Anderton (Baruch College, CUNY) writes that the composers, conductors, and performers of the old regime were eager to continue their professional careers (whatever their pasts), and the people of Berlin were eager to have the musical life of the city continue. Eventually, the occupation authorities, who found themselves competing with one another, put their denazification policies aside, and the people of Berlin were glad to have their concerts and operas—including their Beethoven and Wagner—back. Performances often took place in postwar rubble, and much of the newer music suggested as much because it was marked by a sense of depression and despair. This revival of musical life helped the people of Berlin through the suffering hundreds of Allied bombing raids caused. View on Amazon

3. Bach and Mozart: essays on the enigma of genius
Marshall, Robert Lewis. Rochester, 2019

Marshall’s long preoccupation with J. S. Bach and Mozart has yielded numerous essays, and this volume offers 15 of them, nearly all published before but reworked for this volume. The variety of interpretive perspectives Marshall (emer., Brandeis Univ.) presents is breathtaking and creates the sense that any narrower approach would simply never do. He includes considerations of style, text, social and practical matters, aesthetics, and much more. Commencing with an essay titled “Young Man Bach” and ending with an epilogue titled “Had Mozart Lived Longer,” the collection touches on nearly the full span of the 18th century. Bach is a bit more present than Mozart, but this is not surprising; as enigmatic as Mozart remains today, somehow Bach may be the more mysterious figure. Over the years Marshall has engaged the two composers as thoroughly as anyone, and he has provided a wealth of context for their achievement in such works as The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach (CH, Nov’89, 27-1457) and Mozart Speaks (1991). The present volume is no afterthought but a vivid, virtuoso collection, rife with insight and even provocation..
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4.Singing to the lyre in Renaissance Italy: memory, performance, and oral poetry
Wilson, Blake McDowell. Cambridge, 2020

Wilson (emer., Dickinson College) has written an extremely informative book on the music and performers of improvised music and poetry in Italy from the 13th to the 16th centuries. This music, which existed in the nexus between popular society and the court, has received far less attention than musica reservata, the documentary evidence of which is more prevalent given its entirely notated existence. Wilson gives attention to the most notable performers, the role of this music in society and at court, the influence of major Italian vernacular poets such as Petrarch and Dante, and the patrons and transcribers of this music. Given that this music existed primarily in oral form, this book should be of interest to ethnomusicologists as well as musicologists. There are also very interesting discussions of the role of memory in the performance of this music, and how it was represented in Renaissance literature, most notably the well-known II Cortegiano of Baldassare Castiglione.
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5Fryderyk Chopin: a life and times
Walker, Alan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018

An international celebrity during his lifetime, Chopin (1810–49) was one of the most famous 19th-century pianists, teachers of piano, and composers for piano. Walker (emer., McMaster Univ., and author of the award-winning Franz Liszt, 3v, 1983–97) explores all aspects of Chopin, including the relationship between his personality and his music. Biographical topics receiving the benefit of Walker’s meticulous, richly detailed, and sympathetic attention include Chopin’s background and training, his early romantic attachments, his rise to fame in Paris, the support of his closest circle of friends and admirers, his eight-year relationship with George Sand and her children (Solange and Maurice), and his long struggle with tuberculosis. The closing chapters on Chopin’s declining health, death, legacy, and posthumous biographical treatment are especially compelling. Walker enlivens his central biographical narrative with broad social and cultural context (including 19th-century Polish politics), thorough research on Chopin’s reception during his life and after his death, and perceptive but stinging assessments of Chopin’s detractors. Throughout, Walker traces Chopin’s development as a composer, virtuoso, and teacher through thoughtful readings of representative compositions.
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