Musical Revolutions: How the Sounds of the Western World Changed

Knopf. May 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780525658634. $30. MUSIC
Isacoff (Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization; A Natural History of the Piano) deftly underscores how every attempt to contain, suppress, or manipulate music results in new innovations and revolutions, from Franz Liszt to John Coltrane. Whether it was the development of opera in direct defiance to religious restraint or John Cage recording silence to underscore the importance of attention, musicians have always found inspiration in exceptions to the laws of art and music. Though Isacoff leaves the advent of modern musical forms (rap, rock) to other musicologists, he seamlessly contextualizes their evolution through performers such as James Reese Europe and Philippa Schuyler—uncompromising artists who challenged both musical and societal expectations.
VERDICT Much like Isacoff’s previous books, this is a sprawling narrative, intertwining history, politics, and musical biography, that’s as entertaining as it is informative. Whether readers are dedicated musicologists or casual fans, they’ll enjoy this thought-provoking dive into the history of Western music.
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