Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thoughts for a history of classical music

So the suggestion that participants on the message board should create a collective music blog prompts me to wonder about what I might contribute. Inevitably, grandiose schemes push small practical ideas out of the way. But which folly to embrace? Certainly it has to involve recommending recordings, but I run the risk of just repeating the Penguin Guide and similar publications. I want the recommendations to be pointers rather than definitive "best recordings", but what exactly would they be pointing to? Perhaps this could be aimed at the novice, or those with idle curiosity about music they've never heard before.
So it's some sort of Classical Music 101, but how to organise it? As I look at my shelves I see I have two kinds of books for exploring: CD guides, and histories or encyclopedias of music. What I don't have is something that combines the two. Well, I do have one book: the slightly oddly titled Music and Western Man, which arose from a series of radio programmes produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1955. The book comprises 49 chapters over about 320 pages, a chronology of music that begins with a pair of hymns to Apollo and ends with Shostakovich's tenth symphony; each chapter corresponds to the contents of each programme, with - and this is the crucial bit from my point of view - references to the recordings played.
The idea, then, is some kind of history of classical music - although reading the introduction to Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music I am admonished that it would be a mere survey, not an actual history - with plenty of appropriate suggestions for recordings. Because the medium is a blog, it can be done in a modular fashion, going as specific or as broad as I feel the need at any point. So part 1 could be chant, part 2 Hildegard of Bingen, part 3 the troubadours, and so on. The text doesn't have to be too detailed - why compete with Wikipedia? Each bit would come with maybe five or six suggestions for recordings, drawn either from my own ideas or from other sources. Perhaps there could even be an 8tracks mix.
Now to the drawing board.

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