A FINANCIAL TIMES SUMMER BOOK OF 2021 PICK
A RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK
'Full of delightful nuggets' Guardian online
'Entertaining, informative and philosphical ... An essential read' All About History
'Extraordinary range ... All the world and more is here' Evening Standard
165 million years ago saw the birth of rhythm.
66 million years ago came the first melody.
40 thousand years ago Homo sapiens created the first musical instrument.
Today music fills our lives. How we have created, performed and listened to this music throughout history has defined what our species is and how we understand who we are. Yet music is an overlooked part of our origin story.
The Musical Human takes us on an exhilarating journey across the ages – from Bach to BTS and back – to explore the vibrant relationship between music and the human species. With insights from a wealth of disciplines, world-leading musicologist Michael Spitzer renders a global history of music on the widest possible canvas, looking at music in our everyday lives; music in world history; and music in evolution, from insects to apes, humans to AI.
'Michael Spitzer has pulled off the impossible: a Guns, Germs and Steel for music' Daniel Levitin
'A thrilling exploration of what music has meant and means to humankind' Ian Bostridge
Musicologist Spitzer (A History of Emotion in Western Music) explores music as a consistent presence in the human experience in this meticulously researched work. He argues that, over time, man has become less an active participant in vocal sound, instrumentation, and body expression and more a passive listener. To bolster his position, he surveys the biblical era, tribal cultures, and the history of European empires, noting, for instance, that ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras "lectured to his disciples behind a screen so that they could hear his voice without being able to see his face." (His disciples were called the akousmatikoi, translating to " those who hear', and the term acousmatic' came to define the condition of musical listening in the West.") Ancient civilizations in Africa and Australia, meanwhile, relied on vocalization, rhythm, and movement to preserve the past. As Spitzer weaves through musical developments, he points out how Beethoven's compositions were about "life, emotion and the spirit," and examines how cultural attitudes of the 11th century prompted a moving away from primitive sounds in Western classic music. It's a noble if muddled effort to explain millions of years in sound and the components of it that shaped human lives then and now. This one's for specialists only.