The Triumph of Music: The Rise of Composers, Musicians, and Their Art

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A distinguished historian chronicles the rise of music and musicians in the West from lowly balladeers to masters employed by fickle patrons, to the great composers of genius, to today’s rock stars. How, he asks, did music progress from subordinate status to its present position of supremacy among the creative arts? Mozart was literally booted out of the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg “with a kick to my arse,” as he expressed it. Yet, less than a hundred years later, Europe’s most powerful ruler—Emperor William I of Germany—paid homage to Wagner by traveling to Bayreuth to attend the debut of The Ring. Today Bono, who was touted as the next president of the World Bank in 2006, travels the world, advising politicians—and they seem to listen.

The path to fame and independence began when new instruments allowed musicians to showcase their creativity, and music publishing allowed masterworks to be performed widely in concert halls erected to accommodate growing public interest. No longer merely an instrument to celebrate the greater glory of a reigning sovereign or Supreme Being, music was, by the nineteenth century, to be worshipped in its own right. In the twentieth century, new technological, social, and spatial forces combined to make music ever more popular and ubiquitous.

In a concluding chapter, Tim Blanning considers music in conjunction with nationalism, race, and sex. Although not always in step, music, society, and politics, he shows, march in the same direction.

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Editorial Reviews

This isn't a history of music but a work connecting music to politics and culture to show how it becomes integral to the souls of specific nations and groups. Music, it implies, will remain when other arts fade away.
— Alan Hirsch
The Triumph of Music bulges with interesting facts and factoids...Blanning's is a more-often-than-not fascinating and impassioned book.
— Peter Jacobi
New Criterion
The Triumph of Music succeeds in its goal of describing music as an instrument of cultural and political change...Perhaps the most interesting chapter of The Triumph of Music is the one concerning music's mobilizing and liberating power in politics and culture. Blanning elegantly describes music's influential role in the rise of nationalism...The Triumph of Music is certainly topical--in both senses of the word. It succeeds as cultural history and has the added attraction of being full of good stories told in an amusingly irreverent style.
— James Penrose
New Leader
The book is full of illuminating, often surprising and usually arresting details, as well as some excellent illustrations. If you would like to know why Louis XIV built Versailles and how he made it the center of the universe, why brass bands became the excitement of the working class, and how melody could inspire and even create nations, you will find riches in these pages.
— Elaine Sisman
New York Times Book Review
Very entertaining...[Blanning] makes [his case] with grace, humor and a mountain of fascinating detail.
— Peter Keepnews
Times Literary Supplement
The position of musicians in society and the mechanisms by which they reach their audiences are explored in fascinating depth. The book is not about music itself, but about its creators and consumers. Blanning evokes the life of the eighteenth-century musician with marvelous clarity; Haydn is particularly well treated, and the shifting status of musicians in the revolutionary period is held under the historian's sharp gaze. As a social history of music in the period from Bach to Wagner, the book is penetrating and richly documented. There are fascinating nuggets of information throughout, illuminating but not detracting from the chronicle of musicians and the responses of audiences, politicians, and critics.
— Hugh MacDonald
Library Journal

Drawing on examples ranging across the last four centuries, Blanning (modern European history, Cambridge Univ.; The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815) traces the path of music from its place as servant to its current position of supremacy over all other arts in terms of status, influence, and material rewards. The author intermixes popular and classical music and musicians, jumping back and forth from one era to another, from the concert hall to the iPod, to demonstrate how music has reinforced various social and political agendas. Blanning assembles an impressive set of arguments to support his thesis, organized under the broad categories of "Status," "Purpose," "Places and Spaces," "Technology," and "Liberation." This is not intended to be a history of music; it is a brilliantly written history of the steady growth of the power of music and its performers. Highly recommended.
—Timothy J. McGee

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674031043
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2008
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Blanning is Professor of Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and the author of The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648–1815.

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction

  • 1. Status: ‘You Are a God-Man, the True Artist by God’s Grace’
  • The Musician as Slave and Servant

  • Handel, Haydn and the Liberation of the Musician

  • Mozart, Beethoven and the Perils of the Public Sphere

  • Rossini, Paganini, Liszt—the Musician as Charismatic Hero

  • Richard Wagner and the Apotheosis of the Musician

  • The Triumph of the Musician in the Modern World

  • 2. Purpose: ‘The Most Romantic of All the Arts’
  • Louis XIV and the Assertion of Power

  • Opera and the Representation of Social Status

  • Bach, Handel and the Worship of God

  • Concerts and the Public Sphere

  • The Secularisation of Society, the Sacralisation of Music

  • The Romantic Revolution

  • Beethoven as Hero and Genius

  • Problems with the Public

  • Wagner and Bayreuth

  • The Invention of Classical Music

  • Jazz and Romanticism

  • Rock and Romanticism

  • 3. Places and Spaces: From Palace to Stadium
  • Churches and Opera Houses

  • Concerts in Pubs and Palaces

  • Concert Halls and the Sacralisation of Music

  • Temples for Music

  • Two Ways of Elevating Music—Bayreuth and Paris

  • The Democratisation of Musical Space

  • Places and Spaces for the Masses

  • 4. Technology: From Stradivarius to Stratocaster
  • Musical Gas and Other Inventions

  • Pianos for the Middle Classes

  • Valves, Keys and Saxophones

  • Recording

  • Radio and Television

  • The Electrification of Youth Culture

  • The Triumph of Technology

  • 5. Liberation: Nation, People, Sex
  • National Pride and Prejudice

  • Rule Britannia? Aux Armes, Citoyens!

  • Liberation in Italy

  • Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles, Especially on the Rhine

  • From the Woods and Fields of Bohemia

  • A Life for the Tsar

  • Race and Music

  • Sex

  • Conclusion

  • Chronology

  • Further Reading

  • Notes

  • Illustrations Credits

  • Index

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