The Triumph of Music: Composers, Musicians and their Audiences, 1700 to the Present by Tim Blanning - review by Alexander Waugh

Alexander Waugh

The Pied Piper Effect

The Triumph of Music: Composers, Musicians and their Audiences, 1700 to the Present


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 384pp £25 order from our bookshop

Music has a remarkable power over us. In their heydays, Franz Liszt and the Beatles could induce perfectly sane women to pee all over the floor simply by performing in front of them – we call these bladder malfunctions ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘Beatlemania’. Throughout history people have trembled, swooned, vomited, peed, seen visions and committed suicide or criminal offences, all under the intoxicating spell of music. A violin sonata by Beethoven once made me punch an old lady in the back of her neck. It is hardly surprising that people like St Cecilia (who, incidentally, hated music) and the burghers of Hamelin were all terrified of it. This ‘Pied Piper’ affect has been well documented, not least in Anthony Storr’s classic chronicle Music and the Mind. What Tim Blanning attempts here is a history of the political rise of the creative musician, from the days when he was a low-paid vassal working for the church or the European aristocracy, to the present age in which multi-millionaire musical superstars such as Bono, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger strut in and out of Downing Street, put pressure on G8 leaders to change the world and are invited to strum their guitars on the rooftops of our royal palaces. 

Before switching to popular music Blanning concentrates his argument on the gradual rise of the classical musician. To suit his thesis the enormous contemporary superstar ratings of John Dowland, Claudio Monteverdi and George F Handel are a little too easily set aside, but the book is so gracefully written, entertaining

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