Books on Music

When you’re in my shoes and combining two great passions – writing and music – books written about music and its effects on one’s life, or in some cases even one’s mind, are fascinating reads. Here, I’ve listed a few of the most interesting, in my opinion. – EJR

By Oliver Sacks

By Oliver Sacks

From Publishers Weekly
Sacks is an unparalleled chronicler of modern medicine, and fans of his work will find much to enjoy when he turns his prodigious talent for observation to music and its relationship to the brain. The subtitle aptly frames the book as a series of medical case studies-some in-depth, some abruptly short. The tales themselves range from the relatively mundane (a song that gets stuck on a continuing loop in one’s mind) through the uncommon (Tourette’s or Parkinson’s patients whose symptoms are calmed by particular kinds of music) to the outright startling (a man struck by lightning subsequently developed a newfound passion and talent for the concert piano). In this latest collection, Sacks introduces new and fascinating characters, while also touching on the role of music in some of his classic cases (the man who mistook his wife for a hat makes a brief appearance). Though at times the narrative meanders, drawing connections through juxtaposition while leaving broader theories to be inferred by the reader, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. This book leaves one a little more attuned to the remarkable complexity of human beings, and a bit more conscious of the role of music in our lives.

By Daniel J Levitin

By Daniel J Levitin

From Publishers Weekly
Think of a song that resonates deep down in your being. Now imagine sitting down with someone who was there when the song was recorded and can tell you how that series of sounds was committed to tape, and who can also explain why that particular combination of rhythms, timbres and pitches has lodged in your memory, making your pulse race and your heart swell every time you hear it. Remarkably, Levitin does all this and more, interrogating the basic nature of hearing and of music making (this is likely the only book whose jacket sports blurbs from both Oliver Sacks and Stevie Wonder), without losing an affectionate appreciation for the songs he’s reducing to neural impulses. Levitin is the ideal guide to this material: he enjoyed a successful career as a rock musician and studio producer before turning to cognitive neuroscience, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a top researcher into how our brains interpret music. Though the book starts off a little dryly (the first chapter is a crash course in music theory), Levitin’s snappy prose and relaxed style quickly win one over and will leave readers thinking about the contents of their iPods in an entirely new way.

By Alex Ross

By Alex Ross

From Publishers Weekly
Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss’s Salome in 1906 to minimalist Steve Reich’s downtown Manhattan apartment. The wide-ranging historical material is organized in thematic essays grounded in personalities and places, in a disarmingly comprehensive style reminiscent of historian Otto Friedrich. Thus, composers who led dramatic lives—such as Shostakovich’s struggles under the Soviet regime—make for gripping reading, but Ross treats each composer with equal gravitas. The real strength of this study, however, lies in his detailed musical analysis, teasing out—in precise but readily accessible language—the notes that link Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story to Arnold Schoenberg’s avant-garde compositions or hint at a connection between Sibelius and John Coltrane. Among the many notable passages, a close reading of Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes stands out for its masterful blend of artistic and biographical insight. Readers new to classical music will quickly seek out the recordings Ross recommends, especially the works by less prominent composers, and even avid fans will find themselves hearing familiar favorites with new ears.

By Donald S. Passman

By Donald S. Passman

From Library Journal
An entertainment lawyer whose clients include many from the top of the music charts, Passman has written a book that sets out to give musicians, performers, and songwriters the tools to hire advisers, market their careers, protect their creative works, and generally cope with a complex industry in a state of flux. Passman explains boilerplate language, the complexities of royalties and advances, and label and distribution deals; a section on record deals begins with an overview of the business and works through all the steps. The “Adventures in Cyberspace” chapter is a helpful summary of the way CD-ROMs and the Internet are affecting the business. Included here is information on recent legislation and a look at how digitizing music delivery will continue to change things. Packed with illustrations, sample calculations, and definitions, All You Need To Know is humorous and accessible enough for those who just want to understand the business while being detailed and documented enough for those who make a living from it.

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