*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Five Straight Lines: A history of music by Andrew Gant

by
26 November 2021

A gallop through music history, says Ron Corp

WHAT an enjoyable read this is. The five straight lines of the title make up the stave that has been used for notating music for centuries, but Andrew Gant quite rightly goes back into the distant past (before anything was written down) and comes right up to date, even speculating in an epilogue what the next million years might bring.

His aim is to embrace all kinds of music from Albinoni and Al Jolson, Byrd and the Byrds, and, at one point, we find Schoenberg and Charlie Parker mentioned in the same sentence. Light music, films, and shows are here, as well as a fulsome account of popular music, embracing jazz, rock ’n’ roll, and hip hop.

In the early sections, the topics appear in roughly chronological order, covering the medieval and Renaissance periods, but, inevitably, some composers are mentioned several times when Gant takes on specific art forms such as opera and symphonic music from the 17th century onwards.

As in all similar histories, Gant has to cover a huge number of composers when it comes to the 19th and 20th centuries, but he manages to give space to all the important ones.

Twentieth-century giants such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Stockhausen are given their due, and Gant mentions composers writing today, including Thomas Adès, John Adams, Brett Dean, Unsuk Chin, and Augusta Read Thomas.

Gant has an engaging style, and the joy of this history is the extra bits of information which he includes. He tells us about composers’ family lives, their affairs, and how many children they had, and along the way we hear that Haydn owned a parrot, and that Weber had a pet monkey. These little titbits help to bring the composers to life.

Gant also likes to make comparisons, not just in chapters such as the ones on Mozart and Haydn or Verdi and Wagner, but also between the output of Monteverdi and Beethoven, and certain parallels in the lives of Beethoven and Mahler. Female composers take their place, including women writing in Rome in the 17th century.

Some composers receive extensive coverage (including Domenico Scarlatti and Lully), but others less so (there is more to say about Machaut and Buxtehude, I think). Gant is rather scathing about Puccini, and analyses his operas to tell us why. I loved the reference to Liszt as being more Bowie than Beethoven: one of Gant’s neat observations in this entertaining history.
 

The Revd Ronald Corp, an assistant priest at St Alban’s, Holborn, in London, is a composer and conductor.

 

Five Straight Lines: A history of music
Andrew Gant
Profile Books £30
(978-1-78125-777-7)
Church Times Bookshop £27

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times/RSCM: 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available

 

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)