The dawn of classical music

The new episode of my online book is now online. In it, I outline changes that happened late in the 18th and early in the 19th century, in the way that music was thought about. Amazingly, maybe, from our point of view, music wasn’t considered a major art until this time. Before the concept of classical music, as we now know it, could evolve, the status of music had to change — people had to decide that it was supremely important. Which they did, thanks to many factors, ranging from romanticism, German nationalism, and Beethoven, who as the historian Peter Gay writes, was “virtually deified.”

Gay, by the way, starts The Naked Heart — the fourth volume of his series of books about the bourgeois experience from Queen Victoria to Freud — with a chapter on listening to music. It’s an invaluable, and supremely readable, source for the change from 18th to 19th century listening — from talking during musical performances to paying rapt attention. Much cited by musicologists, and absorbing reading for anyone. The book apparently is out of print, but I had no trouble getting a copy through one of the booksellers on Amazon.

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