Menuhin: 'We need music'; The Music of Man, by Yehudi Menuhin and Curtis W. Davis. Toronto, New York, London and Sydney: Methuen. $24.95

For too long listeners have been dealt dry, theoretical music-appreciation "textbooks." But now comes a relatively short, colorful, and mature survey of the world's music and music- makers, written in the same popular vein as Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation" and Jacob Bronowski's "The Ascent of Man."

Much of the brightness of the narrative comes from the fact that "The Music of Man" is a converted, eight- part television series produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. More than 200 illustrations supplement the text with pictures of instruments, composers, paintings, historical events, concert halls, political leaders -- anything even slightly related to what is being discussed. And much of the stepped-up pace of television survives the transformation to print: Every page or so there are "cuts" from the more factual reporting of Curtis Davis to the personal commentary of Yehudi Menuhin.

The real value of the book derives from the aplomb of Menuhin -- one of the world's premier violinists, a part-time conductor, founder of a music academy, and commissioner of new works for his instrument. With Davis, himself a composer, Menuhin sets out to demonstrate a postulate set down in the first paragraph: "We need music, I believe, as much as we need each other." Whether the two authors succeed in proving this point is debatable, and in the long run unimportant -- because they do succeed in portraying our universal penchant for expressing feeling through our music.

For one thing, they treat non-Western music without the ethnocentricity often found in books of popular history. Though the great Western composers receive by far the most attention, Davis and Menuhin refer regularly to non-Western creators of music. Menuhin writes: ". . . the sound one people consider beautiful may not necessarily correspond to another's taste."

While theoretical lines are not strung tautly from age to age as in most music histories, "The Music of Man" does proceed chronologically and cover a wide variety of music, from the Greek "Hymn to Apollo" to the Beatles.

Most fascinating are the viewpoints about Western music shared by Menuhin the performer. His experiences on stage and with many of the chief figures of 20 th-century art and music -- both "legit" and jazz -- have chiseled some definite and stimulating ideas about where music is heading and which composers have contributed how much.

For example, Menuhin has mixed feelings about Arnold Schonberg, introducer of bold musical perspective called 12-tone composition. Although Schonberg was a brilliant composer, the violinist contends, he also encouraged a wave of composers who are preoccupied with the purely mathematical aspects of sound.

But Menuhin's skepticism about contemporary trends is balanced by a concern for the modern composer. In 1944 he commissioned Bela Bartok to write a work for solo violin, a piece he now calls "no doubt the greatest work for violin alone since Bach."

For Yehudi Menuhin, "feeling" is paramount in music -- not a surprising attitude for a man whose instrument is known for its emotional expressivity. He writes: ". . . the music of the avant-garde has moved too far in the direction of analysis, of measurement and structure, at th expense of true freedom, whereas poprock has gone overboard the other way, for pure sensual impact without adequate development. In both cases it is the finer nuance of feeling that suffers."

For the listener who is unacquainted with the breadth of man's music, "The Music of Man" will be an exciting introduction. For the performer, it has a fistful of provocative ideas.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Menuhin: 'We need music'; The Music of Man, by Yehudi Menuhin and Curtis W. Davis. Toronto, New York, London and Sydney: Methuen. $24.95
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today