Gert and I have had a running conversation to the side of The Professor’s incredible Gert Song of the Day project, which kept our band of jolly good fellows sane and connected through 500 days of The Pandemic. I dare say that we all learned a lot from the Professor, who knows more about pop music than anyone I’ve ever met. At one point, Gert asked if I could provide a broader summary of Baroque and Baroque Pop for him: two styles, separated by 400 years, which we both enjoy. That got me thinking about what I prize in music, other than the visceral enjoyment of a beautiful tune. And that is what I’ve always referred to as The Conversation—the influences that propel the free flow of music across time and cultures, where one artist speaks to another through this most abstract of mediums. So, to answer Gert’s question, to really answer it, I thought about taking a deeper look at how Western music evolved from basic plainchant in the 13th century to the music of today. This is the result.
I will make no pretense: These are my favorite works of music, chosen for me, by me, and for no one else (even if Gert requested/inspired the project—I will only admit to throwing in a few extra bits on the harpsichord for him). I cannot stick to the one work/album per composer/artist rule laid down by The Professor, as I intend to focus on only the most important composers/artists of their age. Of course, as I am not a professor (let alone a music professor), this is intended only to give a peak in through the window and, perhaps, a guide for further exploration.
While I may touch on key developments, in both theory and in technology, I lack the education, expertise, and frankly the time to do the subject real justice. I am largely doing this from memory, so the dates may not be entirely accurate or, where there is a dispute, take a minority position. I’m sure I will be incorrect about a ton of stuff and am happy to take revisions. I will also try to give credit to source material where I can—but note that so much credit goes to Howard Goodall’s various series on the BBC and Alex Ross’ published works, which I recommend enthusiastically and without reservation. I will endeavor to link to good articles or other things of interest, when secondary material may be helpful to explain concepts that require more robust discussion than I can do here.
This blog will be presented chronologically. Although music is broken down across periods and schools, composers have a habit of starting their careers in one age and then dying inconveniently in another, giving rise to debates about which period or school they properly belong to. Those debates will be settled here, by me, in what is unquestionably a very biased way. Please do not confuse my opinion as fact. These are all debates that are worth further study by those interested in such things.
Finally, I will link to YouTube for each of the selections, but strongly encourage you to stream these on the service of your choice. The audio quality is often compromised and, from time to time, a good recording is not available otherwise. I also note that until we get deep into the 20th century, each selection will naturally be interpreted by one or more musicians, who impose their views on the original composition. These are all great works and my selection is by no means designed to be a presentation of definitive version, even if it may be for me. Listening to multiple versions, by musicians across multiple generations, has its own rewards.