Bad Nights at ‘The Libertine’

Keith Walker

  • Handel’s ‘Messiah’: A Celebration by Richard Luckett
    Gollancz, 258 pp, £18.99, April 1992, ISBN 0 575 05286 4
  • The Rise of Musical Classics in 18th-Century England: A Study in Canon, Ritual and Ideology by William Weber
    Oxford, 274 pp, £35.00, July 1992, ISBN 0 19 816287 1

Kwabena Nketia tells us, in his book African Music, that ‘music’ is defined in Africa through the social uses to which it is put. Some native African languages don’t have a word for music as a thing in itself (which, of course, it isn’t, looked at socially), but instead have different words for cradle-rocking-to-sounds, pounding-maize-to-sounds, music-for-hunting-to and so forth. But is there such a thing, anyway, as ‘music: a system of organised sounds which give pleasure, and obey’ – ‘obeying’ may include ‘flouting’ – ‘the conventions of its grammar’? The organisation of pop music is imperceptible to me, its grammar foreign, and its pleasures non-existent. I readily concede that this is not the experience of everyone. The phenomenon is widely-known, but doesn’t get much noticed. A woman I was talking to at a party recently thought that I was playing a complicated sort of game and simply could not believe me when I said I had never heard of, let alone heard, the particular rock group all her children were listening to.

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