Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture by William Benzon

Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture by William Benzon newly listed for sale on the fantastic BookLovers of Bath web site!

Published: Basic Books, 2001, Hardback in dust wrapper.

From the cover: Why does the brain create music? What is it about certain abstract patterns of sound that makes us want to dance? Why do songs that we think of as simple, even trite, sometimes convey deep emotional power?

We tend to think of the arts as luxuries rather than necessities, and as inventions of society rather than evolution. Yet the origin of musical ability was a turning point in the evolution of modern humans. Every culture, without exception, has some form of music. Is it really a luxury or does it answer some basic biological need? If so, what? In Beethovens Anvil, William Benzon takes up the fascinating and unexplored link between music and the brain. Among early humans, he says, there was no distinction between music, dance, ritual and religion they were all part of the same activity, and this activity used every part of the conscious brain. Language, movement, vision, emotion, hearing, touch and social interaction were all involved. In fact, Benzon argues, music is necessary precisely because it engages so many different parts of the brain. It literally keeps the brain in tune with itself and with the brains of others. The ultimate form of musical experience is that feeling of oneness with a larger entity mat we identify as transcendant religious experience. We feel this way because thats precisely what the brain is doing: becoming one with a larger unit, the human tribe.

Beethovens Anvil takes us inside modern and ancient performances and rituals to show how the musical linking of brains explains things we commonly (and not-so-commonly) experience. Benzon shows us a rehearsal where mysterious tones that no one is playing seem to emerge from die ceiling, but only when the musicians feel they are in a groove. Everyone present hears these tones but are they an acoustic phenomenon or a mental one? He explores how Leonard Bernstein knew hed given a good performance when, after it was over, he felt he hadnt just performed a piece but written it; and how performers as different as Earl Fatha Hines and Vladimir Horowitz felt they stopped being human onstage but became something like racehorses. Benzon uses remarkable insights from brain science and anthropology to investigate musical styles ranging from Gregorian chant to hip-hop; discovers a childrens song in a Louis Armstrong solo and finds that it may date to before the Crusades; explains rock musics merging of African and European musical forms in evolutionary terms; and reveals the similarity between decision-making in a baboon troop and the final movement of Beethovens Ninth Symphony.

Beethovens Anvil is an extraordinary book about a profound influence shaping human minds and cultures. Both daring and impeccably scholarly, it offers a sweeping new vision of a vital, familiar and yet poorly understood force in our lives.

Very Good in Very Good Dust Wrapper. Very small nick to dust wrapper at the head of the spine. Small personal book stamp to the first blank and dedication leaf. Text complete, clean and tight otherwise.

Brown Spine Strip with Cream boards with Gilt titling to the Spine. [XVI] 336 pages. Index. Bibliography. 9½” x 6¼”.

Of course, if you don’t like this one, may I tempt with you something from here?

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