Five Straight Lines – A History of Music: Preoccupied with the Western canon

A different, more selective, approach might have served Andrew Gant better

Scarlatti, Tartini, Martini, Locatelli and Lanzetta playing music together with harpsichord, violin, viol and flute. Late baroque, 17th century. Photograph:  History & Art Images via Getty Images

Scarlatti, Tartini, Martini, Locatelli and Lanzetta playing music together with harpsichord, violin, viol and flute. Late baroque, 17th century. Photograph: History & Art Images via Getty Images

Five Straight Lines, as the subtitle says, is a history of music: not just of western music but of music per se. That’s 2½ global millennia in just over 600 pages, a moderately ambitious aim, not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

Andrew Gant is based at St Peter’s College, Oxford University, where he teaches, composes and leads choirs. He sets out his stall immediately. This is a book about “the great works and the great lives”. As those unapologetic “greats” tell us, Gant’s is an old-fashioned view of music history. You don’t hear much talk of the great composers these days, what with all the baggage it has of the Romantic deification of the heroic artist.

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