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Palgrave Macmillan


Melody, Harmony and Rhythm in the Modern World

  • Book
  • © 2021


  • Analyzes a unique segment of culture--music theory--to create a novel avenue of cultural study
  • Argues the symbiotic relationship of society and music with tangible historical support
  • Examines four hundred years of diverse music with straightforward theory and language

Part of the book series: Critical Political Theory and Radical Practice (CPTRP)

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Table of contents (5 chapters)


About this book

This book argues that the need for music, and the ability to produce and enjoy it, is an essential element in human nature. Every society in history has produced some characteristic style of music. Music, like the other arts, tells us truths about the world through its impact on our emotional life. There is a structural correspondence between society and music. The emergence of 'modern art music' and its stylistic changes since the rise of capitalist social relations reflect the development of capitalist society since the decline of European feudalism. The leading composers of the different eras expressed in music the aspirations of the dominant or aspiring social classes. Changes in musical style not only reflect but in turn help to shape changes in society. This book analyses the stylistic changes in music from the emergence of ‘tonality’ in the late seventeenth century until the Second World War.


“In a bold, highly schematic attempt to reinterpret the history of ‘classical’ music, its composers and their works as embodying the ever-shifting sociopolitical trends of the times, Sagall leads us from the dominant aristocracy of the Baroque era through the rising industrial bourgeoisie that endorsed the rebellious ‘Romanticism’ of Beethoven and his successors to the fractured capitalism of 20th century atonalism and beyond.” —Daniel Snowman, author of A Social History of Opera

“Sabby Sagall provides an illuminating analysis of the social and political background to classical music, an approach that helps deepen our understanding of how music works and enhances our appreciation of its magic.” — Jocelyn Pook, British Composer Award 2003, Olivier Award 2008, BAFTA music winner 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • London, UK

    Sabby Sagall

About the author

Sabby Sagall is a former Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of East London, UK. He writes regularly for the Socialist Review and Socialist Worker, and is the author of Final Solutions: Human Nature, Capitalism, and Genocide (2013).

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