The Triumph of Music, By Tim Blanning

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The Independent Culture

In 1890, a poll revealed that, behind Queen Victoria and Bismarck, Europe's favourite figure was Johann Strauss II. Music had made it big. From his merry report of Brian May playing on the roof of Buckingham Palace at the 2002 Jubilee gig to the leaps across genres that let him discuss Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Wagner's Parsifal in the same warm breath, Blanning vaults over barriers of taste in this ambitious social history of music since 1700.

A historian rather than a critic, he alarmed the purists - deliberately. This thematic survey, from the musician as demigod (Beethoven to Clapton) to the revolutions in technology (the pianoforte to YouTube stardom), shuns league-tables of merit. Instead, with unflagging zest, it charts the ascent of music as a force for liberation, and finds Madonna's career just as remarkable as Monteverdi's.