Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music

Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music

Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music

Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music


Here, for the first time, is a book which analyses popular music from a musical, as opposed to a sociological, biographical, or political point of view. Peter van der Merwe has made an extensive survey of Western popular music in all its forms - blues, ragtime, music hall, waltzes, marches, parlour ballads, folk music - uncovering the common musical language which unites these disparate styles. The book examines the split between `classical' and `popular' Western music in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, shedding light, in the process, on the `serious' music of the time. With a wealth of musical illustrations ranging from Strauss waltzes to Mississippi blues and from the Middle Ages to the 1920s, the author lays bare the tangled roots of the popular music of today in a book which is often provocative, always readable, and outstandingly comprehensive in its scope.


This book began in the late 1960s with an interest in what was then contemporary popular music. If I had foreseen the work this would involve me in, I would probably have abandoned the project then and there. But fortunately a blithe ignorance of the scope of the subject carried me on, digging further and further into the past, and with every spadestroke discovering even deeper roots. Eventually it was clear that all the essential features of twentieth-century popular music were already in existence by 1900, if not long before. By then the whole subject had grown so enormously that it seemed best to leave the twentieth century alone for the time being and confine myself to these origins. Hence this book.

It has certainly not been an easy book to write, and I am deeply grateful to the friends who have sustained me by their help, advice, encouragement, and patience in putting up with my clumsy attempts to explain what it was all about. More directly, I am indebted to Andrew Tracey, for his invaluable help in transcribing some of the African musical examples, David Rycroft and Gerhard Kubik, for reading the section on African music, and most of all to Richard Middleton and Paul Oliver, who, through the offices of the Oxford University Press, read through two previous drafts of the whole book. Without their advice and criticism this would certainly have been a far inferior work.

P. v.d. M.

I have taken advantageof this paperback edition to correct numerous misprints, put right a few factual errors, and make some minor changes and additions to the text. Except for these trivial alterations the book is as it was when 1 sent it off to the printers about five years ago.

Subsequent research has convinced me even more of the basic unity and continuity of nineteeth-century music. I am now less inclined than I once was to see 'parlour' and 'serious.' music as radically separate things. The real odd-men-out were the heavy Germans, whether of the Brahmsian or Wagnerian persuasion. But, since I intend to deal fully with this question in my next book. I shall say no more about it here.

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