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Category: Children's Books

Axel Brüggemann
Monika Horstmann

Wie Krach zu Musik wird
[How noise becomes music]


An extinction of musical knowledge within the next generation is certainly not something that needs to be feared at the present time. There are even indications that the concert audience for classical music is continuing to grow in the face of all the portents of gloom and doom. Still, any book that attempts to introduce young people to the theoretical and historical background of tones and sounds in an energetic and engaging way has to be greeted with a warm welcome. After all, when recalling their first encounter with music history, even passionate music lovers may often remember it as fairly dry and not all too inspiring – or even as ponderous and far distant from any sense of reality.

Music journalist and publicist Axel Brüggemann manages to sidestep both of these pitfalls in his latest book, From Mayhem to Music. Born in Bremen in 1971 and known for his backstage chats on the “Götz Alsmanns Nachtmusik” ZDF television broadcast, Brüggemann has already brought out multiple books on music for children and adults and developed a prizewinning classics-for-children series for the Deutsche Grammophon. With From Mayhem to Music, he presents a “slightly unconventional music history reader” intended for young readers but also suitable for adults – at least for those facing the challenges of private or professional music pedagogy and seeking the right tone in passing along their knowledge.

Brüggemann’s work reaches from the cries of Stone Age babies to Stockhausen and Cage, from Plato to gangsta rap, from the ancient bone flute to techno sounds and, of course, from Beethoven to the Beatles. His goal is to awaken interest in the “adventure of music,” and in pursuing this goal, he reaches for the tried-and-true aesthetic and linguistic means governing journalism: presenting information succinctly, pacing the narrative in a way that is moderate but does not lag, exploring the depths of the material intensively despite all brevity and employing colorful descriptions while still displaying and conveying a well-informed knowledge on the subject.

The author is aiming to address music all across the world, of course, even if the course of its centuries-long development is suggestive of a Eurocentric perspective. The individual epochs are placed under such self-evident rubrics as The sounds of God for the Middle Ages, Music in flux for the Renaissance and Baroque and The human being in music for the Classical period. Brüggemann keeps the layout of the book vivid, colorful and light while avoiding inanity, and he uses a casual tone in his references to music theory and introduction of specialized terms. One of the book’s attractive extras is its inclusion of articles written by various great artists of our time, with Daniel Baren-boim grounding the roots of the “Unspeakable” within music, Cecilia Bartoli elucidating the singing of the castrati, Nikolaus Harnoncourt discussing his search for true sound, Daniel Hope rhapsodizing about his love for the violin, Thomas Quasthoff examining the mystery of the human voice and multifaceted rock star Sting pondering the future of mu-sic.

It goes without saying that in the two hundred some pages of this broadly painted narra-tion, one aspect or another can only be granted cursory attention, and it is impossible for the book to escape all truncations and clichés. This fact occasionally leads to unintentional humor, such as when Gustav Mahler is described with the words, “He had a high forehead and suffered from hemorrhoids. Despite that, he impressed the people he met.” The book, however, seems to be designed to awaken the interest and curiosity of its readers, compelling them to read further on the subject – and especially to hear and actively listen to silence and sounds, notes and noises and the ceaselessly meandering melody of the centuries. At the very least, Axel Brügge
has found a stirringly compelling rhythm for the story he wishes to tell.

Translated by Gratia Stryker-Härtel

Book cover How noise becomes music

By Kristina Maidt-Zinke

​Kristina Maidt-Zinke is a literary and music critic for the Süddeutsche Zeitung and writes reviews for Die Zeit.