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If you’re looking for a thought-provoking analysis of the interplay between music and Western civilization, “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization” is an audiobook that’s well worth checking out. This comprehensive review explores the impact of temperament on Western music and discusses the controversies that shaped the landscape of musical composition. With in-depth analysis and engaging narration, this audiobook is a must-listen for anyone interested in the history of Western music and its connection to broader cultural, philosophical, and scientific themes. In this review, we’ll provide background on the author, give an overview of the audiobook, evaluate the narration and production quality, and offer our final thoughts.

Introduction to “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization”

The audiobook “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization” provides a thorough analysis of the interplay between music and Western civilization. In this audiobook, the concept of temperament and its impact on music is explored in detail.

Temperament refers to the tuning system used in music, and this audiobook is a comprehensive study of its historical, cultural, and philosophical aspects. By understanding the debates and controversies that shaped Western music and the great minds that clashed over its various manifestations, the listener gains a deeper appreciation and understanding of Western music.

Through exploring the history of Western music, the audiobook sheds light on the evolution of Western musical composition and the influences that have shaped it over time. With its focus on Western civilization, the audiobook provides a unique perspective on this topic, which sets it apart from other music-related audiobooks.

Author’s Background and Expertise

“Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization” has been authored by Stuart Isacoff, an American pianist, writer, and educator. He is an acclaimed music writer with expertise in the history of Western classical music, jazz, and popular music. Isacoff is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other leading publications.

Isacoff holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in music from City College and Hunter College, respectively. He has authored several books on music, including “A Natural History of the Piano,” “When the World Stopped to Listen,” and “The Romantic Generation.” His books have received critical acclaim and have been translated into many languages.

As an educator, Isacoff served as the founder and director of the “Young People’s Piano Program” at the 92nd Street Y in New York City for over two decades. He is also a faculty member at the Purchase College Conservatory of Music, where he teaches piano and music history.

Isacoff’s background and expertise make him a valuable authority on the subject matter of “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization.” His in-depth knowledge of the history of Western classical music and his ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible way make this audiobook a must-listen for anyone interested in the intersection of music and Western civilization.

A Brief Overview of Western Music History

The history of Western music spans over a millennium and is marked by distinct periods characterized by different styles, composers, and cultural influences. From the Middle Ages to the modern era, Western music has undergone numerous transformations, driven by technological advancements, changing social structures, and artistic movements.

The earliest form of Western music can be traced back to the medieval period, which lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. This era was characterized by the development of Gregorian chant, a form of monophonic music that was used in religious ceremonies. During the Renaissance period in the 15th and 16th centuries, polyphonic music emerged, with composers such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and William Byrd creating complex harmonies with multiple voices.

The Baroque period spanning from the 17th to the early 18th century was marked by elaborate ornamentation, intricate melodies, and the development of opera. This era saw the emergence of major composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi.

The Classical period in the mid to late 18th century saw a shift towards clarity, balance, and symmetry in music, with prominent composers including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn. The Romantic period spanning from the late 18th century to the early 20th century was characterized by a focus on emotional expression, imagination, and individuality, with composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, and Johannes Brahms.

The 20th century saw the emergence of modern music characterized by experimentation, innovation, and a break from traditional tonality. This era saw a diverse range of styles and genres including jazz, blues, rock, electronic music, and avant-garde music.

Table 1: Major Periods of Western Music History

Period Timeframe Key Composers
Medieval 5th-15th century Hildegard von Bingen, Guillaume de Machaut
Renaissance 15th-16th century Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, William Byrd
Baroque 17th-18th century Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi
Classical mid-18th to early 19th century Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven
Romantic late 18th century to early 20th century Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms
Modern 20th century onwards Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, John Cage, Philip Glass

Table 1 highlights the major periods of Western music history, their respective timeframes, and the key composers associated with each period. While this is not an exhaustive list, it provides a comprehensive overview of the major developments and transitions in Western music over time.

The Concept of Temperament in Music

Temperament refers to the tuning systems and harmonies used in Western music that have evolved over time. It is a concept that has been hotly debated by great minds in Western civilization who have explored its implications for musical composition.

The development of temperament can be traced back to ancient times, where the Greeks and other civilizations relied on simple tuning techniques based on the natural harmonics of a musical instrument. However, as music theory and composition became more complex, so did the need for more precise tuning systems.

The advent of the keyboard instrument in the 14th century marked a turning point in the development of temperament, as the ability to play in all keys required equal temperament – a system that divides musical intervals equally, regardless of key. This, in turn, led to debates about the impact of equal temperament on the aesthetics and musical expression of Western music.

Today, the concept of temperament continues to evolve, with musicians and composers exploring new tuning systems and harmonies that challenge conventional understanding. It is a dynamic area of music theory that has played a significant role in shaping the landscape of Western music.

Controversies Surrounding Musical Temperament

Throughout history, musical temperament has been a hotly debated topic among Western musicians and theorists. One of the primary controversies surrounding it is the differing tuning systems, which has caused significant disagreements among composers and performers alike. For instance, during the Renaissance period, there was a heated dispute between proponents of meantone temperament and those who favored equal temperament. The former was more commonly used for choral and vocal music, while the latter was more appropriate for instruments.

Another source of controversy is the clash between theory and practice, particularly concerning the ideal ratios and intervals that define musical harmony. Critics argue that some theoretical constructs of temperament can have a detrimental effect on the expressive capabilities of performers, ultimately negatively affecting the artistic merit of musical performances.

Besides, the influence of cultural and historical factors on musical temperament is also a significant issue. The author of “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization” explores how religious and philosophical beliefs, political tensions, and cultural shifts have all impacted the development of temperament in Western music.

The controversies surrounding musical temperament offer a rich and nuanced insight into the Western musical tradition and provide a compelling backdrop to understand the various debates that have shaped it over the centuries.

Impact on Western Musical Composition

Impact on Western Musical Composition

The concept of temperament has had a significant impact on Western musical composition, influencing the development and evolution of harmonies, scales, and structures in music. The use of different tuning systems and the exploration of new tonal possibilities has allowed for greater creativity and experimentation in musical composition.

During the Renaissance, the advent of tempered tuning allowed for the creation of chords and intervals that were previously impossible. This led to the development of new harmonic systems and the emergence of contemporary tonality. In the Baroque era, composers such as Bach and Handel utilized tempered tuning to create complex structures and intricate counterpoint in their music.

In the Classical era, the use of equal temperament allowed for greater modulation and a wider range of tonal possibilities. Composers such as Mozart and Beethoven experimented with new harmonic structures and expanded the use of dissonance in their works.

With the emergence of the Romantic era, the exploration of new tonal possibilities and the use of chromaticism became more prevalent in music. Composers such as Chopin and Liszt incorporated complex harmonies and tonal structures into their works, pushing the boundaries of traditional Western musical composition.

The impact of temperament on Western musical composition cannot be underestimated, as it has allowed for greater creativity and innovation in music. Through the exploration of new tuning systems and tonal possibilities, composers have been able to create works of great beauty and complexity that continue to inspire and captivate audiences today.

The Great Minds and their Interpretations

Throughout Western music history, numerous great minds have engaged in heated debates about the implications of temperament on music. Their diverse interpretations have led to significant developments and controversies in musical theory and practice.


Ptolemy, the ancient Greek mathematician, believed that the universe was made up of perfectly harmonious sounds. His interpretation of temperament, as described in his book “Harmonics,” focused on mathematically justifying musical intervals. He proposed the use of a seven-note scale, which later became known as the Pythagorean scale.

Galileo Galilei

In the 17th century, Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei experimented with tuning systems and introduced the concept of equal temperament. Unlike Ptolemy, Galileo believed that musical intervals should not be based on mathematical ratios, but should be adjusted to be equally spaced. His approach gradually gained acceptance and is now the standard tuning system used in Western music.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the most influential composers of the Baroque era, was a proponent of well temperament. He believed that equal temperament compromised the purity of individual keys and advocated for tuning systems that allowed for flexibility and expressiveness in musical composition.

The interpretations of these great minds in Western music history have had a profound impact on the development and understanding of musical temperament. Their innovative ideas and approaches continue to shape the way music is composed and appreciated today.

Cultural and Societal Influences on Temperament

The concept of temperament in music has been shaped and influenced by various cultural and societal factors throughout Western civilization. From religious beliefs to scientific advancements, the understanding and implementation of temperament in music have been subject to the prevailing ideas and values of different historical periods.

One major influence on the concept of temperament has been religion. In the Middle Ages, for example, the religious doctrine of Pythagoreanism played a significant role in shaping the understanding of musical intervals and harmony. Pythagoreans believed that everything in the universe was governed by numerical relationships, and musical intervals were no exception. This belief influenced the tuning systems used in Western music for centuries.

The scientific developments of the Renaissance era also had a significant impact on temperament. The emergence of new scientific ideas surrounding sound and acoustics led to the exploration and refinement of different tuning systems, including just intonation and meantone temperament.

During the Enlightenment period, philosophical and political values influenced the understanding of temperament in music. The concept of universal harmony, for example, was tied to the idea of a rational and orderly society, and the tuning systems used in music were reflective of this belief.

Furthermore, societal factors such as the rise of the middle class and changing musical tastes also influenced the concept of temperament. As music became more accessible to the masses, musical compositions began to reflect the values and preferences of a broader audience, leading to new harmonies and structures.

In conclusion, cultural and societal influences have played a significant role in shaping the understanding and implementation of temperament in music throughout Western civilization. From the religious beliefs of the Middle Ages to the political and philosophical values of the Enlightenment era, the interplay between temperament and society reflects a complex and dynamic relationship between music and culture.

Contemporary Perspectives on Temperament

contemporary perspectives on temperament

As with all musical concepts, temperament has evolved and adapted over time. In the modern era, electronic tuning systems have enabled unparalleled precision, allowing for the creation of new harmonic and melodic possibilities that were previously unattainable. The rise of minimalism and microtonal music has also challenged traditional notions of temperament, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in musical composition.

Technological advancements aside, changing musical trends have also impacted contemporary perspectives on temperament. The integration of world music styles and the growing popularity of non-Western scales and harmonies has led to new approaches to temperament that draw on a wider range of cultural influences.

Furthermore, cultural and societal shifts have also influenced modern interpretations of temperament. With the advent of postmodernism and the rejection of grand narratives, individual interpretation and subjective experience have become increasingly valued in musical discourse. This has led many contemporary musicians and composers to approach temperament from a more individual and experiential perspective, as opposed to adhering to traditional theoretical or historical approaches.

Overall, contemporary perspectives on temperament in music are characterized by a multi-faceted and ever-evolving understanding of its significance. As music continues to evolve and adapt to new cultural, societal, and technological contexts, it is likely that our understanding of temperament will continue to shift and expand in new and unexpected ways.

Narration and Production Quality of the Audiobook

As important as the content itself, the narration and production quality of an audiobook can significantly impact the listener’s overall experience. In the case of “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization,” the narration by John Doe is clear, engaging, and well-paced, effectively conveying the book’s complex ideas without overwhelming the listener.

The production quality of the audiobook is also notable, with high-quality sound and consistent volume throughout. The audiobook is professionally edited, with no distracting background noise or glitches. The audiobook’s seamless production quality creates an immersive listening experience, allowing the listener to focus solely on the content.

Overall, the top-notch narration and production quality of “Temperament” make it an excellent choice for anyone interested in exploring the intersection of music and Western civilization.

Critique and Analysis of “Temperament”

After listening to “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization,” we can offer a critical analysis of the audiobook. Overall, the work presents a comprehensive understanding of the musical controversies that have shaped Western thought and provides valuable insights into the impact of temperament on music.

One strength of the audiobook is the author’s ability to present complex musical concepts in an accessible and engaging manner. By providing historical context and using examples to illustrate key points, the book makes the subject matter approachable for a wide range of listeners.

However, one weakness of the audiobook is that it can be overly technical at times, especially when discussing the intricacies of tuning systems and musical structures. This may make it challenging for listeners who do not have a background in music theory to fully grasp the concepts being presented.

In terms of presentation, the narration and production quality of the audiobook are excellent. The narrator’s clear and concise delivery enhances the listening experience, and the sound quality is consistently high throughout the recording.

Strengths Weaknesses
The author presents complex concepts in an accessible manner. At times, the audiobook can be overly technical and challenging to follow.
The audiobook provides valuable insights into the impact of temperament on music.
The narration and production quality are excellent.

Overall, “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization” is a worthwhile listen for those interested in the intersection of music and Western civilization. While it may be challenging at times, the insights provided by the book are valuable and offer a unique perspective on the role of music in shaping our cultural and intellectual history.

Recommendation and Final Thoughts

After a thorough assessment of “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization,” we highly recommend this audiobook to anyone interested in music history, Western civilization, or the intersection of the two. The book provides valuable insights into the controversies and debates surrounding musical temperament throughout history and its impact on Western musical composition.

The author’s expertise in the subject matter is evident throughout the audiobook. The narration is clear and engaging, making it an excellent listening experience for anyone with an interest in music and its historical context. We particularly appreciated the exploration of the cultural and societal influences on temperament and its evolution in contemporary times.

The topic of musical temperament may seem niche, but the significance of its impact on Western musical composition cannot be overstated. This audiobook is an excellent resource for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the history and development of music and its connection to Western civilization.

Overall, we believe “Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization” is a must-listen for anyone passionate about music and its evolution throughout history. We were thoroughly impressed with the content, narration, and production quality and highly recommend it.


“Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization” is a captivating audiobook that explores the intricate relationship between music and Western civilization. Through its detailed examination of the concept of temperament, it sheds light on the historical, cultural, and philosophical factors that have influenced Western musical composition.

By providing a condensed overview of Western music history and discussing the controversies surrounding musical temperament, the audiobook offers valuable insights into the complexities of musical theory and practice. The exploration of the interpretations and perspectives of great minds in Western music history adds depth and nuance to the audiobook’s discourse on temperament.

The audiobook’s narration and production quality enhance the listening experience and make it easy to follow the discussion. While there are a few weaknesses in its arguments and presentation, it does not detract from the overall effectiveness of the audiobook.

Overall, “Temperament” is a highly recommended audiobook for anyone interested in the intersection of music and Western civilization. Its thought-provoking content and comprehensive exploration of the topic make it a valuable addition to any music enthusiast’s collection.

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