This book has an interesting premise, discussing links between music, science and the brain. Its author is an Italian science journalist, who has an informed, and at times, opinionated approach to her writing. Aimed to be accessible to all readers, some basic musical concepts are explained for clarity - such as, for example, intervals. Some of the early ideas are set out, such as Pythagoras’s discovery of different numerical relationships between notes. These are explained in a relatively simplistic form. Some of the scientific conclusions are perhaps a little over simplistic, for example the revelation that playing the piano improves motor skills, or that playing a wind instrument improves control of the respiratory system. That said, there are otherwise some interesting examples of research shown.
The translation is sometimes a little convoluted, perhaps inevitably a result of linguistic differences between Italian and English. Some inconsistencies of writing style caused surprise, particularly in the use of idiomatic phrases within an academic style. The ideas can at times be difficult to follow, and often the attempts to describe opposing scientific viewpoints lend confusion to the overall argument. I was dismayed at the apparent link between dissonance - explained within in a scientific context to represent music that was ‘disliked’ - and modern music, suggesting that the inclusion of any dissonance in music was unpleasant to the listener. Considering that the book focuses heavily on music and emotion, it is surprising that the potential for dissonance to create an emotional impact seemed to be ignored.
The book covers a broad spectrum of areas, including links with language, the reception of music in animals, the role of music in nature, music in the early years of human development, music and emotion, diseases such as amusica and the effect of music therapy, and the Mozart effect. Despite the author’s statement that “the studies that have so far been able to tell us something about human musicality more or less end here”, more detailed and in-depth discussions can be found elsewhere, such as in the books of Oliver Sacks and Daniel Levitin. Nevertheless, this provides an interesting overview of the topics covered, with references to several key scientific experiments and providing potential areas for follow-up exploration if required. The book comes to few conclusions, but rather outlines a number of unproven hypotheses,
and gives a representation of the current state of neurological musical research. There are some thought-provoking areas, and the book is generally accessible to all readers, without the necessity for a prior knowledge of music or science.