I got in a little over my head on this one, as I should have expected. Roger Scruton has a deep knowledge of SOME forms of music, and when he is talking about things that he knows, like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or Wagner's Ring Cycle, he has much to say, and probably, much that is valuable. I say "probably" only because I, having no real musical training, and no real philosophical training, am not in a position to judge.
I have, however, read a bit of Adorno, and listened to a fair bit of jazz. So it was somewhat interesting, but mainly disappointing, to read Scruton's glancing treatment of Adorno's attitudes towards jazz. Scruton seems to have a high opinion of some forms of jazz -- he mentions the soulfulness of Monk's "Round Midnight," but he sort of stops there. And he seems to share at times, Adorno's dismissal of a good bit of jazz, but with reservations, because he notes that Adorno relegates a lot of popular music to the scrap heap, only to say, paradoxically, that it doesn't represent the "music of the people." Now, I am not sure I have gotten Scruton's position on Adorno down to a "T", but I don't think I'm far off.
I listen to jazz and rock more than classical, and this is really a book for classical listeners, in my opinion. As I've said, Scruton sometimes mentions artists such as Thelonious Monk, and Genesis, and some other rock groups. And he doesn't fail to mention the contributions of African rhythms and polyrhythms to the development of American musics. But he doesn't go deeply into how African rhythms work or have their effects. He doesn't talk at all about Brazilian music, which I would have liked. And generally, as I have said, his analyses of Mozart and Wagner, etc...are beyond my musical grasp. This is not his failing, of course, but mine.
As other reviewers have mentioned, the first part of the book is on "Aesthetics," -- "Sounds," "Movement," "Rhythm," and so on. But he approaches these things philosophically, as the heading, "Aesthetics" would suggest. So when he deals with "Sounds" he explains a somewhat abstract notion of the "acousmatic" as the basis of his understanding of sound, and not the physical production of sound. I apologize to the reader if I have not explained this principle, but I was more interested in other things than this chapter.
To get back to the discussion of Adorno, Scruton explores Adorno's treatment of "kitsch," fairly, I think, and also does a good job of defending tonal music from Schoenberg and Adorno's insistence on atonal musical approaches.
One of the reasons I bought the book was certainly to read Scruton's treatment of Adorno. I had read a book in which Adorno called Stravinsky "hebephrenic," which is a kind of schizophrenia in which the subject is reduced to engaging in adolescent inanities. I really wanted to know what manner of man Adorno write such an absurd thing, and Scruton did not really satisfy my curiosity on this.
I've had a bit of time to think about this review, and music and what have you, and I realize that one composer that I wish Scruton had talked about was Arvo Part. I just took a look in the name index, just to check whether I had missed any reference to Part, and there was none. The reason I think Part is worthy of mention, and worthy of philosophical attention, simply has to do with an experience I had a couple of months ago when I put on Part's album, "Alina." It is stunningly beautiful, partly because it requires the listener to pay careful attention. It almost shut me down, in the sense that I couldn't do anything but listen -- I was pretty much "rapt." The music itself doesn't strike me as being too complex, from the standpoint of composition or arrangement. In fact, it is stunningly simple and spare. I realize that I am perhaps fetishizing this experience: after all, I know that I am far from alone in this experience, and that Part is far from the only composer capable of inspiring such a state of awed appreciation. Whereas Scruton talks about "up" and "down", "dense," "spaced," "moving towards," or "away from," and whereas I can agree that all of these descriptions of music seem, "legitimate", I frankly don't know how to apply them to "Alina." I mean, it is "spare," from my point of view, which of course contrasts with "dense" -- McCoy Tyner has been described to me as someone who plays in a "dense" style -- and Part and Tyner are surely worlds away from each other. But, and I hate to say it, every spare sound that I hear on this recording is EXTREMELY "dense," so we have to distinguish, I hear a philosopher saying, between "senses of denseness." (!) But how to do that, I am at a loss. Maybe I should re-read this book, and see if Scruton actually does address this. I will, patient reader, perhaps try to get back to you on this.
By the way, I am also fascinated, in a way similar to the way that Part gets to me, with much of the South African piano player, Abdullah Ibrahim's music, so if you like Part, it is just possible that you would like Abdullah Ibrahim. (I know this has nothing to do with Scruton's book, but what the hell.) Also, check out an album by Terje Rypdal, Miroslav Vitous and Jack DeJohnette that came out in the 1970's on ECM -- I don't know what it's called -- for more examples of what I'm talking about.
If I had to think more on this book, I would really say, given it's preponderant reliance on classical examples, that you should really only check it out if you are interested preponderantly in classical music, yourself.