Segueing seamlessly into the philosophic end of Johnson’s view of music history – corresponding to the blended-by-design fields of knowledge – Chapter 1 gives sway to a biographical bent in which significant thinkers in music theory are tapped for their contributions to the school of melodic shape shifting and pitch connections over time. Going back to the rational and secular Greeks, Johnson cites Aristoxenus, a musician-philosopher student of Aristotle who thrived around 335 B.C. As writer of the definitive summary of the musical system and ideas of this golden age — while lending central focus to the subject of melodic coherence — Aristoxenus’ concept of “continuity and consecution” of melody constituted the Greek scale system, which was passed on to the Western World.
With some solid technical foundations laid, then, Johnson goes on to point out – though these names and more details may come up later in the book — some more milestones in the fostering of melodic shape's ways and means from such innovators as Guido of Arezzo, an 11th century Italian monk who furthered our understanding of the musical scale, and musical notation using a staff of horizontal lines, in addition to other advancements. Johann Joseph Fux, an Enlightenment era Viennese composer, codified the principles of polyphony and attended to the issue of line shape as well as created a step-by-step method for teaching the principles of poyphonic composition. Heinrich Schenker, a Viennese pianist, teacher, and theorist of the Romantic era, devised a new theory of the “cognitive connections the mind makes among notes sounding over time, and a method for notating these connections using an adaptation of music notation.” Concerned with not only long gone eras but also more contemporary times, Johnson diligently cites Charles Scott Sherrington, whose work in neural science had applications for the science of musical perception; also remarked upon is the philosopher Ayn Rand, who, in her 1971 essay “Art & Cognition” posited the value of the brain’s sensory-integrating action.
The template of Chapter One, with its comprehensive and cohesive fusion of history, theory, and philosophy, splendidly sets the tone for the rest of Dancing with the Muses’ take on the account of concepts of music, and their coming to be. Between “Interval” and “Primacy of Line vs. Primacy of Chord,” “Scale,” “Time,” Polyphony,” “Tonality,” “Counterpoint,”and “Harmony” — the usual suspects — are covered in a not-so-usual, refreshing and precise manner.
The exemplary Chapter 3 on “Scale” can be singled out for its clarity and structure. “There is no question more crucial to music than the nature of the music scale,” Johnson emphasizes. “It is the basis of all aspects of the notes used in music…” The author goes on to not only reiterate and drill the bit about this “integrating framework of music, and a crucial determining factor of music’s emotional content,” but he also takes pains to explain and set up the three-stage chapter formation by which he will explicate the nature of the scale, including absorbing anthropological and historical data.