One of the things I love most about this book is Taruskin's quasi-philosophical interjections to remind the reader what they are and aren't reading.
In his introduction, which is identical for each volume, Taruskin explains that his book should be viewed more as a history of people and societies, rather than of music. Hence many "developments" in music are linked to shifts in the function and reception of music in different parts of a socio-political climate. Perhaps a good example is the Notre Dame's music academy, which gave rise to the Ars Nova style. This was music composed by literate, educated types, who were part of a community (that is, other like-minded composers) where invention and innovation in composition was encouraged. Hence such forms as the isorhythmic motet and the canon came to be used a demonstrations of compositional finesse.
But I digress . . .
I write this post simply to quote one of Taruskin's musings, which also seem to really hit home for me. From page 381 (almost half-way!) of Volume 1:
When periods are essentialized, moreover, we may then begin seeing objects classed within them in invidious comparative terms as more of less essentially medieval of Renaissance. We may become burdened with the considerations of purity or fidelity to a Zeitgeist (a "spirit of the time") that never burdened contemporaries. And that is because unless we are very cautious indeed, we can forget that the Zeitgeist is a concept that we, not "the time," have constructed (or abstracted). We may then value some objects over others as being better, or even as being "the best" expressions of "the spirit of the Middle Ages" or "the spirit of the Renaissance." If this sort of essentialism seems innocuous enough, we might transpose the frame of reference from the chronological to the geographical, and reflect on what happens when people become concerned over the purity or genuineness of one's essential Americanism or Africannes or Croathood.
I'm loving this book.