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Love Songs: The Hidden History by Ted Gioia Review – a Fascinating Study of Origins

posted on: Jun 22, 2018



In this wide-ranging and fascinating study, music historian Ted Gioia examines the surprisingly ancient and diverse origins of the love song and its enduring power over us. He argues that love songs are “as old as human history” and that rather than being a mere cultural meme, they are, a “quasi-biological necessity”.

Although romantic love may not have been a subject in early societies, Gioia traces the love song’s origins back to ancient fertility rites, such as those performed some 4,000 years ago by Enheduanna, the high priestess and poetess of Ur, “the first female author”. Crucially, the ancient texts of Sumer, Egypt, Rome and China show that “human love can partake of the transcendent” as well as the orgasmic.

In a remarkable chapter, heThe author reveals how our idealised notions of romance first emerged not with the troubadours, but in the songs of elite female slaves (the qiyan) in the medieval Arab culture of Spain. Taking in the contribution of African American slaves, he concludes that “the very essence of western song has been shaped by the mentality of the indentured and outcast”.