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Music Pop Vocal

The Music of Joni Mitchell

by (author) Lloyd Whitesell

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2008
Pop Vocal
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2008
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2008
    List Price

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Joni Mitchell is one of the foremost singer-songwriters of the late twentieth century. Yet despite her reputation, influence, and cultural importance, a detailed appraisal of her musical achievement is still lacking. Whitesell presents a through exploration of Mitchell's musical style, sound, and structure in order to evaluate her songs from a musicological perspective. His analyses are conceived within a holistic framework that takes account of poetic nuance, cultural reference, and stylistic evolution over a long, adventurous career.

Mitchell's songs represent a complex, meticulously crafted body of work. The Music of Joni Mitchell offers a comprehensive survey of her output, with many discussions of individual songs, organized by topic rather than chronology. Individual chapters each explore a different aspect of her craft, such as poetic voice, harmony, melody, and large-scale form. A separate chapter is devoted to the central theme of personal freedom, as expressed through diverse symbolic registers of the journey quest, bohemianism, creative license, and spiritual liberation.

Previous accounts of Mitchell's songwriting have tended to favor her poetic vision, expansive verse structures, and riveting vocal delivery. Whitesell fills out this account with special attention to musical technique, showing how such traits as complex or conflicting sonorities, dualities of harmonic mode, dialectical tensions of texture and register, intricately layered instrumental figuration, and a variable vocal persona are all essential to her distinctive identity as a songwriter. The Music of Joni Mitchell develops a set of conceptual tools geared specifically to Mitchell's songs, in order to demonstrate the extent of her technical innovation in the pop song genre, to give an account of the formal sophistication and rhetorical power characterizing her work as a whole, and to provide grounds for the recognition of her intellectual stature as a composer within her chosen field.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Lloyd Whitesell teaches music history at McGill University. He is the author of articles on Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Bernard Herrmann, and minimalism, and co-editor of the book Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity. His research interests include queer studies, popular music, film music, modernism, music and literature, and theories of the audience.

Editorial Reviews

"This thoughtful book is a revelation: a long-overdue scholarly examination of one of the most important bodies of work in twentieth century music. Joni Mitchell's fearless explorations defy simplistic categories of popular, jazz and art music, and Whitesell's sophisticated, rigorous analysis does her work justice. This study will be invaluable to anyone with a serious interest in contemporary music and culture."--Jacqueline Warwick, Dalhousie University

"Whitesell's splendid study illuminates an impressive span of Joni Mitchell's music, offering fans and scholars alike new ways of hearing these songs. A magnificent achievement."--Ellie M. Hisama, Columbia University

"The Music of Joni Mitchell brings together the richest traditions in the study of popular music. The book is detailed in its study of form and style, and a model of expert musical analysis. Just as importantly, for non-specialists, it offers a compelling account of Joni Mitchell's life and career, showing the extra-musical influences on her work and Mitchell's interaction with the broader cultural forces around her. Whitesell's admiration for Joni Mitchell is clear, but the book is rigorous and balanced, a piece of first-rate scholarship."--Will Straw, Professor of Communications, McGill University and Co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock

Other titles by Lloyd Whitesell