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Antonio Caldara: Life and Venetian-Roman Oratorios.

Antonio Caldara: Life and Venetian-Roman Oratorios. By Ursula Kirkendale. Revised and translated by Warren Kirkendale. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2007. [552 p., ISBN 978-88-222-5714-7. 62.00 [euro]]

Forty years after Ursula Kirkendale first published her work on the eighteenth-century composer Antonio Caldara (Graz; Koln: Hermann Bohlau, 1966), Warren Kirkendale has revised and translated it from the original German. The study itself remains a model of archival research, musical analysis, and interpretation. Further, the author documents and reasserts Caldara's central position in the history of the oratorio, the Italian Baroque, and Viennese eighteenth-century taste. However, the question must be asked: why was it necessary to translate the work with minimal updating?

Caldara remains unappreciated by modern scholars and performers. He was highly praised during his lifetime, only to be dismissed by "the chauvinistic Bach cult which preferred Germanic counterpoint and did not appreciate Italian elegance" (p.128). Ursula Kirkendale's explicitly stated mission is to restore an appreciation for the composer's contributions to the sensual, dramatic musical language of the oratorio in the early 1700s.

Kirkendale begins with a thorough biography, and assesses the composer's temperament and contemporary reputation. She then summarizes the existing Italian and Viennese sources, and provides a comprehensive catalog of his forty-two extant oratorios, where she lists librettists, existing sources, performances, recordings, and secondary references. These last have purposely not been substantially updated: "The 'references' in my catalogue include only those preceding the first publication of the book in 1966, with exception of the important dissertation of [Jana] Spacilova" (p.146, fn.53). The third chapter briefly discusses setting and texts of the seventeen Venetian-Roman oratorios, and then offers an impressive assessment of Caldara's musical style within the North-Italian tradition of dramatic vocal works. Kirkendale selects representational works to demonstrate three phases of Caldara's compositional style: "Late Venetian, Dramatic Style of Splendor [1690-1706]," "Venetian and Early Gallant Mixed Style [1708-1710]," and "Smoothed Early Gallant Style in Rome [1712-1715]." Kirkendale examines models and analyzes phrase structure, song-types, and topoi, with the goal of understanding the oratorios as expression of "baroque religiosity, urge for power, [and] feeling for life, in the context of the other cultural phenomena." (p.25). There is also an impressive appendix of the Roman and Viennese documents related to Caldara's oratorios, conveniently searchable with the indices of persons, titles, and works.

There are few substantial updates in the 2007 translation of the original 1966 study. The bibliography does include material written after 1966, but there are very few specific references to these in the body of the text. One disappointing change is that footnotes have been abbreviated, necessitating flipping from the prose to the footnote to the bibliography to ascertain a source or reference. It is also discouraging to follow the first "see" reference on page 10, only to not find what you were looking for. The third footnote in the introduction (p. 17, not in the 1966 version), mentions a finding by Peter Allsop; there is nothing by Allsop listed in the bibliography.

The translation also includes an "Abstract," which is actually a review by Paul Henry Lang originally published in Musical Quarterly, 1968. Lang praised Kirkendale's "brilliant scholarship" which restored Caldara "to the position he once occupied next to Corelli and [Alessandro] Scarlatti as one of the great masters of the age." He concluded his review with the optimistic statement, "... now that the scholarly spadework has been so brilliantly accomplished, perhaps the scores will be published--and performed." This has not occurred. Several of the sinfonie from the oratorios have been issued in a modern edition, and Garland has issued Gioaz and La Passione di Gesu Christo (both Viennese, not Italian) in facsimile. However, only one modern edition has been published: Il Re del dolore (Florence: Otos, 1957 and 1971). An optimist might conclude that this is the justification for the translation: a desire to introduce Caldara to a new generation of scholars who may be unfamiliar with his work and who are willing to question the German-dominated canon, and to inspire new publications and performances of Caldara's works.

However, there seems to be another agenda at play here. In the Translator's Preface, Warren Kirkendale states, "Readers will surely notice (and perhaps complain) that the book was written four decades ago, i.e. at a time when source-based historical research still flourished." Does this imply that nobody is doing this kind of work any more? I think many would disagree and take offense at this statement. Another quote from the preface: "Quotations in languages other than English have now reluctantly been translated, and original texts have been included only for those not easily traceable in the German book." There are a couple of troublesome aspects of this statement. First, in order to check translations of much source material quoted, the reader must obtain the 1966 German version. Why were the quotes in their original languages not provided in the English version? Second, if Kirkendale is reluctant to translate quotations, then why translate the entire book? He goes on to state, since "an adoption of the ideologies currently fashionable in American 'new musicology' ('political correctness' etc.) would not benefit [the study], we offer no apology for not 'updating' it in this sense."

Warren Kirkendale's dissatisfaction with the current state of musicology is clear in other writings. In a lecture delivered in Cremona, 2 June 1986, he warns his audience of the "dangers" of modern musicology. He adjures students to put themselves in the past, looking at the same literature, studying the same material, and learning to think like composers of the past. He is also adamant that students rely on original languages and primary sources. While this is admirable, he goes on to state, "Ci sono degli scrittori che vogliono metter la musicologa al servizio non solo della sociologia, ma anche della loro idologia. Risulta una musicologia abusiva e disonesta, perche perde l'oggettivita e diviene propaganda politica." ("Sul Primo Orfeo, Francesco Rasi: Compositore, Poeta, Cantante, Omicida," Music and Meaning, Olschki, 2007, p.222) Kirkendale's disdain for American musicologists borders on the offensive in an unpublished letter to the Journal of the American Musicological Society where he refers to "a certain lack of ease with ancient and modern language--not to mention history," and a "widespread abandonment of historical method and concrete source-based research in the name of a 'New Musicology' more interested the [sic] ahistorical social sciences and in abstract critical theories." ("On 'Sources' for Music History", Music and Meaning, p. 598)

Many will doubtless agree with Warren Kirkendale's mission of defining musicology as a source-based discipline, but others will be alienated. I would argue that the discipline has not abandoned the historical method, but rather has supplemented it with new critical approaches, and divergent, updated criticism has always been a part of interpreting musical repertories. To dismiss and excoriate these new approaches ignores the fact that music and its criticism does not just live in the past; it should also live in the present.

Ursula Kirkendale's study is an important, well-documented, and thoughtful contribution which broadens our understanding of the eclectic repertory of the eighteenth century. In my opinion, the 1966 German version is easier to navigate than the 2007 English version, and has none of the rhetoric involved in the outdated (tiresome?) argument against "new musicology."

Jane Dahlenburg

University of Central Arkansas
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Author:Dahlenburg, Jane
Publication:Fontes Artis Musicae
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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