Music and Ideas in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.
The intellectual legacy of a musicologist begins with writing a dissertation, an exercise that demands both a demonstration of familiarity with the broad structure of a research area and, often, detailed technical forays into identifying and solving problems posed by that structure. When scholars also become teachers, as Claude Palisca was for five years at the University of Illinois and thirty-three years at Yale University, they also develop the art of presenting complex arguments, reorganizing knowledge, and then communicating that reorganization persuasively in the classroom as well as in print. Palisca's broadest contribution to the teaching of music history were his multiple re-editions of Donald Grout's History of Western Music; his particular "home" within that history was music theory in the Renaissance and baroque eras and its inescapable connections to the music theory of the ancient Greeks and Romans, even though ancient music itself was unknowable. From his first scholarly article in 1954 to his last in 2000 (which appeared in 2003), Palisca worked from original letters, treatises in manuscript and in print, and music scores, sorting out to what extent the "moderns" knew the "ancients," what they understood and misunderstood of them, and how Italian writers in particular not only codified but also, more interestingly, influenced musical composition and performance in their time. Sometimes Palisca's research explained networks between sources; he published masterfully annotated translations of several treatises; at other times, he studied critics looking at specific dissonances and accidentals within music scores.
His books Humanism in Italian Renaissance Music Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985) and The Florentine Came-rata: Documentary Studies and Translations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) opened windows to specific writers and treatises. They made it clear that by "theory" Palisca meant far more than rules of musical compositions or descriptions of musical systems. He was investigating how thinking about music--whether it was about scores or tuning or creating opera--fit into learned inquiry in a fervently learned era. When Clarendon Press issued updated versions of nineteen of his essays dating from 1956 to 1986 as Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford, 1994), it seemed that, like Johann Sebastian Bach, Palisca in retirement was also surveying his own work for its own collective structure. The posthumously edited book under review here, Music and Ideas, provides the keys and intellectual contexts to Palisca's numerous studies, as well as a kind of narrative organization to his oeuvre. The language and presentation are clear and largely non-technical, as if accompanying a "Norton" Anthology of Humanist Musical Theory. Anyone tackling Palisca's articles today or his interests would do well to begin with this, his last book, first drafted in 1997 and revised by him up to late 2000.
The chapter titles signal not only the broad themes Palisca intended by "ideas" but also the importance of each discussion. In the third chapter on "Sense over Reason: The Anti-Theoretical Tradition," for example, Palisca describes how modern Italians disagreed with, set aside, and advanced new arguments against "establishment" theorists like hoary Boethius or the numerology of Gioseffo Zarlino. In "Theories of Monody and Dramatic Music" (chap. 7), he rewrites a story that every music student has read in one edition or another of the Norton History of Western Music; but here Palisca integrates the views of classical scholar Girolamo Mei on the different modes used for actors and choruses in ancient. Greek drama, of humanist Francesco Patrizi on Greek poetic forms, and the arguments of lutenist-theorist Vincenzo Galilei and singer-composer Giulio Caccini on solo singing. This chapter then moves on to France and to England, before returning to Italy. Using its footnotes as a map, one is led from a foundational 1968 article by Palisca to articles or book chapters by him from 1963, 1964, 1981, 1989, 1985, 1977, 1960, and 1995, to cover only the first thirty footnotes. A related topic is presented in chapter 10 "Theories of the Affections and Imitation." Half of the chapter is devoted to notions of the affections in circulation before the baroque era, beginning with the startling statement that "It became common in the sixteenth century ... to think of music as a language of the emotions, yet people did not always believe that the affections were worth communicating" (p. 180). Palisca's subsequent outline of the Aristotelian tradition, Galen's theories of the humors, and sixteenth-century views of writers such as Juan Luis Vives, Marsilio Ficino, and Girolamo Mei provide a necessary context for theories offered in the 1580s in the Florentine Accademia degli alterati about how music can be expressive and valued as such. It is against the lively discourse of the Renaissance thinkers that Palisca then summarizes the positions taken in the next century by Athanasius Kircher, Descartes, and Marin Mersenne.
The alterati also heard from Lorenzo Giacomini that "poetry was better at moving the passions, rhetoric at persuading" (p. 191), a distinction often ignored in musical analysis today. Palisca's final chapter sums up "the few links between rhetoric and music indulged in by Italian writers of this period" and then continues with an extended demonstration of Figurenlehre, which in Germany "developed into a pedagogical strategy of prime importance" (p. 209).
Another topic that spans chapters is the story of number in music, its transformation from a symbol and source of authority into the basis of a genuine science of sound. Once again Palisca finds the crucial shift beginning in Florence in the 1580s. Chapter 8, "Music and Scientific Discovery," is a most elegant presentation of music-acoustical problems ranging from Pietro d'Abano's medieval commentaries on Aristotelian Problems, through Franchino Gaffurio's struggles with his set of ancients, Lodovico Fogliano (1529) and G. B. Benedetti (1563), to the empirical and paradigm-shifting writings of Vincenzo Galilei (1581), whose Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music was Palisca's last annotated and translated treatise (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). The last third of the chapter belongs to the history of science and covers Galileo Galilei, Marin Mersenne (who discovered harmonic partials), as well as Robert Hooke and Christiaan Huygens, who both attempted to determine the frequency cycles of musical pitch.
Many individual theorists, as can be seen, appear in several chapters. Palisca's treatment by topics makes their wide-ranging investigations pertinent and digestible. And only Palisca could have offered them with such clarity of perspective, although the completion of this volume was in the hands of Thomas J. Mathiesen, Palisca's long-term colleague and fellow classicist and theorist (whose own scholarly credentials vouch for the accuracy and reliability of this volume). The closing chapter on "Music and Rhetoric" is followed by a chronological listing of the "Principal Treatises Cited" (manuscript and printed) and separate bibliographies of primary and secondary sources. I missed some kind of epilogue, even though the end of chapter 1 ("Musical Change and Intellectual History") specifically anticipates the material of the actual last chapter. Mathiesen's brief foreword, however, observes how Palisca's last chapter opens out to the eighteenth century. Indeed chapter 5 on modes and genera leads tidily to Rameau; and chapter 8 on the affections closes with references to Charles Batteux's Les beaux arts (1743) and De Chabanon's Observations sur la musique (1779), which spelled the end of "the idea of music as imitation" (p. 202). The great realignment of music and ideas in the eighteenth century, then, can only be appreciated by knowing the topography of previous discourses, mapped here by a scholar with a geologist's long view of the terrain.
University of California, Irvine
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2007|
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