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Music as Concept and Practice in the Late Middle Ages. .

Reinhard Strohm and Bonnie J. Blackburn, eds. Music as Concept and Practice in the Late Middle Ages.

(The New Oxford History of Music, 3.1.) New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. xxxi + 460 pp. index. illus. bibl. $115. ISBN: 0-19-816205-7.

The most recently published volume in this prestigious series, Music as Concept and Practice is a completely new work. Rather than printing a revised/rewritten edition of the previous volume three (Ars nova and the Renaissance, 1300-1540, ed. Dam Anselm Hughes and Gerald Abraham, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960, with numerous reprints and a revised/adapted version published in 1986), the editors have chosen to offer a collection of freshly written studies, incorporating the most recent research on the topics at hand, and creating a different approach and structure -- which are succinctly explained in Reinhard Strohm's lucid preface. In fact, it might be surmised that the tide of the volume was deliberately chosen to direct the reader's attention to this new approach: on the one hand, one reads examinations of the conceptual foundation of music as a discipline for theoretical study; on the other hand, one learns about how, why, when, where, by whom, at whose request, and in what circumstances this same m usic was made.

Nine chapters of solid scholarship, substantial length, and superb informational value bring to the fore aspects of medieval musical culture spanning approximately seven centuries. The result is a comprehensive examination of an era's institutions, both religious and secular, composers, genres, styles, and techniques, together with the theoretical and aesthetic issues either derived from musical practice or, in fewer cases, forming its point of departure. Thus the editors have divided the book into two large sections, with the first devoted mostly to repertories and performance, and the second to aspects of music theory, both practical (i.e., didactic, perceived as a learning and/or analytical tool in the crafting of musical composition) and speculative.

Within these sections, the first two chapters examine the Muslim and Jewish musical traditions and the way these influenced the musics of southwestern and southern Europe (Ammon Shiloah) and the monophonic music for the office of the later Middle Ages (Andrew Hughes), respectively; and while, in spite of the book's reorganization, many chapters in this volume maintain general connections to the topics found in its predecessor, the introduction of a piece on Muslim and Jewish music is definitely a novelty -- and a welcome addition. The remaining chapters in this section discuss instrumental music (Howard Mayer Brown and Keith Polk), dances and dance music (Walter Salmen), and polyphonic music of the fourteenth through the early sixteenth centuries in Central Europe (Tom R. Ward) -- the latter a salutary contribution on the institutions, repertories, composers, and performers of areas that, presumably due to a lack of awareness of available sources, have hitherto escaped the perusal of the Western researcher.

The three chapters of the second section focus on problems of music theory ca. 1300-1450 (Jan Herlinger) and after 1450 (Bonnie J. Blackburn), and the relationship between music and other humanistic disciplines in the context of early-to-mid Renaissance (Reinhard Strohm).

What all writers of this volume have in common is the attempt to produce up-to-date, intelligible, highly readable studies, whose focus is clear and whose structure enlightens. Several pieces in the volume include brief introductory sections reviewing and examining extant medieval and Renaissance sources not yet available for research when the earlier incarnation of volume three was published. This is especially true in the case of chapters written by Jan Herlinger, Howard Mayer Brown, and Keith Polk. Others, like Walter Salmen and Andrew Hughes, have chosen to go straight to the core of the matter, writing detailed historical surveys of their respective topics with references to both sources and scholarship (past and present) incorporated in the main discussion.

As expected, the studies concentrating on intricate music theory issues are more technical than the others -- and, perhaps, slightly more difficult to read from the perspective of the general humanities scholar. Having said that, of special note is Bonnie J. Blackburn's contribution offering, in addition to an historical perspective on the music theory and theorists of the early Renaissance, a generous glimpse into the forging, after 1450, of musical thinking in general with, at its center, the increasingly explicit alliance of music with disciplines other than those of the medieval quadrivium. Following Blackburn's chapter, Reinhard Strohm's study comes as a natural conclusion to the second section of this volume, examining the conceptual changes in the perception of music from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance. In an appendix comprising excerpts from works written between 1382 and 1492, the last chapter offers evidence for a variety of approaches to music in treatises and letters of humanist authors, both music theorists and literary and art critics.

The volumes in the New Oxford History of Music have traditionally been used as required reading in graduate music history and music theory courses. This will remain true with the present volume, which possesses similar informational and instructional value. In addition, the scholar of dance will find important information concerning secular and religious dances of the period.

Graphically, the book is a beauty to behold; of special note are the four maps including details of various European regions whose music and music theory is under examination and the thirteen plates with reproductions from pertinent manuscripts. Like its predecessor, volume three includes a substantial bibliography and an analytical index, and an updated list of books and articles is added at the end of the chapter on instrumental music.
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Author:Florea, Luminita
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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