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Music of the Baroque. (Historical Topics).

Music of the Baroque. By David Schulenberg. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. [2 vols. ISBN 0-19-512232-1 (hbk.). $39.95. ISBN 0-19-512233-X (Anthology of Scores). $35.]

In Britain the idea of a single-authored published course textbook drawing together and rounding Out the material of lecture notes has never really caught on. Student numbers are usually too small to make the proposition commercially attractive, but the underlying reasons are cultural: mistrust of the teacher as guru and diffidence towards the systematic acquisition of knowledge. In North America, as we know, conditions are more favourable in all respects and the genre flourishes. David Schulenberg's introduction to the whole of baroque music is a very fine advertisement for it. It is almost as comprehensive as one could wish and presents the consensus of modern scholarship clearly, authoritatively, and in well-judged language.

The study is organized principally around forty-one musical works (or substantial extracts therefrom) grouped in a separate volume that forms a latter-day equivalent of the once ubiquitous second volume of the Historical Anthology of Music compiled by Archibald T. Davison and Willi Apel (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1946). The scores have been reproduced from existing published editions, to which Schulenberg has added commentaries (sometimes noting errata in the process). The main volume is the modern counterpart to Manfred Bukofzer's equally celebrated Music in the Baroque Era (New York: Norton, 1947). As one would expect, the focus has shifted a great deal in the intervening half-century. There is much more on performance practice, editorial matters, and organology--not forgetting special aspects of more recent interest such as the participation and achievement of women, and of national or religious minorities. There is much less on aesthetics, music's relationships with the other arts, and the history of ideas, while the Zest for cumbersome typology inherited from the German musicological tradition that gave us the "few-voiced" and the "many-voiced" concertato has mercifully abated. In a thoughtful preface that sets the tone for his book, Schulenberg points out that the average university music student of today (in North America--but the same is self-evidently true for the rest of the anglophone world) is in many respects less well prepared for the historical and analytical study of Western art music than his or her predecessor, although there also exist some compensatory factors. This recognition has led him to make very few prior assumptions about the student's familiarity with musical terminology or events in European history.

Far from "dumbing down," the result, I predict, will be to consolidate and develop the understanding of even the more advanced students. To take just one example: the discussion of the basic terminology of fugue is absolutely exemplary (pp. 240-43, one of several shaded "boxes" in the book). It is no more dogmatic or prescriptive than it has to be, but it gives readers all the essential information and terminology needed for intelligent discussion of the music. Tribute must be paid, too, to the effective use of short musical examples in the main volume. These have enabled the author to make detailed observations on a far wider range of music than the anthology on its own allowed.

If I have one small general criticism, it is that Schulenberg is sometimes too qualified in his statements--I can never have seen a higher density of such words as "most" and "roughly." Usually, the fence-sitting arises from scruple--the insistence on bearing in mind exceptions or possible objections on which there is no space to dwell. Occasionally, however, I sense something closer to laziness in the cautiousness with which statements are framed.

There are--perhaps there were bound to be--gaps in the coverage. Broadly speaking, Italian music dominates the first fifty years (1600-1650) and German music the last fifty years (1700-1750); in the intervening half-century French, Italian and German music jostle for position. This polarity means that we have no extended discussion of the German ensemble suite as represented by Johann Hermann Schein or of the solo motets of Antonio Vivaldi and his Italian contemporaries. Surprisingly, the solo motet is not even once mentioned as an important and distinctive genre of the late baroque. Schulenberg might argue in reply that the price paid for being so comprehensive would have been an unacceptable reduction in the number of words available for the thorough analysis of the case studies. I would be tempted, albeit with regret, to accept such a defense. One particularly pleasing inclusion within the anthology that one would not necessarily have predicted are motets by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso, chosen to illustrate the prima pratica. These examples are put to excellent use: in fact, I have rarely encountered such a patient, well-argued account of how musical style transmuted (unevenly) as Renaissance gave way to baroque. The discussion of harmony, tonality, and text-setting is very acute.

Here and there, one discovers a small error of fact. For example, Venice was scarcely a "city-state" (p. 5)--it was the capital city of a large state with territories in northeast Italy and all over the eastern Mediterranean. It is equally untrue to say (p. 8) that "with few exceptions, Baroque musicians belonged to the middle classes" (unless "musicians" are to be equated tout court with composers). Chaconnes and passacailles were not always in triple time (p. 107) and several examples a deux temps survive. The bows joining adjacent vowels belonging to different words in the under-laid text of a vocal piece (v. 2, p. 18) signify not elision (where one vowel is sacrificed) but synaloepha (where the first vowel passes smoothly into the second). The French word "distrait" does not mean "something like 'distraught' or 'crazy'" (p. 314); the proper translation is "absentminded." But one must keep a sense of proportion. In relation to the length of the book, the level of accuracy and the standard of presentation (including that of the numerous well-chosen plates) is commendably high.

This is by design not an exciting book for scholars, although it has the potential to become one for brighter students. Its prime task has been to assemble, organize and transmit existing knowledge for pedagogical ends. Where the author has an original apercu, as happens quite often, it goes in. But this is icing on the cake, not the main business. Schulenberg's exposition has the virtue of being up to date without any trace of mere modishness. It deserves to succeed and will form a valuable bridge between the classroom and the world of the early music performer.
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Author:Talbot, Michael
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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