Jeremy Montagu's Origins and Development of Musical Instruments is a welcome addition to the field of organology. Montagu, the former curator of the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments and lecturer in the faculty of music at Oxford, is the author of numerous works, including a book on timpani and percussion (Tympani and Percussion [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002]), and another on reeds (Reed Instruments: The Montague Collection: An Annotated Catalogue [Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001]). In this latest of his books, the author focuses not only on the origins and history of instruments from many cultures and time periods, but also on technology and classification. An abundant number of black and white figures--120 photos--many from the author's own collection of over 2,500 instruments, appear within the 257 double column pages. The images, in keeping with his desire "to give priority to the lesser known," (p. xiii) favor the exotic and less familiar. Perhaps one of his inspirations was Filippo Bonanni's Gabinetto armonico (1723), "The first book on musical instruments to show as much interest in the instruments of the common people and the exotic, as those of the art music of the upper classes" (p. 26). For students, his inclusion of descriptions and images of some rarely seen instruments is essential to an understanding of how modern musical instruments developed from a wide variety of times and places.
Montagu fills the densely printed pages with important factual information. His prefatory material includes basic terminologies and definitions, rudimentary music theory, abbreviations, and maps of five major regions: Oceania, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. He borrows techniques from ethnography and archeology, and deliberately and judiciously avoids designations such as "Western music," "European orchestras," and so forth (p. 2) replacing them with "international culture" or "international music." The book is divided into eight chapters: 1, "Origins" 2, "Drums" 3, "Flutes and Recorders" 4, "Reeds" 5, "Brass Instruments, Trumpets, and Horns" 6, "Strings" 7, "Pipe Organ" and 8, "Electrophones." At the close of each chapter are citations. Between chapters are short interludes: Interlude A: Instruments of Protection, B: Musicians, C: The Medieval Renaissance and The First Industrial Revolution, D: The Ideal Accompaniment, E: The Second Industrial Revolution, F: Messengers, G: Symbiosis, and H: Newly Created, Recognized, or Discovered Instruments. Appendices includes subchapters on archeology and other -ologies, classification of instruments, scales and music, the sounds of science, followed by a bibliography and three indices: instruments and accessories, places and peoples, and a general index. At times, Montagu's organization is somewhat confusing; while there is some cross-referencing, information about specific instruments is spread over a number of chapters, making the indices--particularly the "Instruments and Accessories"--critically important. Even the most arcane instruments are discussed, but not always in the expected places.
Of the many systems for classifying musical instruments from the Renaissance to Sachs and Hornbostel and more recently, Kartomi, some of the earliest written classification systems of Western European instruments, such as those of Paulus Paulirinus in the fifteenth century, divided the instruments into five categories: Natural wind (played by human breath); Pitched percussion; Artificial wind (played by the wind of bellows); Artificial wind and pitched percussion (played by wind and percussion); and non-pitched percussion. Sebastian Virdung and Martin Agricola in the sixteenth century divided the families into three major categories (further divided into four subcategories): chordophones (with keyboards, without keyboards, fretted and unfretted), aerophones (subdivided further as with finger holes, without finger holes, blown by bellows), and idiophones. Michael Praetorius in the early seventeenth century includes only two: fidicinia (strings) and tibicinia (winds). Montagu chooses to adopt a five-part classification system: idiophones (rigid enough to clang when struck), skin instruments and strings (each requiring tension), winds (hollow with an orifice for blowing), electrophones (a power source). He theorizes that in the progression from "clapping paws or hands to the use of a pair of sticks or a couple of stones lies the origin of musical instruments" (p. 1).
In chapter 1, he explores aspects of music, from its intrinsic sound, to the qualities of voices, instruments, such as lithophones (dating to the Paleolithic era and still in use today), percussion bars, bells, gongs, and rattles. Montagu asserts that sounds produced by these tools can be classified as music if they have deliberate rhythms. In his description of the origins he calls attention not only to early instruments, but also to those associated primarily with children. In the interlude that follows this chapter, Montagu mentions some of the magical and real powers of the noisemakers--those particular musical instruments described in the preceding chapter--to give protection to people, animals, and places in times of strife, physical and natural danger, as well as play a role in religious and theatrical events, dancing, and children's games. In every case, the author stresses the importance of looking at the past and other cultures to understand the ritual and protective roles of instruments. He also makes some references to the use of these "noisemakers," as he refers to them generically, in classical compositions, such as Vivaldi's "Conch Concerto" and Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory."
In chapter 2, "Drums," Montagu discusses the problems with controlling the tension necessary to produce useful sounds. Rope or thong tightening, as is characteristic of military drums (and non-Western ceremonial drums) has been replaced in Western culture and elsewhere by rods screwed into brackets (p. 27). In his discussion of timpani he states that these instruments did not appear in Western Europe until after the Turkish invasions of the Balkans in the second half of the fifteenth century. He notes that they appear in a depiction of a battle in Syria in the Cantigas de Santa Maria manuscripts, dating from the 1280s, but they may not have been imported that early. Large kettle drums do appear in a fresco of a battle in Tuscany as early as the late fourteenth century. In this chapter, as in others, Montagu not only describes structure and materials, he also provides examples of well known musical compositions and makes reference to museums with major instrumental collections, works of art containing images of instruments, recordings, and other resources for further study. Some details make for interesting reading, such as aspects of preparing calfskin, "a long and smelly business" (p. 38), resulting in a movement to replace animal hide with synthetic substances like mylar.
Remaining chapters include a mixture of information on Western and non-Western instruments and their place in society. Some of his subtitles are amusing, such as "Trouble with Tension" in chapter 2, "Drums," or "Whistling in the Wind" in chapter 3, "Flutes and Recorder." Montagu provides the reader with interesting tidbits about the origins of instruments, their place in societies, changes to their structure as a result of new technologies, and issues relating to performance practice. His attention to the history of the Early Music movement, beginning at the end of the nineteenth century in Germany and Austria, is embedded in chapter 6, "Strings," at the end of his description of stringed keyboards, including those that are rubbed, such as the organistrum, those played by touching, such as the clavichord, and the thorny terminology connected to those played by plucking (harpsichord, virginal and its Flemish form, the muselaar, and the spinet among others), and "Hitting, or More Politely Hammering" (pianos).
The general organization of the book is occasionally cumbersome, in particular, Montagu's placement of the "Interludes." In chapter 1, there is a section labeled "Voices" that describes instruments that progress in their usage from ritual to mundane to toy. An example is a bull-roarer. Another is the kazoo, which in ancient Greece and in traditional African societies can transform the voice into a deity (p. 6). At this point, Montagu informs the reader that further description of instruments as voices will take place in Interlude "F. Messenger," some 175 pages later. It seems that the materials on instruments used as voices could be presented together in one chapter, rather than spread out in this manner.
In Montagu's telling the story of musical instruments, many of them from his own collection, it is clear that he not only loves his subject, but also has knowledge of it from many different vantage points. While the narrative is mostly fluid and easy to read, occasionally, the author's sentence structure is unnecessarily complex. For example, the following:
If this hypothesis were correct, it would imply that the flute band was almost universal in the prehistory of mankind, for there are few areas that have not known the panpipe, an instrument that we shall describe in detail below. (p. 45)
Curiously, in the one short chapter on pipe organs, he makes reference to the instrument in ancient civilization, but fails to connect the European pipe organ to non-Western instruments, like the sheng, described in the earlier chapter on reeds.
Despite some pitfalls, this is a fine text book for a semester survey of musical instruments (I plan to use it in a forthcoming graduate seminar on the history and technology of musical instruments), as well as a fine resource for laypersons who wish to know more about musical sounds in many cultures throughout many periods of time.
SUSAN FORSCHER WEISS
Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University
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|Title Annotation:||Origins and Development of Musical Instruments|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2009|
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