Source Readings in Music History.
"It would hardly be extravagant to say that the last twenty years have witnessed a revolution in our approach to the history of music." Wilfred Mellers's observation in his review of the first edition of Oliver Strunk's Source Readings in Music History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1950; Mellers, Musical Times 93 : 450) is equally apt today, if not more so. New methods, subject matter, and goals for the study of music history have made ours also a revolutionary time. The new edition of Strunk's monumental anthology, once a canonical companion to all in the field, responds to modern needs and is invigorated with new thinking; yet it maintains a rich continuity with the first edition. Appropriately, it is both a revision of and a salute to Strunk's pioneering work.
One of the chapter titles of the new edition, "Differences Noted," is fitting for a review as well, for despite the continuity with the first edition, the new Source Readings is a very different book. Under the general editorship of Leo Treitler, seven scholars-- Thomas Mathiesen, James McKinnon, Gary Tomlinson, Margaret Murata, Wye J. Allan-brook, Ruth A. Solie, and Robert P. Morgan --have created anthologies of source materials within the familiar structure of historical periods. But the familiar has been rechristened to reflect modern taxonomy: the "Classical Period" is now the more neutral "Late Eighteenth Century," and the "Romantic Era" yields its descriptive bias to the more objective "Nineteenth Century." Chapter headings have also been reformulated, often to stress the modern visibility of historical heterogeneity: Strunk's "Greek View of Music" and "Early Christian View of Music" are now tellingly plural: "Greek Views" and "Early Christian Views." And heterogeneity is vigorously embraced in the con tent selection itself. This is most apparent in the inclusion of sources by or relating to women and sources relating to non-Western cultures. Moreover, the heterogeneous view has softened the canonicity of Strunk's anthology, which was intended as a collection of "those things which [the student] must eventually read"; as Treitler states, "That aim has necessarily yielded some ground to a wish to bring into the conversation what has heretofore been marginal or altogether silent in accounts of music history" (p. xxi).
It is significant that the new edition is the fruit of a team of eight scholars, in contrast to Strunk's nearly single-handed effort; and with translations now drawn from published editions as well as from the editors themselves, this multiplicity of voices is even greater. The larger team has amassed a much larger collection than the original--over six hundred pages longer, with well over a hundred additional entries that now extend the coverage to the end of the twentieth century. Around 70 percent of the revised version is new, and around 70 percent of the original collection has been retained--a satisfying symmetry that confirms the soundness of Strunk's judgments.
Selection is arguably the chief interpretative act in a collection of historical readings, and like Strunk, the new editors chose well. The range of entries is not only broad, but carefully balanced. Documents relating to composition, aesthetics, and performance are read in tandem with more socially oriented documents like Susannah Burney's Letter-Journal of 1779-80, Amy Fay's 1880 descriptive account of piano study with Carl Tausig, Francesco Coli's engaging seventeenth-century description of Venetian musical life, and Marian Anderson's moving memoir of singing at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is an undeniably congenial aspect of the anthology that in readings such as these, the "human face" of musicmaking is allowed to emerge so freely. With it comes a decidedly more balanced picture of music in history. In her introduction to the nineteenth-century section, Solie explicitly observes that "there is more to the history of music than the history of compositional styles" (p. 1045); her editorial colleagues clearly share that view.
The balance of content has other manifestations as well. Negative views of music (Sextus Empiricus's "Against the Musicians" or Henry Cornelius Agrippa's "Declamation of the Uncertainty and Vanity of the Sciences and Arts" ) appear alongside the expected positive ones. Similarly, diverse views are represented among sources relating to women. For example, Pietro Bembo's "Letter to His Daughter Elena" (1541) articulates familiar values of the sixteenth century: "set aside thoughts of this frivolity [music] and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient" (p. 333). But a few pages later, the composer Maddalena Casulana offers a contrasting view; she seeks to "expose to the world . . . the vain error of men who esteem themselves such masters of high intellectual gifts that they think women cannot share them too" (p. 337).
Inevitably, everyone will regret some omission or another in a work like this. One misses, for instance, the discussion of early polyphony from the Musica enchiriadis and Scolica enchiriadis. It is surprising that there are no readings on jazz, and that popular music in the twentieth century makes a lone appearance in the excerpt from Steven Connor's Postmodernist Culture (1989). On the other hand, readers will inevitably question some inclusions. Heinrich Schutz's "Memorandum to the Elector of Saxony" (1651) may seem too narrowly biographical; Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx's description of Le balet comique de la royne (1581) is rich in content, but perhaps too tied to a single event for wide application.
The content of the twentieth-century section is entirely new and represents not only an expansion of subject matter, but also a change in the nature of the documents themselves. One reason the first edition was so valued for so many years was that Strunk made convenient and accessible sources that were difficult for students to obtain and use. With the twentieth-century sources, accessibility ceases to be an issue; all but one of the forty-five readings have been published previously, many in recent editions and many in English.
In his introduction to the medieval section, McKinnon usefully links certain source readings to the modern scholarly controversy regarding the Frankish transformation of Roman chant. Links among the readings themselves are important as well, especially in an anthology so large and diverse. Some works are easily placed together, like Milton Babbitt's "Who Cares If You Listen?" and Evan Ziporyn's "Who Listens If You Care?" More distant connections between seemingly disparate readings might have been noted to good advantage. Mathiesen links Sextus Empiricus's reference to warlike rhythm to Aristides Quintilianus's discussion of pyrrhic rhythms, though the latter is not included in the anthology. A reference to Claudio Monteverdi's mention of the ancient roots of warlike rhythm in his Madrigati guerrieri, et amorosi (1638)--which is included-would have encouraged the reader to see across chronological boundaries.
Traversing boundaries assumes great importance in light of the fragmentation and heterogeneity of our historical periods, stressed by the editors implicitly (in the choice of content) or explicitly; according to Tomlinson, "If there is any unifying thread that extends across European elite perceptions from, say, 1400 to 1600, it is probably the growing sense of the disunity and even disarray of knowledge that had once seemed more tractable and comprehensible" (p. 281). As the tidiness of historical periodicity becomes increasingly illusory, the temptation to reorder our structures becomes increasingly inviting. For example, a reshifting of the contents of this volume along conceptual lines--one section devoted to compositional matters in all periods, one to performance practice, one to other" musical worlds, one to aesthetics, and so on--would encourage the reader to view music history more as an array of ideas than as the manifestation of a periodicity that remains convenient, though slightly worn around the edges.
The revised Source Readings in Music History is impressively compiled and carefully presented, and its range of content is well attuned to the historiographical trends of modern music scholarship.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2000|
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