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The Guitar and Its Music: From the Renaissance to the Classical Era.

James Tyler and Paul Sparks. The Guitar and Its Music: From the Renaissance to the Classical Era.

Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. xxvi + 322 pp. index. append. illus. tbls. bibl. $90. ISBN: 0-19-816713-X.

Between the appearance of the earliest dated works for the four-course Renaissance guitar, contained in Alonso Mudarra's 1546 print from Seville, and the emergence of the modern six-string instrument, also in Spain during the late eighteenth century, the "early" guitar played an important and, at times crucial, role as a solo, accompanying, and ensemble instrument in France, Italy, the Iberian Peninsula, and England. Moreover, the cross-cultural itineraries and diverse demographic coverage of the instrument testify to its remarkable adaptability to changing styles and contexts, which, in turn, allowed the guitar to assume a major role in transmitting throughout Europe many popular and even New World repertories. The large cultural and stylistic breadth of the instrument has not made it easy for musicology to digest. This situation is exacerbated by the enormous size of the surviving music: around 180 printed and manuscript sources survive from seventeenth-century Italy alone, amounting to thousands of pieces that are preserved largely in tablature, an immensely practical type of notation but one that continues to obscure the repertory from most non-players--the irony being that tablature was originally intended, and still is, to render guitar music more accessible. Consequently, serious scholarship of the early guitar has been confined mainly to specialists, particularly those who have considerable experience at playing the music and therefore the ability to study the repertory in the original and negotiate the problems encountered in such a large repertory of incredibly diverse source types.

This coauthored book, written by two eminent scholar/performers (who have also collaborated on a history of the mandolin), is an important and essential study. Not only does it offer a detailed guide to the sources, it integrates recent work from the fields of organology and iconography, archival and patronage studies, performance practice, and the analogous area of lute music, resulting in a coverage that is impressively inclusive in the best sense of the word.

The book's tripartite division--and for obvious reasons, this review--is weighted naturally towards Tyler's authorship of parts 1 and 2, or to the more plentiful four- and five-course repertories, which roughly correspond to the "Renaissance" and "Baroque" guitar, respectively. (This also serves to show that issues in music history can indeed hang in the balance of a string.) The strengths of Tyler's research have always been a thorough knowledge of the primary sources, an ability to understand their implicit performance conventions, and clear, lucid explanations of performance techniques. Here, these attributes are augmented in almost all areas. Tyler has uncovered almost two dozen more manuscript sources from 1600-1750 than were previously known from Wolfgang Boetticher's Handschriftlich uberlieferte Lauten- und Gitarrentabulaturen of 1978 (RISM B/VII), and provides much detailed information on the printed sources in a series of tables at the end of chapters 6-10. In addition, the historical coverage extends to discussions (and source lists) beyond France, Italy, Spain, and England, to the cultivation of the Spanish guitar in the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Germany, the Austrian Empire, Portugal, the New World, and the guitar's use in ensembles and in accompanying Italian monody.

The basic design of the book is executed through a source-based approach, a plan that succeeds generally well in the discussions of the Parisian repertory of the mid-sixteenth century when a thriving print culture of guitar music was sustained for a few decades through the efforts of enterprising publishers and editors like Morlaye, Gorlier, Fezandat, and Le Roy and Ballard, mostly working under royal licenses granted by Henry II (who may have been introduced to the instrument during the years he spent as a Spanish hostage). Tyler's discussion here, as elsewhere in the book, merges practical insights gained from a long experience in playing this music and making performing editions (which are quite different from scholarly monuments), along with close analyses of prefatory material, notational characteristics, and regional traits, the latter being an important issue in the overall organization of the book. The most detailed discussion and clearly the core of Tyler's contribution is the section on Italian music of the Seicento, an area which has long been perhaps his main interest. Following the discussion of sources and repertories proper, appendices to part 2 include a "Brief Guide to Reading and Interpreting Baroque Guitar Tablatures," as well as information on tuning and stringing, which will be very useful to performers as well as musicologists involved in the study and editing of this repertory.

This book constitutes an elegant and important "completion," to Tyler's earlier book on the subject, The Early Guitar (1980), which until the present volume, served as the main guide to the pre-1750 guitar. The reader will not find much in the way of analytical discussions of the music, and musical examples are scarce--a trend that can be observed, sadly, in many recent musical titles from major presses. But with its detailed discussions of the sources, clear explanations of performance issues, and the extension of the coverage into the eighteenth century, all formed upon a solid musicological base, this book will surely be a cornerstone of future research and performance of early guitar repertories.


University of Calgary
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Coelho, Victor
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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