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Reviewed by:
  • Musical Cultures in Seventeenth-Century Russia
  • Richard Taruskin
Musical Cultures in Seventeenth-Century Russia. By Claudia R. Jensen. (Russian Music Studies.) Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. [xii, 359 p. ISBN 9780253353542. $45.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

My brightest memory of a most memorable occasion—the 1985 AMS/CMS/ SEM/SMT plenary meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, the first omnibus joint meeting of its kind—is of a paper by a Princeton graduate student, Claudia R. Jensen, with a wordy but otherwise unassuming title, "An Early Circle of Fifths: Nikolai Diletskii's Grammatika musikiiskago peniia (A Grammar of Musical Song)." It turned out that Diletskii's circle was not just an early one, but the earliest one on record, preceding the venerable Johann David Heinichen's "musicalischer Circul" (in his thoroughbass treatise of 1711), long the official First Circle, by 32 years. So, it now appeared, the Russians could claim the circle of fifths, along with the airplane and the radio, as one of their inventions.

Seven years later, Ms. Jensen, by then Dr. Jensen, brought this singular finding to the attention of the wider musicological world with an article in the Journal of the American Musicological Society called "A Theoretical Work of Late Seventeenth-Century Muscovy: Nikolai Diletskii's Grammatika and the Earliest Circle of Fifths" (vol. 45, no. 2 [Summer 1992]: 305–31), but the world has been slow to take notice. The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory (ed. Thomas Christensen [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002]) still credits Heinichen and neglects Diletskii in its index. Wikipedia has it right by now, but looking there is infra dig. Which may be why a very prominent music theorist, in a talk I heard only two months ago (as I write in May 2010), was still laboring under the old Germanocentric assumption. Russia, it seems, is not yet a part of "Western Music" as imagined by most music historians. (Or is it just a Cambridge thing? The Cambridge histories of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music also stop short at the Oder-Neisse line.)

Undeterred, Jensen, now on the faculty of the School of Music at the University of Washington, has made a full-scale bid to win our attention for the Orthodox lands. The present monograph, in which the fifth and longest chapter is given over to Diletskii and his remarkable treatise (written—possibly in Polish—in Vilnius in the 1670s but extant only in Russian and Ukrainian redactions), sets this outstanding document in the context of a wide range of contemporary musical activities. The author is careful not to make the sort of reckless claim I parodied in the first paragraph. She is under no illusions that the Russians were the first to conceive of encompassing fifth relations; indeed, she does not tout Diletskii's circle of fifths as any sort of conceptual breakthrough, let alone the birth of tonality out of the spirit of Russia. (As a concept, the circle of fifths goes back a good deal earlier than she reports, at least to the 1540s, when, as Edward Lowinsky informed us long ago, the German humanist musician Matthias Greiter put the incipit of the song Fortuna desperata through seven progressions along a circle of fifths, from F to an implied F-flat, to symbolize Fortune's wheel.) For Diletskii it was nothing more than a device for extending compositions through sequential transposition. Nor was it distinctively Russian: the treatise from which it comes was a handbook for Westernizing Russian church music according to principles first applied in Uniate [End Page 295] Ukraine, where the Orthodox liturgy was first adapted to music in the style of Venetian concerted motets, which had become popular in Catholic Poland. Diletskii's Grammatika was a guide to the composition of kontserty, Orthodox (and therefore a cappella) compositions in Venetian style that to the consternation of traditionalists were fast replacing the older troestrochnoe penie, three-part harmonizations of traditional Russian or znamennyi (neumatic) chants in an idiom faithful to the older modes.

That already suggests the overall trajectory Jensen's monograph traces. The seventeenth century, the last century of Muscovite tsardom, was a period of pervasive change and modernization in...


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