restricted access Music and Musicians on the London Stage, 1695-1705 (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Lowerre, Kathryn. Music and Musicians on the London Stage, 1695-1705. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2009. 428 pp.

Arguing that competition for audiences crucially influenced the development of theatrical music in London at the turn of the eighteenth century, Lowerre begins Music and Musicians on the London Stage, 1695-1705 just after the splitting of the United Company into two factions. The United Company had been the only licensed theatrical company in London for more than a decade, but the formation of a new company at Lincoln's Inn Fields created an atmosphere of increased if hesitant experimentation with different forms of musical production. Lowerre asserts that the rival companies discovered that the key to success lay in finding the proper balance between innovation and tradition, and she aims both to categorize the various uses of staged music and to trace the gradual evolution of theatrical musical practice. This dual goal makes more formidable an already ambitious task, given both the inconsistencies of the historical record and the volume and complexity of current scholarship on the topic. If this has resulted in a few structural weaknesses, Lowerre has nevertheless managed to produce a careful and notably thorough account.

Lowerre approaches her project systematically. Following an introductory "Prologue," she divides the book into two large sections: a two-chapter overview of the use of music in comedy and in tragedy and dramatic opera, and a sequence of four chronological chapters that trace the productions of each company throughout the decade. Although this seems a natural organization, it slightly obscures the work's primary focus. The chronological section seems to imply a deliberate effort by each company to use musical experimentation to gain a larger share of the audience, while the topical chapters emphasize that musical innovations were often haphazard, motivated more by each company's resources. A more sustained conclusion than her [End Page 8] two-page Epilogue might have helped clarify Lowerre's intentions.

Lowerre begins each of the chapters in Part One, "The Place and Function of Music in Dramatic Productions" with a straightforward overview of the types of music that had been traditionally employed in each genre, then discusses a stock comedy or tragedy, and closes with a comparison between the use of music in plays from early in her decade to that in plays at its end. Her numerous examples persuasively establish that both companies experimented extensively with the use of music, though the long term significance of these experiments is left implicit. Though her caution not to overreach is responsible, less mundane conclusions, however tentative, would have been more satisfying. A similar reluctance to over-speculate might also somewhat limit the appeal of a few of Lowerre's close readings in this section. Many, such as the discussion of She Ventures and He Wins (30-35), provide sharply observant analyses of the way the music compliments, complicates, or contradicts textual meanings, but some, such as that on The Lying Lover (60-63), seem to enumerate the text's musical aspects without much interpretative comment. That said, most of the readings imply suggestive avenues of interpretative inquiry, even if those suggestions are not traced in detail. Although those looking for bold challenges to standard readings will be disappointed, Lowerre offers many subtler observations of potentially wider applicability.

Part Two, "Music and Musicians in Theatrical Competition," is the largest and most comprehensive section of the book. Built of four chapters each covering two to three years time, the section provides meticulous coverage of the musical aspects of each play known to have been produced or revived during the decade. These chapters follow a uniform format that includes a brief contextual overview of the years in question, an inventory of the personnel available to each of the companies during that time, a series of close readings of the plays broken down season-by-season, and a terse summary of the author's conclusions. This structure has certain advantages: it makes it easy for a reader to track the way each company exploited the development of its actors, singers, and dancers, and it ensures that no musical play known to be produced will be overlooked. However...