Curious and Modern Inventions: Instrumental Music as Discovery in Galileo's Italy by Rebecca Cypess (review)
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Curious and Modern Inventions: Instrumental Music as Discovery in Galileo's Italy. By Rebecca Cypess. pp. xxi + 307. (University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2016. £38.50. ISBN 978-0-226-31944-5.)

This book is boldly original and is a reminder to the reader that there is much about the context of early instrumental music that we have not yet begun to explore. Rebecca Cypess takes Biagio Marini's 1626 publication Sonate, symphonie, concert … con altre curiose inventioni (1626) not just as the source for her title, but also as a point of reference for her case studies. The central hypothesis of the book is the 'paradox of instrumentality': that is, music that explores the solid physicality of the instrument while at the same time inspiring swiftly changing, ephemeral affetti. The way in which this idea is contextualized is original and thought-provoking: the artisan instrumentalist works with an instrument that is fundamentally the tool of his trade, but explores what it is capable of in much the same way as a scholar may explore the possibilities of a piece of new technology, such as a telescope or clock.

Framed by an introduction and conclusion, the six wide-ranging chapters fall—perhaps unintentionally—into sections. Cypess states that in chapters 2 to 5 she attempts 'to apply that theory [the paradox of instrumentality] by proposing models in other forms of instrumentality and ''invention''' (p. 187). As I read it, the first two chapters focus on the physicality of the instrument, the third and fourth on the music as representation (music as portraiture and as a cabinet of curiosities), and the final two on music in relation to concepts of time (instruments of timekeeping and historiography). As might be expected in a book of this scope, some chapters fit closely with the fundamental hypothesis, while others seem more tangential to it. The whole is rich with copious music examples and a commanding range of extracts and citations from primary-source material in a number of disciplines.

The first two chapters, exploring the concept of instrumentality, are the strongest in terms of coherent argument. Cypess posits the idea of the artisan-performer grappling with an inanimate instrument as the means of creating meraviglia, playing double-stops and physically changing the tuning with the purpose of moving the affetti on its own terms, and not simply mirroring vocal music. The author draws on a wide variety of texts from a range of disciplines to support her discussion, including Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo's Trattato dell'arte della [End Page 650] pittura (Milan, 1585), Agostino Ramelli's Le diverse et artificiose machine (Paris, 1588), Stefano Guazzo's treatise on civility, Civile conversazione (Brescia, 1574), and a letter from Galileo to the artist Cigoli (1612). Her arguments are persuasive and well supported by significant extracts of music by Marini from his Affetti musicali (1617) and Sonate, symphonie, concerti.

The strengths of these two chapters, however, are not developed as far as one might have hoped. The physicality of virtuosity on other instruments in the designated pieces for wind instruments in Castello's Sonate concertate in stil moderno, and experimentation with keyboard tuning and repertories such as the Neapolitan pieces for cembalo cromatico, would each be worthy of examination from the perspective of instrumentality as defined in these chapters. On the one hand Cypess has avoided a Pandora's box—the contemporary theoretical literature relating to temperaments and tuning is contradictory and difficult to say the least—but on the other, it does seem like a missed opportunity.

Instead, the third chapter moves from the idea of civil conversation and posits a theory of instrumental music as portraiture. As a standalone piece, the arguments and contextualization of Marini's Affetti musicali are quite compelling. However, when approached from the previous two chapters it seems as if the focus has shifted from notions of instrumentality closely connected with process (creating and performing in order to move the emotions) to product (representation in sound of a person). This leaves the reader wondering why Marini's publication in particular should be the focus when there are plenty of others that include sonatas, canzonas...


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