- Songs without Words: Keyboard Arrangements of Vocal Music in England, 1560–1760ed. by Sandra Mangsen
The subject of musical arrangement is one that has begun to arouse increasing interest among musicologists in recent years, as they have moved away from a long-standing tendency to deride such reworkings—considering them, as Willi Apel wrote, to 'occupy a much larger space than they deserve relative to their historical and artistic significance' ( The History of Keyboard Music to 1700, trans. Hans Tischler (Bloomington, Ind., 1972), 288)—in the belief that the only musical works of artistic value are composers' original works. Such viewpoints are built largely on a nineteenth-century conception of the composer as genius; it is a rocky foundation that accords poorly with the status of many composers, then as now, but that is particularly inappropriate for periods up to the end of the eighteenth century, when the status of professional composers was generally much more akin to that of a skilled craftsman than an other-worldly creative force. It is thus particularly welcome that musicology's re-evaluation of arrangement as a creative activity has included a strong focus on early music, especially that of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There are now a good many modern editions through which such arrangements have become accessible, and scholarship on early modern arranging activities has also grown gradually. Nevertheless, Sandra Mangsen's book is the first full-length study of the topic for the early modern period, so it forms an important addition to the field.
Encompassing arrangements of popular song and ballads, art song, and (mainly) theatre songs, the book reminds us that much keyboard repertory in this period had its origins in pre-existing materials of this sort, at a time when the boundaries between vocal and instrumental music were considered to be entirely porous (p. 17). Both were drawn on freely by performers whose playing was founded on improvisatory practices (p. 12), and who used this popular source-material to mould their own interpretations without any sense that a composer's original composition needed to be preserved or distinguished from their own creativity; paths of transmission are thus extremely fluid, and difficult to trace (p. 25). As Mangsen notes, the appeal of these keyboard arrangements was in fact largely due to their derivation from the pre-existing material, so it is hardly surprising that published collections in particular tend 'to exploit rather than hide' these connections (pp. 122–3). She thus sets out to explore this still-unfamiliar territory by tracing these connections in order to assess their contribution to the musical experiences of ordinary people in the early modern period.
The book is structured chronologically and divides into two unequal parts: its first chapter comprises a broad survey of the materials used for arrangements created by the virginalists of the earlier part of the period under consideration, focusing first on ballads and other popular songs, then on the 'composed vocal music' (lute songs, madrigals, chansons) that was reworked for keyboard by a select group of professionals, including Peter Philips, William Byrd, and Giles Farnaby. Chapter 2 then jumps to the turn of the eighteenth century—Mangsen explaining that her decision to 'pass quickly over the latter half of the seventeenth' was made because 'the tradition of playing keyboard arrangements … continued relatively unchanged until the end of the century' (p. 3). This and the remaining three chapters essentially comprise a series of case studies highlighting the key publications [End Page 115]of individuals associated with producing keyboard arrangements of theatre music in the period up to the death of Handel: a set of anthologies masterminded by the publisher John Walsh— The Harpsicord Master(1697–1734), The Ladys Banquet(1704–6, 1720, 1730–5), and The Ladys Entertainment(1708–11)—plus the Suits of Celebrated Lessons(1717), by the prolific arranger and virtuoso player William Babell, and a later Walsh set containing Handel arrangements, Sonatas...