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Food for Apollo: Cultivated Music in Antebellum Philadelphia by Dorothy T. Potter (review)
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In the introduction to this work, the author quotes from an anthology entitled Music and History: Bridging the Disciplines: “Why haven’t historians and musicologists been talking to one another?” While musicology is explicitly the study of music, that is, musical sound within its historical context, it is perhaps easier for a musicologist to consult historical research than for a historian to read musicological works. Among the reasons for this difficulty, two might be highlighted. First, before the advent of recorded sound, music was intrinsically ephemeral. We have musical notation that passes on outlines, for example, of a Mozart sonata, but we do not know exactly how to realize those outlines in the same way Mozart himself or his contemporaries, or succeeding generations for that matter, did. We often rely on oral tradition, with performers tracing their teachers back to the composer. So the musicologist must also be a musician, able to recreate the musical phenomenon using the best evidence the scholar can unearth and deduce from the evidence at hand. Second, the musicologist is constrained by the realities and difficulties of writing or speaking about music, a genre completely different from, and yet sometimes analogous to, language, a problem Charles Seeger referred to as “the musicological juncture.” These two facts may help explain why historians and musicologists have found it difficult to communicate, at least from the musicological side.

At the same time, as one trained as an ethnomusicologist who now studies much the same period as Dorothy Potter examines in her book, I find that the contextualization of musical performance and its sociological significance is of as much importance as the understanding of the musical sound and performance practices of the period, an approach found more and more within musicological studies as well. So it seems that the insights of the historian into a given time and place should be as welcome to the musicologist as the musical culture and content of the period should be to the historian. But ultimately it is easier for the musicologist to read the historian than the other way around. There are, however, masterful exceptions to this claim, perhaps most notably Lawrence W. Levine’s Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought From Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).

Potter’s new work is part of the Studies in Eighteenth-Century America and the Atlantic World series affiliated with Lehigh University’s Lawrence Henry Gipson Institute for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Even the title of the book itself and the cover illustration are taken from nineteenth-century publications. Much of the book after the first chapter, however, is focused on nineteenth-century Philadelphia. This may be the reason why chapter 1, entitled “Philadelphia’s Musical Beginnings, 1700–1786,” reads more like a prologue than the vital foundation of a much more expansive thesis. It is largely based on secondary sources, many of which date from the early years of serious study of American music by notable scholars such as Oscar Sonneck. This has led to the duplication of a few mistakes contained in these early works, though corrected long ago, for example, the spelling of Rayner Taylor’s first name as “Raynor.” The chapter offers many useful facts about the city’s musical life in the eighteenth century but might have gone farther in connecting the personalities introduced given that Philadelphia’s musical community, both professional and amateur, consisted of a small group of interrelated individuals. Stephen Forage, for example, the first Philadelphia performer on Benjamin Franklin’s improved “glass armonica,” was admired as a musician by Francis Hopkinson, the composer of the first set of original songs printed in the United States, copies of which were sent by Benjamin Franklin to friends in Europe.

Chapter 2 surveys musical life in Philadelphia from the early years of the new republic to the 1831 death of Benjamin Carr, a musician often referred to as “The Father of Philadelphia Music,” as the author notes. Carr’s role in Philadelphia music was that of a teacher and mentor. He carefully nurtured the musical life of the city, serving as a mentor to young musicians of talent such as Joseph Taws, son...

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