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Reviewed by:
  • Early Musical Borrowing
  • Scott David Atwell
Early Musical Borrowing. Edited by Honey Meconi. New York: Routledge, 2004. (Criticism and Analysis of Early Music.) [xvii, 230 p. ISBN 0-8153-3521-0. $95.] Music examples, index, bibliography.

Early Musical Borrowing is a first-rate and timely work. The eight essays included in the collection are eclectic and well-researched, and cover a broad range of topics dealing with music borrowing as practiced primarily within the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The essays cover a plethora of interrelated and interdependent subjects, ranging in scope from the chanson Mass, intertextuality, illusion, and the interpretation and dating of selected works, to the Hapsburg-Burgundian manuscripts and borrowing, the polyphonic Missa de feria, and melodic citation in the motets of the sixteenth century. Subjects are treated thoroughly and painstakingly, and the essays are arranged in roughly chronological order, from the early fifteenth to the late sixteenth centuries.

The book as a whole is concise and very thought-provoking, and particularly useful in its introduction of newer scholarly methodologies. The reader is introduced to the labyrinth of analytical models, terms, and compositional and theoretical procedures (both contemporaneous and contemporary) employed in musical borrowing, as well as to the tonal structures, various textual and extra-textual languages, and source-critical studies which are integral to a fundamental understanding of the topics addressed. Polyphonic models upon which other, often larger, works are frequently based, as well as their manipulation throughout the course of a work, are scrutinized analytically. The question of what precisely constitutes borrowed material, and how scholars define the different types as well as degree of musical borrowing, is examined. Varying terminologies are dissected, and descriptors that have been used in the past (or were in part accepted according to common understanding) to describe the techniques of borrowing, and which may have been applied historically (e.g., parody and imitation) are held up to greater scrutiny, resulting in terms that are perhaps less palatable (e.g., "proto-parody" and "incipient parody," p. 2) yet possibly more appropriate in labeling the processes or techniques under investigation.

The use of a cantus firmus as a structural device is in a few cases shown to be an inexact representation as well, since the phrase cantus prius factus is often used in lieu of, or in addition to it in order to describe the various compositional borrowing processes and procedures involving the manipulation of melodic material within works employing either strict or free models. Coupled with the varying terminological difficulties elaborated upon in the foreword and in the introduction, it is not difficult to understand why one writer correctly asserts that we are left with the unenviable conundrum of having to deal with and define the resulting "mangling of terms" (p. 3). As a result, some readers may discover that they require a reevaluation and recasting of the frequent a prioripreconceptions and premises that often accompany the study of early musical borrowing, and early music in general. Although standard works such as E. H. Sparks, Cantus Firmus in Mass and Motet 1420–1520 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963) remain pertinent and continue to furnish a wealth of information pertaining to structural devices, one is likely to get the impression that classics such as this are not themselves beyond scrutiny based on the newer methodologies and approaches elucidated in this work. And this, in my opinion, is a primary strength of the work, in that it provides (or in some cases, furnishes a basis for) a careful consideration and scholarly reevaluation of historical, musical, cultural, and critical nuances to the academic community at large, making the work timely and relevant.

Portions of a number of essays discuss the working and reworking of monophonic chant as well as secular tunes such as L'homme armé and Fors seulement as models [End Page 382] for larger works; others delve into the polyphonic chanson and help to answer the question why composers used the chanson as a model for their Masses as frequently as they did. Indeed, the employment of French secular song as a model for the Mass is traced back to the early fifteenth century (Le Rouge et al.), and...


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