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Reviewed by:
  • The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music
  • Candace Bailey
The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music. Edited by Tim Carter and John Butt. (Cambridge History of Music.) New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006 [xxvii, 591 p. ISBN 0-521-79273-8. $175.] References, index.

The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music (CHSCM) is part of a new series, the Cambridge History of Music, and covers, succinctly enough, music between 1600 and 1700. Edited jointly by Tim Carter and John Butt, two of the most imaginative scholars of the period, the CHSCM consists of fourteen chapters written by twelve scholars (Carter contributes three chapters). It follows Cambridge University Press's rule that no music examples or illustrations occur within the volume. This practice is openly addressed in [End Page 597] the Preface (pp. xviii–xix); its merits and detractions weighed and given their due, but house style remains house style. The preface is, along with the first chapter ("Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque," by Carter), a penetrating look at why we have viewed this period the way we have (reception history) and how one defines what a period is. Beginning with thoughtful comments that challenge the reader to consider what a history should contain and questions of objective versus subjective approaches (especially in the context of previous writings on the period), the editors describe how the seventeenth century has been discussed in the past and also include comments on the influence of historical performance and the "early-music movement." The preface ends with the statement that "one could look to its plurality, unexpectedness, and dynamic combination of conservative and radical elements in the search for modes of artistic expression fit for its times. Just how this music stems from a culture that shares some of our proclivities while representing a historically alien world is something that the present book must put at centre stage" (p. xxvi).

Some of the exciting contributions to CHSCM are those that do precisely what the editors foretell: they offer diversity of approach, they remove the historical burden of the seventeenth century as a "warm-up act to the German giants of the early eighteenth" (p. xvi), and they reflect broader appreciations for aspects of music or music-related activities previously seen in writings on nineteenth-century music. The first seven chapter titles clearly demonstrate a departure from earlier histories of the century: "Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque" (as mentioned above); "The Seventeenth-Century Musical 'Work' " (by John Butt); "Music in the Market-Place" (by Stephen Rose); "Music in the New Worlds" (by Victor Anand Coelho); "Music and the Arts" (by Barbara Russano Hanning); "Music and the Sciences" (by Penelope Gouk); and "The Search for Musical Meaning" (by Tim Carter). Each of these chapters considers the seventeenth century with fresh observation, offering the reader not only new information but also new questions. For example, John Butt's "The Seventeenth-Century Musical 'Work' " asks questions of the period that are not traditionally considered and yet illuminate so many of its idiosyncrasies. This approach could serve as a model for other style periods. He warns against the dangers of using concepts developed in the nineteenth century to judge/define/categorize seventeenth-century music and suggests situating the pieces in the culture as a whole. Such proposals resonate with anyone who has attempted to discuss this contradictory century, and adjusting the basis of our own conception might be the most successful way to understand this repertory. ( Just how far to take some of the ideas presented in the book as a whole arise here, for although Butt states that "the fact remains, though, that most music-making was still connected to traditional institutions such as church and court" (p. 51), Margaret Murata's chapter on secular song (see below) contests even this long-held premise. Therein lies the beauty of having such a diverse collection of authors in a single volume.)

The remainder of the chapters resembles more closely the standard organization of such histories, to varying degrees, albeit with creative titles that suggest even here things are different. Perhaps the most insightful of these is Margaret Murata's chapter "Image and Eloquence: Secular Song," where many aspects...


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