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Reviewed by:
  • Music and Ideas in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
  • Margaret Murata
Music and Ideas in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. By Claude V. Palisca, ed. by Thomas J. Mathiesen. (Studies in the History of Music Theory and Literature.) Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. [x, 302 p. ISBN 0-252-03156-3. $35.] Illustrations, bibliographical references, index.

The intellectual legacy of a musicologist begins with writing a dissertation, an exercise that demands both a demonstration of familiarity with the broad structure of a research area and, often, detailed technical forays into identifying and solving problems posed by that structure. When scholars also become teachers, as Claude Palisca was for five years at the University of Illinois and thirty-three years at Yale University, they also develop the art of presenting complex arguments, reorganizing knowledge, and then communicating that reorganization persuasively in the classroom as well as in print. Palisca's broadest contribution to the teaching of music history were his multiple re-editions of Donald Grout's History of Western Music; his particular "home" within that history was music theory in the Renaissance and baroque eras and its inescapable connections to the music theory of the ancient Greeks and Romans, even though ancient music itself was unknowable. From his first scholarly article in 1954 to his last in 2000 (which appeared in 2003), Palisca worked from original letters, treatises in manuscript and in print, and music scores, sorting out to what extent the "moderns" knew the "ancients," what they understood and misunderstood of them, and how Italian writers in particular not only codified but also, more interestingly, influenced musical composition and performance in their time. Sometimes Palisca's research explained networks between sources; he published masterfully annotated translations of several treatises; at other times, he studied critics looking at specific dissonances and accidentals within music scores.

His books Humanism in Italian Renaissance Music Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985) and The Florentine Came-rata: Documentary Studies and Translations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) opened windows to specific writers and treatises. They made it clear that by "theory" Palisca meant far more than rules of musical compositions or descriptions of musical systems. He was investigating how thinking about music—whether it was about scores or tuning or creating opera— fit into learned inquiry in a fervently learned era. When Clarendon Press issued updated versions of nineteen of his essays dating from 1956 to 1986 as Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford, 1994), it seemed that, like Johann Sebastian Bach, Palisca in retirement was also surveying his own work for its own collective structure. The posthumously edited book under review here, Music and Ideas, provides the keys and intellectual contexts to Palisca's numerous studies, as well as a kind of narrative organization to his oeuvre. The language and presentation are clear and largely non-technical, as if accompanying a "Norton" Anthology of Humanist Musical Theory. Anyone tackling Palisca's articles today or his interests would do well to begin with this, his last book, first drafted in 1997 and revised by him up to late 2000. [End Page 602]

The chapter titles signal not only the broad themes Palisca intended by "ideas" but also the importance of each discussion. In the third chapter on "Sense over Reason: The Anti-Theoretical Tradition," for example, Palisca describes how modern Italians disagreed with, set aside, and advanced new arguments against "establishment" theorists like hoary Boethius or the numerology of Gioseffo Zarlino. In "Theories of Monody and Dramatic Music" (chap. 7), he rewrites a story that every music student has read in one edition or another of the Norton History of Western Music; but here Palisca integrates the views of classical scholar Girolamo Mei on the different modes used for actors and choruses in ancient Greek drama, of humanist Francesco Patrizi on Greek poetic forms, and the arguments of lutenist-theorist Vincenzo Galilei and singer-composer Giulio Caccini on solo singing. This chapter then moves on to France and to England, before returning to Italy. Using its footnotes as a map, one is led from a foundational 1968 article by Palisca to...


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