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  • From Renaissance to Baroque: Change in Instruments and Instrumental Music in the Seventeenth Century
  • Beth Bullard
Jonathan Wainwright and Peter Holman, eds. From Renaissance to Baroque: Change in Instruments and Instrumental Music in the Seventeenth Century. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2004. xx + 322 pp. index. illus. tbls. bibl. $99.95. ISBN: 0-7546-0403-9.

Presented here are papers, along with reports from workshops, given at the 1999 conference of the National Early Music Association in York, England. Papers on winds concern metamorphosis of hautbois (oboe) from shawm, by Bruce Haynes and by Marc Ecochard; development of the fagott (bassoon), by Graham Lyndon-Jones; cultural meanings of recorders in iconography, by Anthony Rowland-Jones; uses of Renaissance-type flutes, by Nancy Hadden; uses of Baroque-type flutes at Dresden, by Mary Oleskiewicz; and characteristics of woodwinds by Richard Haka (1645\6–1705), by Jan Bouterse. Papers on strings include how violins might have sounded, by Peter Trevelyan; how French lute style developed, by Matthew Spring; and how theorboed lutes contributed to French Airs de Cour and to continuo practice, by Jonathan Le Cocq. A paper documenting increasing variety of stops on English organs, by Dominic Gwynn, is followed by two on how consorts evolved into multi-instrumental orchestras: at Württemburg, by Samantha Owens; and in England and France, by Peter Holman.

Noteworthy are contextualizing essays that bracket the main contents of the book: an introduction by Jonathan Wainwright ("From 'Renaissance' to 'Baroque'?") and concluding remarks by Jeremy Montagu ("Organological Gruyère" ). Wainwright faults traditional approaches to these eras in constructing music history. Style-based interpretations distort the picture by focusing on a single snapshot of one musical genre in one part of Europe at one specific time: [End Page 558] invention of opera in Italy at the turn of the seventeenth century — with emphasis on the year 1600. Accepting the "singer-as-actor" declamatory style set to chordal accompaniment ("monody") as the turning point between Renaissance and Baroque is erroneous for several reasons. Firstly, this view omits other geographic areas and musical trends. In England, for example, innovations at the time took place mainly in instrumental music: mixed consorts flourishing there — especially the "English" one, comprised of specified instruments, each having a unique timbre — could be considered precursors of modern orchestras. Secondly, neither in Italy nor in England were these developments unprecedented. The year 1600 merely marks their first appearances in print. As Wainwright reminds us, "Long-standing performance practices (extempore or pragmatic) worked their way into compositional processes and then into print," and, therefore, "it is dangerous to construct our history based only on the evidence of 'print culture'" (9).

Jeremy Montegu cautions that our knowledge from this period is like Gruyère ("Swiss cheese" in the United States): full of holes. Indeed, some chunks have more holes than cheese; whereas we act as if we have cheese, we actually have holes. For example, we cannot know how most instruments sounded. Those that survived have, with rare exceptions, been damaged or altered. Even when we do have original instruments (or copies), modern players' approaches are anachronistic, in defiance of written and iconographical evidence (playing violins under the chin rather than on the chest, making oboe reeds using modern shortcuts, etc.), thus compromising potential authenticity. Our most egregious focusing on "holes" rather than "cheese" is our eschewing improvisation, despite "vast amounts of evidence that improvisation was expected, was customary, and was the sign of a true musician" (267). Montegu's comments prepare the way for the reports that follow: Participants in Andrew Parrott's workshop on performing J. S. Bach's Actus tragicus (BWV 106) and those in Peter Holman's workshop on performing French Baroque orchestral music grappled with unknowns as fundamental as intended pitch (a = ?) and appropriate performing forces.

Basing their contributions on, for the most part, laudable research, the authors provide valuable information, including significant correctives about this era. Three aspects of this book disappoint, however. Firstly, a policy of cross-referencing would have helped in negotiating the ambiguities of seventeenth-century terminology. For example, Bruce Haynes speaks of hautbois de Poitou without defining it, yet in the next article, by Marc Ecochard, we...


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Archived 2009
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