Notes 59.2 (2002) 363-365
[Access article in PDF]
Music Theory in Seventeenth-Century England. By Rebecca Herissone. (Oxford Monographs on Music.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. [xv, 316 p. ISBN 0-19-816700-8. $80.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.
Rebecca Herissone's Music Theory in Seventeenth-Century England draws together many disparate sources of information on the topic in a manner previously unavailable in English-language publications. (The closest comparison is Barry Cooper's "Englische Musiktheorie im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert," in Wilhelm Seidel and Barry Cooper, Entstehung nationaler Traditionen: Frankreich-England [Geschichte der Musiktheorie, 9; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1986], 145-314). Her extensive research is evident throughout the volume, and a thorough knowledge of primary materials enables her to make connections and note differences among them. For years, scholars have remarked on the modern approach to harmony in English treatises, yet Herissone's book is the first to bring the ideas together in a single tome.
The topic is a large one and demands organization of ideas and discipline as to which authors are most influential when writing on various subjects. Herissone divides it into seven chapters and a conclusion —any one of which could be expanded into a monograph itself. She beautifully ties together the different types of sources—books on composition, instrumental tutors, a page here or there in a music manuscript —and presents a cohesive summary of the evolution of each subject from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century.
Music Theory in Seventeenth-Century England is intended as the first in a pair of books dealing with the subject of English music theory, and some of the comments made here may well be dealt with in the second part. The work derives from Herissone's 1996 dissertation, which she notes was later "thoroughly revised" through [End Page 363] subsequent research. Occasionally, the connection with the dissertation is obvious, for some of the footnotes (e.g., p. 175 n. 9) tend to read like those in a dissertation. (She rightly notes that space considerations do not allow for extensive examples.) Without the second volume with which to compare, however, the following comments should be made. The question of theory and its application to "real" music rarely arises. For example, while the tables included in the section on "Time" notably enhance the discussion, the multitude of signs for meter used in England ca. 1670 would benefit greatly from musical examples. Indeed, this is a pertinent question, since according to several authors the baroque did not begin in England until the Restoration (1660)—if this is the case, then how can English theory take the lead in a more modern harmonic language? Herissone states that the next installment will deal with the theoretical application to major music sources from the seventeenth century; it is hoped that this situation will be addressed at that point.
The chapters divide predictably into various aspects of music theory: rhythm and meter, harmony, tonality, composition, etc. Each of these is in turn treated chronologically. Herissone usually provides a clear pathway from one idea to the next, although the text occasionally mires down, the development of ideas becomes difficult to follow, and the result is a somewhat unclear explanation of historical changes in thought. One particularly noticeable point is the discussion of pitch structure. The author aptly describes the different systems available, but references back and forth to various sources cloud the move from hexachord to seven-note scale, particularly as to the state of things circa 1600. Granted, the situation is complex, but clarification would be helpful. Similarly, Herissone occasionally uses a term that needs explanation (such as "mood") for several paragraphs before getting to the interpretation she is using. On page 176 she states that "because of his confusion ... [Charles] Butler implied that modality was still in use," but later (pp. 177-78) comments that "the muddled state of modal theory in England even in the late sixteenth century ... can only suggest that modality was not being used to organize English music at the time." I am not convinced that Butler implied the use of...