Notes 59.2 (2002) 359-363
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Music as Concept and Practice in the Late Middle Ages. Edited by Reinhard Strohm and Bonnie J. Blackburn. (The New Oxford History of Music, 2d Edition. Vol. 3, Pt. 1.) New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. [xxxii, 460 p. ISBN 0-198-16205-7. $115.] Music examples, illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
The six volumes of the original Oxford History of Music (1901-5), after their second edition (1929-38), were eventually superseded by the ten volumes of The New Oxford History of Music (NOHM), a project that from inception to completion took about half a century, with volumes appearing every few years from 1954 to 1990. Even before completion of NOHM, new editions of some of its earliest and most outdated volumes were being planned. The first of these, a new version of volume 2, was started in 1977 and published thirteen years later (The Early Middle Ages to 1300, ed. Richard Crocker and David Hiley [New York: Oxford University Press, 1990]). The book under review here, intended at first as a direct replacement for volume 3 (Ars [End Page 359] Nova and the Renaissance (1300-1540), ed. Dom Anselm Hughes and Gerald Abraham [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960]), but now under a new title, had an equally extended genesis, from planning initiated in 1988 to publication in 2001.
The path to completion was not a smooth one. As coeditor Reinhard Strohm explains in the introduction, "A total of seventeen entirely new chapters on contrasted fields of music were commissioned from specialists" on a variety of mainstream and novel topics (p. xxvi). I imagine the result would have been a volume of considerable heft, something along the lines of the 935 pages of NOHM 9 (Romanticism (1830- 1890), ed. Gerald Abraham [New York: Oxford University Press, 1990]). In the end, however, only eight chapters were submitted, and none of these could be called mainstream. The decision was made to publish this "torso of a book" (p. xxvi), lopsided but not by design. Strohm's description of its contents in the introduction is his own mini-review, studded with wry humor, subtle implication, and gentle irony—an attempt "to make a virtue of the insufficiencies of the book, and [almost praising] the contribution of those who did not contribute" (p. xxxi). By calling it NOHM 3, 2d edition, part 1, Oxford University Press obviously has left the door open for the commissioning, writing, and publishing some day of a part 2, which would presumably provide the opportunity to present more traditional narratives of composers, institutions, national schools, styles, and genres of western European music from the age of Machaut through the age of Josquin.
So what, then, do we actually find in the volume at hand? To begin with, unlike its predecessor (NOHM 3), this volume has only two geographically circumscribed essays. One, by Amnon Shiloah, is on the musical cultures of Muslims and Jews in Spain over the eight centuries from the conquest in the year 711 to the successful conclusion of the Reconquista and expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The other, by Tom R. Ward, deals with the development during the fifteenth century of institutions and musical activities devoted to high musical culture in that part of south central Europe which encompassed Germany, Austria, Poland, Bohemia, and Moravia.
A panoramic overview of music in the culture of Muslim Spain is beyond our grasp. The various written sources are concerned exclusively with the creation of an Andalusian high style of vocal and instrumental music, a distinctive art emerging in the 800s that had its roots in the great musical tradition of the Baghdad caliphates but was indebted for its novelty to the diversified and culturally ambitious society of the court and upper classes in Córdoba and other leading centers in Spain. Our main sources of information are accounts in general histories, and Shiloah provides a critical historiography of these rather than engaging in descriptive speculation about the music itself; that would have to be based on later practices in North Africa and...