Notes 59.2 (2002) 328-329
[Access article in PDF]
Kompendium der musikalischen Sujets: Ein Werkkatalog. By Alexander Reischert. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2001. [2 vols. ISBN 3-7618-1427-5. € 148.]
Given the scope of the task, it is not surprising that Alexander Reischert spent fifteen years compiling his Kompendium der musikalischen Sujets (1:5). The purpose of the hefty two-volume work resulting from this herculean bibliographical effort is to contribute to the study of Western intellectual and artistic traditions by listing, as comprehensively as possible, musical compositions from the last four centuries that are based on subjects from mythology, history, religion, and literature. Under each of some fifteen hundred headings for figures, persons, events, episodes, and literary works arranged alphabetically in volume 1, Reischert lists related musical works, both vocal and instrumental, in chronological order, in order to trace the resonance of individual topics and themes across different eras of Western music history.
The attractive double-column layout of the main text in volume 1 is well suited to this central purpose of the compendium: the year of composition, first performance, or first publication is set off to the left of each work entry, enabling the user to scan quickly the chronological sequence of compositions based on a given subject. At the head of each main entry, the subject heading itself, as well as the cross-references and introductory text just below it, are set in a typeface that contrasts with that used for the list of musical works that follows, and running heads further aid browsability. Thus the user of this volume does not have to work too hard to discover, for example, that the biblical story of Jonah and his three-day stay in the belly of a whale has held the interest of composers right up to the present: Reischert lists ten oratorios and one opera on this subject from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, and no fewer than thirteen oratorios, cantatas, and other vocal works written in the twentieth, five of them in the 1980s alone. The user might just as easily discover, on the other hand, that some themes from ancient history and mythology, highly popular in earlier times, have failed to inspire in our own: after browsing through the seeminglyendless listofseventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century operas relating the story of Demetrius, King of Syria, many of them settings of Pietro Metastasio's libretto, one finds not a single musical work on this subject after 1878. In addition to year, composer's name and dates, and title, the entries for musical works give the genre and details such as librettist, choreographer, and date and place of first performance. Citations for compositions based on two related subjects, such as the many Venus and Adonis works, are duplicated under both headings.
Of course, comprehensiveness is an elusive goal for a project with such an ambitious agenda, even for a compiler willing to spend fifteen years to achieve it. Reischert's main qualification of this goal is a rule of three: because the aim of the compendium is to show historical traditions, he generally omits subjects having fewer than three related musical works (1:7); this criterion may account for the omission of, say, Daron Hagen's opera Shining Brow, on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. Also omitted by design are works merely dedicated to another composer and paraphrases of compositions already cited (1:8). But volume 2 of Klaus Schneider's Lexikon Programmusik (Figuren und Personen, vol. 2, Lexikon Programmusik [Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2000], reviewed in Notes 58, no. 3 [March 2002]: 550-52), likewise an index of musical subjects but no doubt published too recently to have served as one of Reischert's sources, cites compositions not found in corresponding entries in the later work, even though Schneider's compilation is a selective list of instrumental pieces only. Under "Jeanne d'Arc" in Reischert, for example, the reader finds citations for 132 works, but not for pieces by Jo van den Booren, Théodore Dubois, and Manuel Rosenthal listed by Schneider. Additional compositions on this and other subjects that are...