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Reviewed by:
  • The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Music
  • W. Dean Sutcliffe
Simon P. Keefe , ed., The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Pp. xvii, 798. $195.00.

Trying to write any sort of comprehensive historical account of eighteenth-century music has long proved a particular challenge. An entrenched stylistic division has made it almost impossible to grasp the century as a meaningful whole, conditioning us to hear a glorious Baroque beginning, a sag in the middle—as a taste for tuneful simplicity replaces the weightier earlier manner—and then eventually the maturation of a "Classical" style, whose epicenter was Vienna, which bolstered the tuneful manner with a more "serious" technical apparatus. The fact that the century saw the flourishing of at least five of the most illustrious names in Western musical history (Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven) has helped to skew approaches further away from comprehensiveness and more toward strongly teleological and work-centered discourse. Faced with this difficulty, editor Simon Keefe and David Wyn Jones, who planned the volume, have aimed to uncover "musical continuity across the century as a whole" (xv). This effort has meant organizing material according to genre, on two levels. On the higher of these, the whole book divides into the categories of music for the church, theater, and chamber, already well established in the eighteenth century itself. Within each category come the relevant genre studies, and these are followed by three substantial appendices contributed by David Black ("Chronology," "Institutions in Major European Cities," and "Personalia"). Included among the twenty-four chapters are two provocative "Interludes" and a "Postlude" from Keefe himself, in which the authors have been allowed a freer discursive hand.

Many, but not all, of the chapters have been commissioned to sweep through the entire century, but the individual approaches taken within this brief vary considerably, which is no great surprise. Some authors provide a very close survey of their subject, not taking too much time out to argue through the particular historiographical problems of eighteenth-century music; others are more conscious [End Page 419] of their musicological inheritance and make it a topic for discussion. In his chapter on the keyboard music, for instance, Rohan Stewart-MacDonald problematizes the very terms of reference, stressing how much late-century repertoire is "early" in its plenteous use of archaic devices, whereas some earlier keyboard compositions (such as the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti) are decidedly "late" in topical and syntactical outlook. Jen-yen Chen achieves something comparable in his account of sacred music in Austria: thus the sacred output of Fux (1660-1741) is not as conservative as his image as guru of strict counterpoint might suggest, and the influence of opera on sacred genres proves not to be confined to the later eighteenth century. The real innovation during the later part of the century is the "'instrumentalization' of the mass" (79), meaning not just a more prominent independent role for the orchestra but also a more conspicuous concern for large-scale continuity of procedure. Stephen Rose finds a similar development toward greater formalism in his study of Lutheran church music in the way the church cantata displays a more systematic, "rational" approach to form after the freer vocal concertos of the seventeenth century; these were based on the assumption that the structure of a musical setting would be largely determined by that already given by the text.

In such chapters, including one by Simon McVeigh devoted to the concerto, for example, the basic synchronic orientation of the volume is counterpointed by a nuanced handling of temporal development. After all, the entrenched musicological division of the century into the pairing of Baroque and Classical did not exactly arise by whim or accident; for many, this remains a time span of particularly momentous change in the history of Western art music. However, the book as a whole is not structurally equipped to explore this change. It is indicative that one of the key terms around which this change can be understood to pivot—galant—barely rates a sustained discussion at any point. Lois Rosow's chapter "Opera in Paris from Campra to Rameau" makes some capital out of...


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