Notes 60.2 (2003) 464-467
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The Viol: History of an Instrument. By Annette Otterstedt. Translated by Hans Reiners. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2002. (Revised and enlarged edition of Die Gambe, Kulturgeschichte und praktischer Ratgeber [Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1994]). [262 p. ISBN 3-7618-1151-9. i34.90.] Music examples, illustrations, color plates, diagrams, bibliography, index.
Professional musicians who are also professional musicologists are a fairly rare breed and likely to remain so. Quite apart from the philosophical reasons for the separation, which go back far indeed—the divide between theory and practice is inscribed in Western culture with a depth that we ignore at our peril—there are also good practical reasons. Despite the obvious and vital connections between fields, maintaining real credentials in either is a life's work in itself; doing both bespeaks a forbidding aspiration for overachievement. Perforce, most performer/scholars end up located in one camp, making more or less convincing occasional excursions into the other. On the whole, these individuals, like all boundary crossers, do much to enrich the scope of both regions they inhabit. But they also tend to draw fire from both sides.
Without knowing Annette Otterstedt's training and professional affiliations—she does not offer any in her book—I conclude that she has primarily located her career in the world of performance, writing this book about her instrument as an excursion into scholarship. I would hazard to say this in part because the book is not just a history, as its English title implies; it is also a practical manual, as the more informative original German title tells us. Otterstedt speaks authoritatively and in detail about matters of technique, style, and instrument maintenance, something one had better not do without extensive practical experience. My conclusion results also from the kind of occasional potshots at musicology that are altogether too easy to find among performers—even, alas, the kind of highly educated performer that she herself clearly is. Thus we have in her introduction,
Th[is] book addresses those readers who would like to learn something about the viol, rather than about musicological technique ... musicology ... is fixated upon written works and sneers at the medium with which they are performed. The discipline is a visual instead of an aural one. Music is treated as a paper- exercise... (p. 16)
This is the musicology of more than a generation ago, and even at its most entrenched it was never monolithic, never universal. Why do so many intelligent per [End Page 464] formers persist in repudiating it as if it had been, as if the face of musicology had not changed so radically in embracing praxis? In Otterstedt's case, the question is exacerbated by her frank and repeated reliance on the work of those same older generations, in particular, the pioneering work of Arnold Dolmetsch. She invokes Dolmetsch as part of her generally strong case for returning to the sources—in this case, both the circumstantial evidence of the repertory, and the numerous method books for her instrument published over a span of several centuries. The necessity of doing this is clearly a long-held philosophical conviction on Otterstedt's part, one I applaud, and on the whole she does it well, with originality and panache. I find the middle sections of her book (the second part of part 2, which offers discussions of pitch, tuning, ornamentation and so on, and all of part 3, which deals with finding, setting up, and maintaining a suitable instrument) particularly exemplary for the way they consistently unite historical chapter and verse with practical how-to-do-it. On the basis of these sections I would certainly recommend this book to advanced students of the viol (as well as to students of historical string playing in general, the category into which I, a cellist, fall). Otterstedt offers a fine example of the essential process of engaging with sources oneself, putting them into dialogue with one's ongoing experiences as a player, and thus, gradually, over years, building up the kind of intimate and personal engagement with history that makes for informed...