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Common Knowledge 10.1 (2004) 161
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Mara Parker, The String Quartet, 1750-1797: Four Types of Musical Conversation (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2002), 315 pp.
Parker applies the new culturally oriented brand of musicology to the rise of the string quartet, arguing against the highly teleological assumption that all efforts in the genre led to the great works of Haydn and Beethoven. A fresh and approachable volume, this book shows how the works that eventually became a canon emerged within a varied set of compositional and indeed aesthetic approaches. Historical understanding of the genre benefits greatly from learning about the diversity of composers respected at the time. Parker defines their efforts as different ways of managing how four instruments relate with one another, essentially in terms of rhetoric and gesture (socially defined). By way of "musical conversation," she sees four interactive possibilities: the lecture, the debate, the "polite" conversation, and the "democratic" conversation. The quartet was not a creature of intimate aristocratic chambers, as myth would tell us, but rather evolved within a diverse public world where composers responded to different kinds of musical needs.
William Weber , professor of modern European history at California State University, Long Beach, is the author of Music and the Middle Class: The Social Structure of Concert Life in London, Paris, and Vienna, 1830-1848 and The Rise of Musical Classics: A Study in Canon, Ritual, and Ideology.