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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 110-111
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Honoring God and the City: Music at the Venetian Confraternities, 1260-1807. By Jonathan Glixon. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2003. Pp. xvii, 372.)
Of all the Renaissance and early modern cities with active confraternities, Venice is the most extensively studied. One of the earliest volumes in English on confraternities, Brian Pullan's magisterial Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice (1971), explored the charitable activity of the city's main groups, the six Scuole Grandi. In 1981, Edward Muir's Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice demonstrated their role in the city's political life, and their construction through ritual of Venice's enduring myth as La Serenissima. Richard Mackenny offered a social and economic analysis in his Traders and Tradesmen (1987), and numerous art historians have revealed the richness of confraternal art patronage.
Jonathan Glixon now rounds out this portrait with his intensive study of musical patronage and performance in the Venetian confraternities from their origins in the mid-thirteenth century until the final demise of the Republic in 1807. In its time frame and documentation, this is the most comprehensive study of confraternal music yet produced. For over two decades, Glixon carefully mined the Venetian archives for any records pertaining to the hiring of choral and instrumental musicians, the place of music in worship, processions, and funerals, the construction of organs, and the competing efforts of musicians to raise pay and of confraternities to rein in costs. Glixon's research covered the six Scuole Grandi who were at the apex of confraternal life, but also the over four hundred Scuole Piccole who worked in neighborhoods, with trade groups or expatriates, or in particular aspects of charity. Many of the documents he collected have been excerpted or closely summarized in this study, making it an indispensable [End Page 110] reference work that is full of detailed information on festivals, daily practices, and the rise and fall of music in Venetian confraternities.
Part One deals with the Scuole Grandi and Part Two with the Scuole Piccole. Glixon opens each part with a clear account of how the groups were organized and what their activities were before turning to consider music. The narrative follows a roughly similar trajectory for both the Grandi and the Piccole. The first period, 1260-1500, was dominated by amateurs—confraternity members who performed in worship generally and at funerals in particular, and who might be notable more for their charitable needs (they received alms and other benefits) than for their musical skills. The second period, 1500-1650, saw confraternities turning to professionals as they joined that creative burst that set Venice at the center of the European musical mainstream. The third period of 1650-1807 was one of relative decline. An impecunious state taxed the Grandi so heavily that they had to let professional staff musicians go and hire free-lancers to perform in scaled-back schedules. The Piccole were less affected, and some even managed to expand performances. A key theme is the shifting focus of honor. Initially directed to God and to the State, the honor accumulating to musical patronage came to focus instead on the confraternities and even more on their officers, who in many cases had to pay for festivals out of their own pockets.
This is a book of details: Glixon's documents turn up testy relations with musicians, specific liturgies, disputes between confraternities and clergy, rising costs and fading glory. Two appendices offer detailed lists of processions, ceremonies, and feasts. He deliberately aims to recover a significant component of Venetian music that is often obscured by emphases on the sacred music of Willaert, Gabrieli, and Monteverdi, on the burgeoning of opera, and on the rise of female musicians at Venice's Ospedali. Some further exploration of the relations between confraternal musical activity and these other subjects would enrich our knowledge of both, and Glixon's thorough volume will be a critical component of that larger synthesis.
University of Toronto