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  • Materialities: Books, Readers, and the Chanson in Sixteenth-Century Europe by Kate van Orden
  • Samuel J. Brannon
Materialities: Books, Readers, and the Chanson in Sixteenth-Century Europe. By Kate van Orden. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. [ xxii, 320 p. ISBN 9780199360642. $55.] Music examples, illustrations, glossary, bibliography, index.

As its title implies, Kate van Orden's newest book centers on the experience of music as a material phenomenon. Materialities dwells on the moments of serendipitous discovery that come from handling music-historical artifacts—music manuscripts, printed books, and instruments—at first hand. Though focused specifically on printed books of French popular music from the Renaissance, the book attempts to ground the entire subject of music printing and publishing more firmly within the history of the book. This welcome approach allows the author to introduce many new insights and contexts for exploring the role of music in commerce and life.

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1, titled "A Material History of the Chanson," offers an extended methodological meditation on how printed music in general relates to the scholarly concept of print culture. Chapter 1, in the course of outlining the bibliographical features of chanson books, proposes two central interventions: "treating printed books more like manuscripts, studying them one by one … and putting the cumulative results toward cultural histories" (p. 24); and gearing these resultant cultural histories "to the consumption end of the producer–consumer equation" (p. 28). Chapters 2 and 3 demonstrate the promise of this [End Page 69] approach, examining in detail the distribution, sale, ownership, and survival of chansonniers. Musicologists have not yet considered these subjects extensively because the evidence is so scarce and localized. Van Orden brings together the findings of others' more focused studies with her own research, painting a rich tapestry of chanson books in distribution networks, binderies, bookshops, libraries, and the hands of singers, instrumentalists, and readers. Particularly strong is the author's regular reminder that the book copies we study today endured a process of self selection that began very early on: "the tiny fraction of sources that do survive became library books in their own time and, as such, were handled differently than the majority of copies now lost to our view" (p. 97).

Each chapter of part 1 brims with new findings, though van Orden leaves many of these unmarked, disguised as refinements of previous work, or buried in footnotes. For example, chapter 2 presents the first fruits of the author's work at the Archives of the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Two subsequent tables selectively list Christophe Plantin's binding orders and sales of bound chansonniers from his shop in Antwerp over the course of two years, detailing dates, vendors and clients, orders, and prices. In several passages, van Orden states that she intends "to build on the data compiled by [Leon] Voet … and [Henri] Vanhulst" (e.g. p. 59 n. 76). This might lead one incorrectly to assume that the author simply rehashes old information. Rather, the author takes a closer look at specific archival sources than either Voet or Vanhulst provided and focuses sharply on one of Plantin's targeted market segments. Van Orden then uses this specific evidence to offer new suggestions about Plantin's production of chansonniers. One intriguing suggestion is that Plantin may not have been the printer, but rather merely the seller of some of the chansonniers attributed to him (p. 64). Whereas other scholars might have trumpeted this conclusion, van Orden more convincingly makes this and many similar observations, provides the necessary evidence, then quickly moves on to other topics.

Part 1 adequately balances the technical aspects of bibliographical analysis with music-historical narrative, and bridges the distinct vocabularies of these realms of inquiry with a glossary (pp. 273–76). None -the less, part 1 will pose challenges for readers not already familiar with these subjects or previous scholarship in these areas. Much of this stems from its ambitious scope, which traverses the whole of Western Europe over the entire sixteenth century and beyond. Van Orden does musicologists a great service by bringing together the sparse research on many important subjects, such as print runs, survival rates, selling prices...


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pp. 69-71
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