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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Baroque Music by John Walter Hill (Norton Introduction to Music History: W. W. Norton & Company) In this colorful and comprehensive history of music during the Baroque period, John Hill illustrates how social, political, and cultural forces contributed to the development of Baroque musical styles and conventions. This text provides a balanced, well-illustrated account of the music from all decades of the seventeenth century and from all national cultures in western Europe. Excerpt: Music takes its place in The Norton Introduction to Music History series between the volumes entitled Renaissance Music and Classical Music, already published. Thus its scope and its title were determined by the overall plan of the series. The title is a conventional way to refer to the period marked off by the years 1580–1750 and limited to the high-culture art music tradition of Western Europe.

This book attempts to provide an even and balanced account of the music of all decades within the seventeenth century and the early–eighteenth century and of all national cultures in Western Europe. It includes mention of develop­ments before the year 1600 when they are needed to explain the innovations of the early seventeenth century. And it encompasses the cultivation in the early eighteenth century of genres already established before 1700 and modifi­cations of those genres occurring shortly after that year. Coverage begins to taper off at about the year 1720, as it does not discuss the emergence of the new`genres—symphony, solo keyboard sonata, accompanied sonata, keyboard concerto, string quartet and related types of chamber music, national varieties of comic opera, and symphonic church music—and the associated stylistic innovations that define the beginning of the Classical Era.

This volume is intended for serious readers who understand musical notation in score form and who have learned the nomenclature of musical intervals and key signatures. A background in the theory of tonal harmony will be use­ful in the later chapters. Students, graduates, and faculty in history, art history, and literature who have that musical background should find this book appro­priate for broadening their knowledge of seventeenth-century European cul­ture. The primary readership, however, will be current or former university students of music.

For many readers, the book will seem rather densely provided with information and explanation, and it should not be read quickly. When used as the text for a university course, it should be read over the span of a semester or quarter. It is designed to serve as the text for an upper-level period survey course for music majors, following a one-year survey of the whole of music history. Or it could be used, with the other volumes of The Norton Introduction to Music History, during the Baroque segment of a two-year survey.

For best results, this book should be read at a steady pace. In my course at the University of Illinois, which meets three times a week for an hour, I assign about fifteen pages of the text for each class session. I also recommend that readers keep the Anthology open and refer to the scores as they are discussed in the text. Marking the score to reflect the discussion in the text is a good way to connect the two and to understand each better.

Baroque music is approached here from several perspectives: social history, historical cultural anthropology, period music theory, musical style history, and historical narrative. Social history is useful because music making was and is a social activity, and musical works are, among other things, artifacts of such activity. Historical cultural anthropology focuses on the cultural values of past societies and their expressions in writing, the arts, abstract thought, and other forms of symbolic behavior. As products of culture, musical works can be explained, in part, as embodiments of cultural values. Period music theory provides us with an entrée into the mind-set of the participants in the creation of music in the past—the composers, performers, listeners, patrons, critics, and teachers who shaped it. It helps us to follow the course of the music in terms that would have been comprehensible to those participants in its creation, and it helps to rid us of anachronistic expectations that can only lead to disappointment and misunderstanding. Style history provides a means for us to organize in our minds a variety and multiplicity of genres and a span of style change that never confronted seventeenth-century participants in music making. Historical narrative provides a framework for chronology, allows us to avoid mistakes in explanation, and imposes that degree of shape and sense that we require when reviewing the past.

If the Baroque Era is so named because its music was baroque by virtue of its creation during the Baroque Era, we would be caught up in circular reasoning. Music historians have tried to find a way out of this circularity by discovering common features shared by all or most music of this period that distinguish it from the music of the previous and following eras.

The entry "Baroque" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, explains that the term was applied to music during the eighteenth century, with the implication of "bizarre, irregular, extravagant, unnatural, and impassioned?' But these words describe only a small portion of seventeenth-century musical works. Consequently, it would be misleading to use the word baroque, without the capital, to designate music of the Baroque Era. Another term or other principles of historical unity are needed. Chapter I includes my alternative suggestion for a unifying principle that relies more upon social, political, and cultural dimensions and less upon musical-stylistic features.

Although historians of art and literature refer to a Baroque Era, general his­torians today tend to favor broader,`more neutral terms for periods in the history of Western Civilization—Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Early Modern Period, and the Modern Period. The Early Modern Period is thought to begin with the Renaissance, the start of which historians tend to place roughly at the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This period is marked by the rediscovery and understanding of ancient learning independent of church dogma, a resurgence of cultural innovation, new growth of social mobility, the development of stronger central governments, and the creation by Europeans of overseas colo­nial empires. The end of the Early Modern Period is conventionally placed at the death of the French king Louis XIV in 1715, very near to the point at which we begin to see signs of epochal change in European music and musical culture. For the general historian, the end of the Early Modern Period is sig­naled by the start of the gradual collapse of absolutism, the beginning of the gradual rise of constitutional government, the first signs of the cultural, eco­nomic, and political ascendancy of the commercial or middle classes, and the rise to dominance of Enlightenment cultural values (utility, naturalness, liberty) and ideas (empiricism, humanity, progress) over those of the outgoing Age of Reason. If we were to follow this lead, we would entitle this book Music during the Later Early Modern Period. For the sake of familiarity and in conformity with the tiles of earlier volumes in the Norton series, however, we have chosen to stay with the more traditional title Baroque Music.

In the first chapter of this book, the unity of music composed during the Baroque Era is sought in its cultural meaning, rather than in any specific set of technical, stylistic, or expressive features. The seventeenth century is presented as the period in which the European court nobility, guided by its vital ideol­ogy, Monarchy, arrived at its historic apogee of influence over music and high culture generally, and in which conflict and competition between the Catholic and Lutheran religions was most strongly reflected in church music of various kinds. This book as a whole will show that the interconnected influences of court culture and church Reformation and Counter-Reformation can be found in the background of most seventeenth-century music, even if those influences are not always manifested in the same way. Those influences are offered here as the main components of a unifying principle that justifies treat­ing the period ca. 1580—1750 as the subject of a single volume.

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