Music of the Baroque

Georg Muffat on PerformanceMusic of the Baroque, by David Schulenberg. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 349 p. ISBN: 0-19-512232-1.

Music of the Baroque: An Anthology of Scores, by David Schulenberg. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 370 p. ISBN: 0-19-512233-X.

Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners, by Judy Tarling. St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK: Corda Music Publications, 2000. 296 p. ISBN: 0-9528220-1-6.

Georg Muffat on Performance Practice: The Texts from Florilegium primum, Florilegium secundum, and Auserlesene Instrumentalmusik, edited and translated by David K. Wilson. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001. 123 p. ISBN: 0-253-21397-5. 

This textbook set and two performance practice manuals provide a useful picture of the growth of the historical performance practice movement in the last thirty or forty years and its current place in musical scholarship. David Schulenberg's textbook Music of the Baroque includes a generous amount of practical information on instruments used to perform Baroque music and considers many other major aspects of performance practice, in addition to the usual information expected in a textbook. The other two sources are practical guides concerning Baroque performance practice. Judy Tarling's Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners is implicit recognition that some people trained as "modern" string players also wish to learn the Baroque versions of their instruments. By effectively distilling the basics of Baroque string playing from treatises and other sources into a practical manual, Tarling has produced an effective guide for anyone interested in Baroque string playing. David K. Wilson's Georg Muffat on Performance Practice is the final realization of a project started by Thomas Binkley to make the writings of this seminal figure available in an authoritative English translation. Muffat (1653-1704) was one of the most important writers on French bowing and other aspects of performance practice from the middle Baroque.

David Schulenberg's Music of the Baroque is the newest textbook for courses on this period. The only real choices for years have been Manfred Bukofzer's excellent but long outdated Music in the Baroque Era from Monteverdi to Bach (1947) and Claude V. Palisca's Baroque Music (3rd edition, 1991), in addition to a few less suitable or more specialized texts. Palisca's book is usually effective with especially fine coverage of the early Baroque and the period's theoretical underpinnings. He organized the text by genre, forcing such composers as Bach and Handel into a variety of chapters and making the late Baroque seem fragmented. Palisca also had to deal with the relatively short length of the Prentice-Hall series of which it is a part, necessitating some lamentably brief coverage.

Schulenberg's entry into the field is strong. He also approaches the Baroque by genre, again splitting late Baroque composers among various chapters. Another, perhaps more effective organization of the Baroque is found in K Marie Stolba's The Development of Western Music, where she treats the seventeenth century in detail by genre, setting a stage onto which stride the late masters Bach, Handel, Rameau, Telemann, and Vivaldi. Schulenberg nevertheless makes his organizational scheme work, placing the period into fourteen chapters: an effective introduction, a prologue involving the sixteenth-century madrigal and motet, developments around 1600, Monteverdi and early opera, Lully and French opera, secular vocal music of the seventeenth century, sacred music of the same century, Handel and Rameau, the sacred music of Bach and Handel, the keyboard toccata and suite, other keyboard genres, the sonata, the concerto, and Telemann and C. P. E. Bach and the galant style. Schulenberg's coverage shares a major problem with Palisca in that he almost entirely approaches Baroque music cultivated only in German-speaking areas, Italy, France, and England. Surely enough interesting work has been done on music of the period in Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and British North America to merit mention in such textbooks. Schulenberg's exclusion of these areas seems almost reactionary.

For the chapters that he includes, however, Schulenberg's contents are impressive. On Lully and French Baroque opera, for example, he begins with background on music at the court and the French style of vocal music. He looks briefly at Lully's life and works, followed by coverage of French dances and important musical conventions such as tempo, rhythm, and ornamentation. For French opera, he considers recitative, scoring, and the historical background of Armide, his example for the chapter, and detailed musical description of the material in the accompanying anthology and one other important excerpt of the opera. Other chapters are similarly comprehensive, but Schulenberg does not get bogged down in unnecessary detail. For the areas covered in the volume, readers learn most important terms and concepts.

The book includes a number of useful musical examples and photographs, the latter primarily of period instruments and representations of musical performances. There are also short texts in boxes with important information, including, for example, information on lives of composers, terms, and synopses of opera plots. In my experience, students respond well to the text and find it readable.

The book has an accompanying Music of the Baroque: An Anthology of Scores, which includes forty-one musical examples, ranging from the thoroughly predictable, such as excerpts from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and Carissimi's Jephte, to rather unusual choices such as selections from Bach's Cantata, BWV 127 and Handel's opera Orlando. Schulenberg admits in the "Preface" to the anthology that he made some "noncanonical" choices. His insistence on unusual choices of repertory is laudable in principle, but when I used this textbook at the University of Kansas in the summer of 2001, several of these pieces were not in our large recording collection. Presumably Schulenberg made choices for which recordings exist, but a teacher using the book needs to find those recordings and have time and budget to acquire them. For each selection, Schulenberg includes a textual translation, useful comments on the edition and performance issues, and a note on his source for the edition.

This is for the most part a good textbook for a class on Baroque music. For professors who are willing to supplement with materials on music from other musical centers and deal imaginatively with some of Schulenberg's unusual choices of repertory, the package works fairly well. The book would not work as well without using the anthology because it includes the examples that he describes in the textbook.

Judy Tarling plays Baroque violin and viola, viol, and harpsichord and has been active in the English period instrument community since the 1970s. Since 1981, she has been a member of The Parley of Instruments directed by Peter Holman, one of the first groups to explore the violin family of the late sixteenth century. Tarling succinctly states her purpose for this manual in the "Introduction" (p. v):

The main purpose of this book is to form a guide to the available historical source material about playing the violin, viola, 'cello, and double bass. It is not a "method" for playing Baroque instruments—these already have been written by 17th- and 18th-century musiciansbut a general view of the stylistic conventions of the time with "how to" technical detail for string players.

Tarling claims no original research, but she has been "ingenious" herself. She acknowledges her debt to David Boyden's The History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761 and to other musicians and scholars who have contributed to our understanding of Baroque string playing over the last forty years. She admits that areas in which she offers commentary will remain controversial. Like many of the players of period instruments who started working in the 1970s, Tarling worries that her generation's spirit of discovery is getting lost in the second and third generation of players, who often learn Baroque techniques from a teacher rather than the treatises themselves. She wants her reader to understand that what writers of Baroque treatises posit as "rules" must be combined with the performer's sense of the music, producing expressive and informed performances. Her "Basic Principles" (p. vii) for the book include recognition of differences between seventeenth- and eighteenth-century playing techniques, description of the techniques and attitudes needed to render those differences, and the primacy of affect in Baroque music.

Tarling divides the book into six parts: rhetoric, techniques, national styles, tuning and pitch, bass instruments, and equipment. She relates the Baroque fascination with musical rhetoric to questions of articulation, dynamics, tempo, and ornamentation. Her coverage of techniques includes holding instruments, choices of fingering and shifting, holding the bow, the "rule of the down-bow" and other ideas on bowing, playing dances, the "slow bow," playing fast notes, slurring, and playing chords and double-stops. She looks at the Italian and French national styles from a variety of angles and covers the English consort style. Tarling acknowledges the importance of Bruce Haynes's work in her chapter on tuning and pitch, covering the basics in each area and scordatura playing. Her chapter called "The Bass Department" includes coverage of playing from a figured bass part, when various continuo instruments should be used, accompanying a recitative, and special concerns facing the Baroque violist. Part Six, on equipment, includes a very brief history of the violin family, considerations when playing from facsimiles, and advice about reading treatises. The book also includes a useful glossary, bibliography, and an accompanying compact disc of 74 minutes of performances by The Parley of Instruments from some of their many Hyperion recordings. Various tracks are mentioned in appropriate places in the book, and Tarling also provides a section of commentary on the recordings with explanation of special performance concerns.

Tarling provides so much fine practical advice that the reader will imagine the immediate presence of a good teacher who has pondered many of the vexing questions of performance practice. She includes many quotations from period sources and musical examples, all of which help explain points. Her prose is direct and concise. Some sections will be helpful for musicians who do not play string instruments, especially Tarling's explanation of each important Baroque dance. Those with detailed interest will of course want to go beyond Tarling, but it is an excellent place to start for both the beginning "ingenious learner" or for the expert looking for a quick point or two.

Georg Muffat, born in Alsace, was one of the more important commentators on performance practice from the middle Baroque. He studied music, probably with Lully, at the French court in the 1660s. The cosmopolitan Muffat worked in Alsace, Salzburg, and Passau, and traveled to Vienna, Prague, and Augsburg. While working in Salzburg, he took a sabbatical in Rome. When Muffat published music, he tended to include detailed prefaces that are among our more important performance practice sources for the Baroque. The preface to his Florilegium primum (1695) includes useful information about dance tempos and the spread of the French ballet style. In his Florilegium secundum (1698), Muffat provides an extensive preface on French Baroque practice that he remembered from his study in Paris, including one of the most valuable descriptions of French bowing and articulation. While these first two publications were of music that Muffat had written in the French style, the Auserlesene Instrumentalmusik (1701) was a collection of Italianate concerti grossi based upon the model of Arcangelo Corelli he had experienced in Rome. The preface includes information on performing forces, tempos, and other matters. This is not as complete as Muffat's exploration of French practices, but it is important documentation of German interest in Italian instrumental practices.

Those reading Muffat's writings to this point consulted versions in three volumes of the Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich, where his prefaces appear in German, Italian, Latin, and French, the languages in which Muffat published them. Thomas Binkley began to prepare an English edition by commissioning a modern German translation of Muffat's German original and a comparison of the translation with the original versions in other languages. Binkley was unable to return to the project before his tragic early death from cancer. He asked David K. Wilson to continue the project, which Wilson did, consulting regularly with Binkley in the time before his death. Binkley insisted that the volume be rendered in as accessible of a manner as possible.

Wilson has realized Binkley's vision beautifully, presenting the prefaces in two columns, the first a translation from the modern German version and the second including differences from Muffat's originals in other languages. The clarity of the translation is admirable, even for the most difficult descriptions of bowings or matters of tempo. Musical examples have been computer typeset with modern indications of downbows and upbows. Wilson and those he credits with assistance took their task very seriously indeed. The volume also includes a short biography of Muffat and Wilson's commentary on Muffat's intentions in writing the prefaces, the instruments he intended to play his music and those mentioned in his descriptions of French and Italian practices (with bass instruments, as usual, the hardest to identify), pitch and temperament, playing techniques, what Muffat's prefaces tell us about German performance practices, and where Muffat intended for his music to be performed. Many have read Muffat's prefaces in one or more of the original versions, but now his writings are far more accessible and placed in a useful context.

2965 Last modified on October 7, 2018