A History of Music and Musical Style, by Homer Ulrich and Paul A. Pisk

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A History of Music and Musical Style, by Homer Ulrich and Paul A. Pisk. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963. [viii, 696 p. 8vo; $7.50]

Unflagging concern with actual music, with specific musical ingredients, informs the new history of music by Professor Homer Ulrich, Head of the Department of Music at the University of Maryland, and Professor Paul A. Pisk of the University of Texas. Concentration on style characteristics justifies the full title of the work, A History of Music and Musical Style. Style is thus advanced from its position in the subtitle of The Art of Music: A Short History of Musical Styles and Ideas (1960) by Beekman C. Cannon, Alvin H. Johnson, and William G. Waite. And further implementation is given to Donald Jay Grout's declaration in the Preface to A History of Western Music (1960): "The history of music is primarily the history of musical style."

The book lives up to its title. Each new period is introduced by a straightforward and clarifying chapter such as "The Emergence of Renaissance Style." So for the Baroque and for the Classical, but the last two periods are significantly inflected into the plural: "Romantic Styles" and "Contemporary Styles." Nothing startling is said, but what is said is concrete and available. And this applies to the summaries of style characteristics of individuals, especially those flourishing in the individualistic nineteenth century. Among particular men the plural is reserved for Stravinsky (a "panorama of styles") although it may some day be decided that Stravinsky, like Picasso, really had only one style in diverse guises.

What makes all these style studies come alive is the profusion of musical examples, 230 all told, an unprecedented number for a book of this kind. As never before, American music and twentieth-century music, including the most recent, begin to receive their due. Professor Ulrich's chapter on "Three Centuries of American Music" is valuable and unique among current histories of music. American music needs special, even if segregated, attention of this kind as long as America remembers Janaček and forgets Chadwick, his Leipzig Conservatory classmate of roughly equal talent. Professor Pisk, long active both in Europe and in this country as a composer, has provided a well ordered and wide ranging conspectus of twentieth-century music.

As might be expected, at least in this generation, the only music covered is Western art music. The full force of ethnomusicology is yet to be felt. It so happens that the single reference to the new discipline is one that might astonish its practitioners. In the discussion of the origins of music the sentence appears, "In the twentieth century an entirely new science, comparative musicology (ethnomusicology), seems to have arrived at a more valid theory: music began with singing, independent of language." This theory is far from universally accepted among scholars, ethnomusicological or otherwise.

The bibliography is carefully selected and highly usable, both the general references and those for particular periods. The illustrations are apposite and rewarding, especially those setting the stage for the successive chapters. The index is sensibly arranged. Compositions are listed under distinctive title when there is one. Symphonies and the like appear under the composer's name. A few entries got mysteriously left out. For example, the only Stravinsky ballet in the index is The Flood (1962), although the great ones are discussed in the text. Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges is in, but War and Peace, described as his "most important opera," is out. Riders to the Sea is not listed whereas the Britten operas included in the same paragraph do appear.

The final end paper has a chart of "The Major Musical Forms: Origins and Principal Connections," presented with an unusually keen sense of proportion and perspective. The layman, it is hoped, will be able to surmise that there was really plenty of secular music before the year 1000 and instrumental music before the year 1500, however scanty its survival in written records, which were so largely in the custody of the vocally minded clergy.

Most aspects of music are handled in a straightforward and satisfactory manner. The Greeks and the modes, however, are too much encrusted with theory. Modes are such distinctive things that one ought to name them as effortlessly as the colors of the rainbow. Yet musicians with much training often cannot. For that reason I wish the accepted—if historically suspect—names had been hammered in. Instead, much emphasis is placed on the now disused Greek terminology, and when the church modes are first taken up they are blazoned forth as "protus authenticus," "tritus plagalis," and the like. Only in connection with Zarlino does the "blue" scale get its most needed name: Mixolydian.

Such detail concerning Greek theory and such an excellent reproduction of the drinking song on the tomb of Seikilos, yet no example of Greek music in modern notation. The lay reader, not planning to look music up in the anthologies, should know what scholars believe this engaging song sounds like.

Ulrich and Pisk deserve real credit for rejecting the term "Neapolitan opera." As they say, the term requires modification in the light of recent research. The operas of Alessandro Scarlatti are basically late Baroque—and so are those of his contemporaries throughout Italy. The operas of the next generation, Pergolesi, and Scarlatti's pupils such as Hasse, are fundamentally early Classic—and so are those of their contemporaries throughout Italy. It was the simple, tuneful style of this second generation that Charles Burney had in mind when he used the word "Neapolitan."

The recent research mentioned includes Edward Downes' paper, "The Neapolitan Tradition," discussed at the International Musicological Congress in 1961. Downes points out that Burney grasped the significance of "the epoch-making style-break" between "what we now call late Baroque and early Classical." These are the style divisions that I call the elaborate phase of the Amphonic Period and the experimental phase of the Homophonic Period. Admittedly the two phases overlap, but surely Scarlatti belongs to the earlier one. Characteristically he still sets a driving bass line in opposition to the principal melody.

The opera for which a new term is being sought was composed, as Downes says, after Alessandro Scarlatti's disappearance from the Neapolitan stage. "The Pre-Classical Opera" is a good name for it ("Early Classical" would be still better). Therefore, under the large heading "The Pre-Classical Opera," it is somewhat confusing to find, even with qualifications, the names of Alessandro Scarlatti and indeed of the middle Baroque composer, Provenzale.

This section knocks down one straw man, the "new 'Neapolitan overture,' as it is generally called." Certainly a wide variety of scholars invariably call it the "Italian overture"—and will be glad to keep on doing so. But the important thing is that the book gives welcome impetus to the movement for completely abolishing "Neapolitan" as a stylistic term.

To go still further, the general principle of replacing ambiguous geographical terms by inherently stylistic ones is much to be encouraged. The pity is that no one has yet uprooted the hardy notion that a particular generation of Flemish musicians should be dubbed "Burgundian composers" because they were in the service of the House of Burgundy. We are still told that Dufay was a Burgundian composer. Yet his life centered about the cathedral of Cambrai in French Flanders. Only occasionally was he found at the court of the Great Duke of the West. On the other hand textbooks agree in calling the Duke's valet de chambre Jan van Eyck a "Flemish painter" and Antoine Busnois, chapel singer to Charles the Bold of Burgundy, a "Flemish composer." Here is a problem of terminology that still needs to be grappled with.

In general The History of Music and Musical Style maintains a high level of typographical, terminological, and chronological accuracy. Two lines of type misplaced on p. 247 stand out in a work so carefully printed and edited. A bass clef at the bottom of p. 485 throws for a brief instant an eerie light on Brahms' harmony. The B flat in the middle of the first tone row on p. 611 should be a B natural. And I can never be reconciled to spelling the Italian word timpani with a letter that does not exist in the Italian language.

Terms are nearly always well chosen and defined. For example, heterophony (the index should read p. 7) is described as "the appearance of melodic variants which occur when two or more groups sing the same tune simultaneously." It is to be hoped that heterophony will continue to have this useful meaning of simultaneous melodic variants, although some literal minded etymologists want the meaning of hetero to be different.

In considering terminology, however, attention must be called to the fact that a sequence is a special kind of trope, that Java is a particular part of Indonesia, and that the Separatists were quite separate from the Puritans. As a devoted descendant of them both, I like to distinguish between the musically sophisticated Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth and the ballad-minded Puritans who landed at Boston. Confusion on this matter (p. 165) is actually cleared up on p. 633.

In doing away with the image of Okeghem as an ogre of contrapuntal subtlety, the authors go too far in presenting Example 50, an excerpt from his Missa mi-mi, as "non-imitative." It is an excellent example of what might better be called inexact imitation. The description of twelve-tone writing on p. 594 says, "No tone may be repeated before all of the others have been used." A small point, but an important one: no tone may be returned to, etc. The immediately repeated noted is such a cliché of some twelve-tone music that it has been called the "Morse code technique."

A few questions of chronology: Placing the extreme emotions of Gesualdo's madrigals in "about 1585" seems too early (p. 245). I have always thought of Palestrina and Lasso as safely dead in 1594 before this "high point" of pathos was reached. And indeed Alfred Einstein in The Italian Madrigal (p. 698) says that "the true Gesualdo, the Gesualdo who made the impression upon the following generation and upon posterity in general, does not appear until after 1594."

On p. 303 we read that Handel's organ concertos are for manuals alone in keeping with "the English practice of using small organs without pedals in the theater." The suggestion is that church organs in England had pedals in Handel's time, whereas they do not become the fashion until after his death. And finally there is no mention of Darius Milhaud's many years (or at least alternate years) of teaching at Mills College since 1947.

But these objections are a small winnowing indeed after the rich harvest Ulrich and Pisk have provided us. They propel our eyes from the staffless neumes of Gregorian chant to the manuscript of Milton Babbitt's Ensembles for Synthesizer—staffless neumes of the late twentieth century. They carry our ears from the cantillation of the ancient Hebrews to Elliott Carter's metrical modulation. They provide us with a comprehensive history of musical style valuable alike to the layman and to the musician.

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Last modified on Thursday, 15/11/2018

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