Music in the Baroque, by Wendy Heller

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HellerMusicBaroqueMusicUSEHellerAthnologyUSEMusic in the Baroque (Western Music in Context: A Norton History) [Paperback]
Publication Date: July 31, 2013 | ISBN-10: 0393929175 | ISBN-13: 978-0393929171

Anthology for Music in the Baroque (Western Music in Context: A Norton History)
Publication Date: September 17, 2013 | ISBN-10: 0393920208 | ISBN-13: 978-0393920208 | Edition: 1

Wendy Heller’s Music in the Baroque is an entry in the new series Western Music in Context: A Norton History, edited by Walter Frisch. Professor Heller of Princeton University is a prominent scholar of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century opera and issues involving gender and sexuality. The series has the feeling of a compromise between the Prentice Hall Music & Society series issued in the mid-1990s, where chapters were organized around centers of activity and major composers and musical styles tended to take a backseat, and more traditional histories that concentrate on the development of musical style, such as Prentice Hall’s (now Pearson) long-time entries in the field, featuring the now venerable Baroque Music by Claude Palisca (3rd edition, 1991). Heller has produced a worthwhile tome in which she combines useful musical analysis with history viewed through several contextual lenses: gender, sexuality, race, and economic issues, areas that Frisch emphasizes in his preface.

A major push in musicology over the last generation has been towards contextualizing music from a variety of angles in all levels of the discipline, from specialist studies down to textbooks. Detailed manuscript studies, for example, include multiple scholarly approaches to illuminate the source, and some composer biographies demonstrate an author’s erudition in several disciplines, but our interest in more widely contextualizing musical styles and periods for undergraduate and graduate students has deepened in the last few decades. This new series from Norton provides books appropriate for upper division undergraduate and graduate surveys of various periods, and professors who use Heller’s Baroque text will have the tools to confront students with not only the development of musical styles, but also where those styles were cultivated, by whom, for what reason, and how some of them fit into such contexts as gender and patronage. The teacher will appreciate these possibilities, but we must confront the elephant in the room: Will the students purchase the text, and read it? Heller gives the student reasons to comply with that part of the syllabus. Her prose is approachable, there are illustrations and musical examples, and she has a useful sense for what level of information to include. Norton has not tried to make the book look like a web site on a page—usually a wasted effort—but there are ample black and white illustrations and many musical examples, a number of facsimiles of Baroque musical sources, and images of music-making from the period. Obviously students can easily find more vivid, color illustrations on the web, but Heller and Norton have tried to make the text visually stimulating.

Heller’s organization of the text is inviting and informed. In the first chapter she introduces the period with material on Monteverdi’s work in Mantua, a definition of “Baroque,” commentary on the effects of humanism in various areas of endeavor, brief summaries on political and religious conflict and the coming of the enlightenment, and a concise, three-page introduction of Baroque musical styles. The remainder of the book is in three major sections: “Musical Expression and Innovation,” “Musical Institutions,” and “Musical Synthesis in the Capitals of Europe.” The first section primarily covers the seventeenth century and the third emphasizes Handel, Rameau, and Telemann, but earlier composers such as Corelli and Buxtehude also appear. Bach is in a separate chapter at the end of the book. Her more innovative material for a Baroque textbook is in Part II concerning musical institutions, as will be described in more detail below.

In Part I, Chapter 2 opens with a description of humanism, leading into the invention of opera and related matters, drama in Monteverdi’s madrigals, the Artusi/Monteverdi controversy, Caccini and other monodists, English lute songs, and the basso continuo. Heller returns to theatrical music in Chapter 3, where she surveys Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and L’Arianna, briefly touches upon early Italian opera elsewhere, the English masque, musical drama in France before Lully and in Spain, and a useful section concerning exoticism and non-European characters in operas. Turning to instrumental music in Chapter 4, Heller perceptively opens with Monteverdi’s virtuosic use of instruments in the aria “Possente spirto” from L’Orfeo, moving into the role of practical musicians at various places of work, construction of instruments, patrons, audiences, use of rhetoric and national styles, genres and how they affected stylistic choices, and then coverage of several genres: fantasias, dances, ground basses and other types of variation sets, and character pieces. Chapter 5 concerns music for civic and religious ritual, with general descriptions of aspects of faith, ideology, and stylistic pluralism, and then more specific material on the sacred concerto, the “colossal Baroque” and Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, printed music for Protestant services, Hebrew psalm-settings by Salomone Rossi, various types of para-liturgical music, and the early oratorio. This is a great deal to cover: the faculty member will have to realize that not all of these concepts can be covered in the same level of detail and the student must be prepared to absorb and synthesize a great deal of information, but Heller provides an excellent blueprint for the first third of a Baroque course.

Part II, concerning “Musical Institutions,” includes five chapters that provide appropriate coverage of the primary organizational sponsors of Baroque musical performance and the genres heard in these places. Chapter 6 concerns Venetian opera with extensive coverage on L’Incoronazione di Poppea (not represented in the anthology) and Cavalli’s Giasone, and some matters from later in the century. The court of Louis XIV dominates Chapter 7 with emphasis on music as a political tool, French musical style, Lully, and Charpentier. Chapter 8 concerns seventeenth-century England, from court-sponsored activities early in the century, such as Charles I and his Private Musick, to music during the Commonwealth, coverage of John Playford and his publishing activities, ballads, and finally the Restoration and Purcell’s instrumental and dramatic music. Dido and Aeneas, while not represented in the anthology, receives notable coverage. Forging paths into an area that most Baroque textbooks barely cover, Heller looks at music education in Chapter 9, using John Blow and J. S. Bach as case studies before glimpses of singing treatises, music in convents, and finally Venetian music education for orphans, an obvious place to approach Vivaldi. Chapter 10 is a bit of a potpourri with material on academies, salons, and musical societies, highlights of her coverage including Barbara Strozzi, female patrons in France and elsewhere, the Bolognese Accademia Filarmonica and its influence on composition of sonatas, and the rise of public concerts such as the Academy of Ancient Music in London. The section features an admirable balance between social background and the music itself, but the rich, multi-layered detail might provide a challenge for students.

As noted, Heller organized Part III around important European musical centers: Rome, Paris, the Holy Roman Empire, and London. Her exploration of Rome in Chapter 11 covers some institutions, patrons, genres, and composers, with musical emphases placed on Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Corelli. Chapter 12 concerns Paris after 1700 with fine coverage of the French political dance around Italian musical influence, dramatic music such as that by Campra and Rameau, Couperin and his clavecin music and advocacy for les gouts réunis, and the French cantata. Chapter 13 covers significant activity in German-speaking areas except for Bach: domestic music in North Germany, Buxtehude and his organ music in Lübeck, Telemann’s operatic endeavors and instrumental music in Hamburg, as well as Austrian music, including Biber in Salzburg and Italianate music in Vienna. Heller tackles an especially wide chronological range in this chapter, which some might find confusing. As might be expected, Chapter 14 on London is dominated by Handel, including his ceremonial church music, operas, and oratorios, with ample, effective coverage of commerce, politics, along with social aspects and musical conventions of the genres that he cultivated. J. S. Bach rates all of Chapter 15, including his career and music written before moving to Leipzig, followed by sections on work in Leipzig with sections on cantatas, passions, the Coffee Cantata, various instrumental works, the Mass in B Minor, and Art of the Fugue. Part III includes some of the period’s most familiar composers and music, and Heller has certainly done them justice with vivid musical descriptions and an eye towards interesting contexts, such as opening her chapter on London with the engravings of William Hogarth and explaining how they illustrate the city’s culture and society of the period. The volume concludes with a good glossary of terms, instruments, and genres.

Heller’s accompanying anthology includes 26 entries. She sought to include both famous and lesser-known excerpts, anticipating that a teacher will supplement a course’s listening list. This is easy, of course, given everything that is available on the web, in other anthologies, and in other sources in music libraries; there is no need for an encyclopedic anthology, such as that offered by John Walter Hill (Norton, 2005) in Norton’s series of longer music history period texts. Heller’s anthology compares in size with the third edition of David Schulenberg’s Baroque anthology (Oxford University Press, 2014), which includes 33 examples. Heller specifically suggests that a teacher will need to supplement with additional works by Handel and Bach, although her inclusion of excerpts from one of Handel’s operas, if an early one (Rinaldo, 1711), and an oratorio (Saul), covers the genres in which he made his most important contributions. Her examples from Bach, excerpts from the St. John Passion and Art of the Fugue, take care of that composer’s church music and contrapuntal artistry, but one will also at least need additional examples of his instrumental music. Areas where Heller might have considered expanding her selection include organ music, the concerto grosso, late Baroque music that starts to show Classic leanings, or anything from a country besides the usual suspects of Italy, Germany, Austria, France, and England. Heller, for example, provides light coverage of the Spanish in her text, but ignores their music in her anthology.

What Heller does include in the anthology speaks of an instructor making interesting, informed choices. For Monteverdi she chose the other madrigal that Artusi wrote about (O Mirtillo), one of the most famous excerpts from L’Orfeo, the Lamento della Ninfa, and the “Duo Seraphim” from the Vespers of 1610. A later dramatic work by Monteverdi would have been welcome, but a fine excerpt from Cavalli’s Giasone effectively represents Italian opera at mid-century. Her example of a Caccini continuo madrigal is the less familiar Dovrò dunque morire, but providing John Dowland’s Flow my tears is a bit of a cliché and many would be more likely to include it in a Renaissance class. Instrumental music from the seventeenth century is well represented by a Frescobaldi toccata, a Castello solo sonata with continuo, a Froberger clavecin suite, and Biber’s Crucifixion Sonata for violin and continuo (provided in manuscript facsimile). Outside of Monteverdi’s and Cavalli’s works, Heller serves the century’s vocal music with the Schütz’s “Fili mi, Absalom” (with a fascinating scoring), Filia’s lament from Carissimi’s Jephte (strangely minus the wonderful closing chorus), a lesser-known excerpt from Lully’s Armide, a delightful but idiosyncratic selection from Purcell’s King Arthur, a Barbara Strozzi duet, and a cantata by Buxtehude. Instrumental examples from the eighteenth century include the first movement of Vivaldi’s Concerto, RV 540, for solo viola d’amore and lute (very unusual in the composer’s output), a Corelli opus 5 solo sonata (provided in facsimile), two clavecin movements by François Couperin, and Telemann’s delightful Ouverture burlesque de Quixotte (for which the instructor will need to relate the unusual movements to their models in French dances). Besides the aforementioned Handel and Bach examples, Heller includes an excerpt from Rameau’s Platée. The anthology also includes worthwhile notes on the instruments used in the music, accounting for what they were like during the period, and a brief glossary of performance indications.

As is the case with each Norton book in this new series, there is a companion website: A generous amount of material has been included: citations for useful scholarly sources (with WorldCat links) that correspond with major points in each chapter, links to websites that provide worthwhile artistic images and other historical documentation, a PDF with a basic review guide for each chapter (really just chapter outlines), YouTube videos of musical examples from the book and anthology, and other materials. Much of this could be easily found through using one’s favorite search engine, but it is attractive to have these links in one place.

Heller’s pair of volumes stacks up well against the competition. John Walter Hill’s set, also from Norton, has greater coverage, but it is too long for a one-semester survey class, especially the anthology. Hill’s volume, however, was meant to replace Manfred Bukofzer’s magisterial text (Norton, 1947), also an encyclopedic look at the Baroque. George J. Buelow’s A History of Baroque Music (Indiana University Press, 2004) is another lengthy tome that one would be hard-pressed to get through in one term. Claude Palisca’s effort for Prentice Hall had much to recommend it and is a usable length, but its third edition (1991) is now more than two decades old and many will find it out-of-date in terms of some aspects of scholarship and focus. Heller’s set is similar in length to David Schulenberg’s entries published by Oxford, a fine text that the author has updated twice with minor changes. Whereas Schulenberg primarily focuses on musical styles, genres, and performance practice, Heller’s vision is wider, goes beyond core repertory and ideas, and offers more in the way of context. Her anthology perhaps requires a bit more supplementing, but so does Schulenberg’s after it has been shortened in the third edition. Either set of texts can make for an excellent basis for a course, depending upon the primary focuses that an instructor seeks.

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Last modified on Thursday, 07/03/2019

Paul R. Laird

Paul R. Laird is Professor of Musicology at the University of Kansas, where he teaches courses on Baroque music, twentieth-century music, and directs the Instrumental Collegium Musicum. 

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