Some New Editions and Paperbacks

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A Short History of Opera, by Donald Jay Grout.

The Bach Reader, by Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel (ed.).

Donald Jay Grout's A Short History of Opera, a standard reference work since its initial appearance in 1947, is now available in a revised edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965; 853 pp. in 2 vols., boxed, $20; and a single volume, college text edition at $8.95). A comparison of the two editions reveals that the current version contains relatively little new information in the earlier chapters. In fact, the first significant revision stems less from new facts than from a reevaluation of Alessandro Scarlatti's historical position. Grout now views Scarlatti as one of the final figures of an earlier, seventeenth century development rather than as the principal innovator of eighteenth century opera seria. There is, consequently, reshuffling of material and renaming of chapters treating the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries but little actual rewriting has been done. In the following chapters the often overlooked operatic activity of Haydn is more extensively discussed than before and there are notable revisions in the sections on French opera from 1790-1815 as well as Italian music in the early nineteenth century. The composers receiving fuller treatment include Berlioz' teacher Leseur, Cherubini, Mehul, Mercadante and Donizetti.

As may have been anticipated, the most extensive alterations occur in the chapters on contemporary opera which have been completely reorganized and largely rewritten. Further important changes concern the appendices. There is a longer bibliography, now organized by centuries, and a new section entitled "Modern Editions of Operas . . . Before 1800." The latter should prove of special interest to scholars, students and those performers looking for unusual operatic material. The list of sources in the current edition includes English translations of all texts cited, a most helpful addition. No doubt to minimize production costs there are the same number of musical examples as before. However, there have been many substitutions; new examples tend to be longer than those replaced; and a number of early items were deleted to make room for additional contemporary quotations. There is no doubt that a valuable survey has been made even more so.

The increased accessibility of primary source materials in moderately priced publications offers the imaginative instructor an exciting opportunity to train his students to draw their own conclusions and to question many conclusions and generalizations offered in secondary sources. Musical biography in particular has been enriched in recent decades by the publication of several excellent volumes of letters and documents. One of the best of these, The Bach Reader, edited by Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel, has now reappeared in a revised edition (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1966, 474 pp., $10.50, available in The Norton Library paperback series, $2.45). With minor corrections the plates of the original edition of 1945 were used again. However, a substantial supplement of 41 pages (almost 10% of the volume) incorporates pertinent information drawn from recent studies. The new preface provides a valuable survey of Bach research during the past two decades and there is reproduced a painting of Bach by Elias Gottlieb Haussmann. The painting, unknown to the editors at the time of the first edition, dates from Bach's last years and would seem to be an excellent likeness.

Another volume of value in this area has been drawn from Emily Anderson's fine translation of Beethoven's letters (Papermac, London: MacMillan, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1967, 284 pp., $2.65). Alan Tyson has selected 179 letters from Anderson's total of 1570 together with their footnotes and a generous selection from the extensive original appendices. The selections have been well made with, among other items of interest, important references to Fidelio (letters numbered 35, 36 and 77), piano pedagogy (No. 109) and text-setting (No. 141). Other noteworthy items include an introductory essay by Mr. Tyson and a table of contemporary monetary values. Unfortunately the latter is geared to the English shilling with no indication of the American equivalence, which is about 14 cents. Those letters of less direct musical concern have been well selected to provide a balanced self-portrait of Beethoven within his society.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 14/11/2018

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