Recent Books on Musical Instruments

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Mark down the 1960's as the time when the publishing of a book about musical instruments became a profitable enterprise. The new era was inaugurated by the phenomenal success of the Galpin Society's Penguin paperback in 1962; supplies to the U.S. were almost immediately exhausted, and a long wait ensued while the publishers recovered from their surprise. Now, at the opposite end of the trade scale, a large and sumptuously printed book has been published at a price normally asked only for deluxe art books—the Winternitz volume, Musical Instruments of the Western World. Between these extremes there is a profusion of special studies, textbooks, new and better reference tools, iconographic and technical aids, even how-to-do-it books for those interested in making lutes and guitars.

Books are not launched in a vacuum; publishers, adept at pulse taking, have obviously become aware of what we see about us every day. There is a certain weariness with the old fixed instrumentarium of the symphony orchestra, and it no longer exclusively dominates. Folk guitarists are proliferating, the sitar is heard in every dormitory, the chitarrone, once viewed with awe in museum cases, is being slowly put to use in performances of Monteverdi. Makers of viols, lutes, and harpsichords—even of the best recorders such as von Huene's—are two, three, and four years behind on orders. Krummhorns, kortholts and rauschpfeifen are already old standbys in certain musical areas, and sackbuts and Baroque trumpets are fast becoming so. Collegia musica are commonplace, on campus and elsewhere. Increasing numbers of amateurs are now steeped in the joy of playing polyphonic music, offering as it does the maximum musical rewards for the technical equipment required. They make music enthusiastically and bring us full circle with the Renaissance, when music was intended largely for the pleasure of the performer. This is one of the large bodies of potential readers for books about instruments.

On the periphery is a listening public generated by the professional performances of early music by such groups as the New York Pro Musica, which gives a hundred or more concerts in a season of travel, and by other organizations, many from Europe. Much the same public visits museum collections of instruments and attends lectures; some of its members will presumably also buy books about instruments. A more specialized group, but rapidly multiplying, are the home builders of harpsichords, often scientists responding to a technical challenge, who frequently go on to inform themselves further in the field. The Winternitz book, Musical Instruments of the Western World, with its visual approach reaches out even beyond these musical confines to that segment of the public which buys art books for display. This suggests an obvious truism: that musical instruments are the most concrete manifestation of music, as easily enjoyed as a piece of Regency furniture.

So much for the demand. By one of those remarkable conjunctions that stud the history of publishing, scholarship has kept pace. Organology has become popular and scholars who are primarily musicologists, for example Frank Harrison, David Boyden, Thurston Dart, have interested themselves in the field. The men who founded the Galpin Society in 1947, a small and brave band then, having exercised their powers on articles for that Society's esteemed Journal, have come of age as scholar-writers and are producing books. There is activity in Germany and at scattered points throughout the world, but the vital stream is issuing from England. There is reason to be thankful that it is, for these gentlemen of the Galpin Society, being instrumentalists, have a healthy regard for the practical musical ends of organology; they are never bogged down in theory or in idle antiquarianism. The burst of publications under review here, coming half a century after Curt Sachs' Reallexikon and making that great milestone appear lonely indeed in its own time, may be laid to the influence exerted in its quiet and profound way by the Galpin Society.

The titles here selected are predominantly from the 1960's. The list is not all-inclusive, nor does it take systematic account of foreign publications or those in the ethnological field. Despite the large number of individual publications, there are lacunae, and so a short discussion is added at the end by way of forecast. As concerns topics inviting future study, few are as fresh and untrampled as the history of instruments, few so tempting to young scholars.

 

GENERAL HISTORY

Frank Harrison and Joan Rimmer: European Musical Instruments. New York: W.W. Norton, 1964.

This is the first attempt to do what should have been done long ago: peg the development of instruments to the history of music. Assuming that the reader has some knowledge of the latter, he is provided with an overview of a field that may otherwise appear appallingly cluttered. Musical instruments become tools of expression for a given musical language. This is a large subject that could fill several volumes, and the authors have produced an illustrated textbook covering a period from prehistory to the present. To keep it a handy size, they have limited the text to seventy-seven pages, using a condensed style that leaves the reader panting. The authors, active members of the Galpin Society, have taken account of the latest research and write with zest and with a feeling for the social meaning of instruments.

They deserve unstinted praise for the superb choice of illustrations and for insisting on a quality so high that these are legible even where several are crowded on one page in sharply reduced size. For the later periods there are real-life photos of a country fiddler, Zouave and Gurkha bands, and a concertina player, for true organology is democratic. The final plate is a view of the R.C.A. Electronic Sound Synthesizer.

 

Musical Instruments through the Ages. Edited by Anthony Baines for the Galpin Society. Hardcover edition: London: Faber; New York: Walker, 1966. London: Penguin, 1961.

This is the volume no one with an interest in music can afford to be without. It made publishing history, starting modestly as a paperback then moving onto the library shelves in an attractive and more spacious hardcover edition, which will be preferred by serious students.

Relinquishing the leisurely and detailed approach familiar to readers of the Galpin Society Journal, the various contributors do an admirable job of condensing their subjects to popular length—no small feat. This is accomplished with the very British gift of easy informality that makes for delightful and comfortable reading. Each chapter, covering either a single instrument or a group of instruments, is assigned to a specialist—the harpsichord to Raymond Russell, the viola to Kenneth Skeaping, horns to R. Morley Pegge, and so on—assuring complete authority. A particularly brilliant performance is provided by the over-all editor, Mr. Baines, writing on ancient and folk backgrounds, which pulls together everything from the Greek kithara and the Japanese koto to the Swedish hummel and Basque tabor pipe. This is organology at its best, humanized by the author's unerring insight into the player's problems. Perhaps the least satisfactory chapter is that on the violin, which leans heavily toward playing and repertoire. One would welcome more about antecedents, the various makers and their schools, even some of the fascinating lore of deception that has plagued the violin almost from the beginning. Nevertheless, here is a book that reveals on every page the revivifying influence upon the study of musical instruments for which the Galpin Society stands. It provides a distillation of the most recent writings for the specialist, and at the same time it may be enjoyed by the general reader as well.

 

Francis W. Galpin: Old English Instruments of Music. London: Methuen, 1910. Revised edition by Thurston Dart, 1965.

A new edition of a book as important as this one deserves notice, especially when the reviser has the multiple credentials of Thurston Dart—performer, musicologist and organologist. Mr. Dart has done nothing to violate the original text, a testimonial to its original soundness, and has confined his surprisingly few corrections to footnotes. Canon Galpin's approach was social and cultural; organology, which has seen the most change, is somewhat secondary. But a much needed improvement is made in the bibliography; the new one clears away a lot of dead wood and receives a large infusion of items reflecting recent research.

The text is reset in a more handsome type, and the illustrations are from newly made and better plates. A word to those who do not as yet know this classic. The "English" in the title sets no parochial limits to the contents, for Galpin's commentary is applicable to all European instruments.

 

PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPENDIA

R. Bragard and F.J. De Hen: Les Instruments de musique dans l'art et l'histoire. Brussels: Visscher, 1967.

In spite of the title, this is a picture book of about a hundred instruments in the fabulous collection of the Brussels Conservatoire. There is also a text that conscientiously describes these instruments—and others not illustrated—from the organological viewpoint. Of the extensive collection, one of the three or four greatest in the world, a hundred items may seem to be pitifully few. But here are such wonders as the fantastic Geigenwerk (a blown-up hurdygurdy with four wheels), a family of 16th-century krummhorns, Renaissance recorders, flutes and shawms unmatched except at Vienna, the amazing lira da gamba in original condition, and the Ruckers-Taskin double harpsichord. The latter, one of the most beautiful extant, is elaborately decorated. All are shown in the full glory of color, strongly, if sometimes harshly lighted, and artfully arranged against plain backgrounds.

For early periods, instruments that have not survived are represented by works of art in which they appear. Unfortunately, many of these are reproduced with bad color values. In contrast with the rather pedestrian text, the light-footed preface is written in the best French style by the curator of the Paris collection, Mme. de Chambure. She concludes with a brief outline of the steps by which the famous collection was built, and we hear the magic names of Fétis, Tagore, Tolbecque, Snoeck and Count Pietro Correr, a distinguished procession of collectors whose wealth created the Brussels museum.

Until a complete catalogue is issued to replace the long-out-of-print and poorly illustrated one by Mahillon, this book will have to satisfy.

 

Anthony Baines: European and American Musical Instruments. London: Batsford, 1966.

The author, with too much modesty, says in his preface that he conceived this book for the use of curators and collectors "needing an aid to identification of instruments that fall into their hands." Surely Mr. Baines cannot be serious! This reviewer knows instrument makers and musicians who possess it—and what about historians of instruments, musicologists, teachers, libraries, dealers? Included are 824 photographs of different instruments selected from public and private collections, mainly European—a vast museum on paper and therefore a passable substitute for the extensive traveling necessary to view the originals. The only thing lacking is color, and the photographs are factual, not "artistic".

The arrangement, however, is cumbersome. The plates are in one place, with their captions, descriptive data and history in another, grouped separately in layer fashion. Wisely included in the data are dimensions, very important information for makers; though with annoying inconsistency these are often incomplete. This may indicate that the book was rushed to a publishing deadline.

Mr. Baines has undertaken the monumental task of writing a text of organological history and it is done in his own, inimitable fashion. That is, he accepts nothing short of a clear understanding of the manner in which an instrument works. Certain regrettable omissions were necessary to keep an already large book from getting out of hand. There are only a few folk, and no keyboard or mechanical instruments. "American" in the title seems rather a come-on. One has to look hard for a few banjos and Appalachian dulcimers, and there is no example of the work of Abraham Prescott, our one early luthier of any distinction. American inventiveness makes a poor showing, but then, there is no plate of the electronic synthesizer, none for the Carleen Hutchins violin.

 

Emanuel Winternitz: Musical Instruments of the Western World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.

If musical instruments are generally not appreciated as aesthetic objects, a good share of the blame must be laid to instrumentalists, living as they do in an aural world. Mr. Winternitz's book is not for them, though they could learn from it and perhaps overcome a certain puritanical suspicion of extra-musical embellishment (airly dismissed as "cosmetic"). It is addressed to people with a well-developed visual sense, and even they may be surprised to find so much for the eye's delight in musical instruments.

For our pleasure, and often our astonishment, Mr. Winternitz has selected one hundred of the most beautiful instruments to be found anywhere. Many are from the great collection at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where he is the curator, others from various European museums. A sophisticated taste is at work in the selection: some, like the marble violin or the reptilian Tartölten, are bizarre, but often what strikes one as bizarre at first glance turns out to be the product of exuberant fantasy.

A magnificent décor is created for each instrument, a carefully set stage of rich fabrics and bric-a-brac. Many plates are in color, tipped in, and all are reproduced with the most advanced European techniques. Elegant use is made of blank spaces, and the whole is a triumph in the art of book making. For the iconologist's delectation there are also vignettes scattered through the volume, and many of them are surprisingly unhackneyed.

Mr. Winternitz, eye and ear equally developed, supplies in his fine, supple style full information about each instrument together with highly sensitive, sympathetic descriptions of the decorative elements. He does not hesitate, on occasion, to employ the language of the art critic in so doing. To be sure, he may have some difficulty persuading us of the beauty of Sax's seven-belled cornet, even when we are invited to view it as a piece of abstract sculpture, and we are not told what kind of sound the faience horn emits, or how all three fingerboards of the triple-necked guitar were put to use.

Badly needed, this volume brilliantly succeeds in projecting the unfamiliar concept of musical instruments as works of decorative art.

 

INDIVIDUAL INSTRUMENTS AND GROUPS

Frank Hubbard: Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1965.

It is difficult to imagine that this book will ever be completely superseded. It is largely technical—though charmed by the polished style, the wit and the play of intellect, we are hardly aware of the fact—and it fixes for the foreseeable future the physical features of the harpsichord in history.

Mr. Hubbard, the author, may be credited with the discovery that beauty of tone is directly related to the physical features—framing, supports, scaling and the rest—and that no modern "improvements" can produce the tonal beauty of the old harpsichords. This insight was made during a disillusioning apprenticeship in Europe, where most makers were building harpsichords along piano lines, as if they had never really looked inside the instruments they were supposedly copying. Frank Hubbard turned instead to the museum, and what he found there is the substance of this book.

Harpsichord making falls neatly into national schools, the Italian, Flemish, French, English and German, each receiving a chapter in that order. An additional and fascinating chapter called "The Workshop" should be read in conjunction with the others for the light it throws upon them. Here we see the author passionately concerned with craftsmanship, its tools, materials and techniques, and while reading we find ourselves beside the work bench. This same technical insight enables him to "read" an old instrument, penetrating layers of restoration, repairs and ravalements in the manner of the archaeologist. Insight is applied just as energetically to the literary documents discussed—frequently with an exasperated poke at the obfuscations practiced by older writers. From the latter he extracts whatever sense they contain.

The book is written by an objective historian. The conclusions gain authority from the excellence of the author's own harpsichords, and from his recent role as consultant on restoration to the Musée Instrumental in Paris—a New World mentor of the Old. Is it too much to expect that firms like Neupert and Pleyel, whose dull and flabby toned harpsichords are still bought even on this side of the water, will read the lesson contained in these pages?

A word about the drawings; these are handsomely done in a clear, formal style reminiscent of Diderot's Encyclopédie and detailed enough to serve as blueprints for amateur builders.

 

David Boyden: The History of Violin Playing from Its Origins to 1761. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Large sections of this monumental study are devoted to the physical structure of the violin, the only parts that concern us here. Most of it is about the Baroque violin, that low tensioned, gut string and altogether ingratiating instrument that everyone talks about and almost no one has heard in this country. But Professor Boyden has worked and lived with it, knows its secrets—secrets of the bow too—and what bearing they have upon the music. The case for the older instrument is made once and for all; now one wonders how long it will be before we will hear concerts of Baroque (and Classical) music played as a matter of course upon Baroque violins, violas and cellos.

There is also the first thorough exploration of the early violin, indicating its origin in the early 16th-century. Boyden arrives at this date by piecing together evidence drawn from paintings. The second stage, the early Baroque, also leans heavily on iconographical aids. We cannot judge these early violins by their sound, and it becomes clear that here is work yet to be done: reconstruction of Renaissance types and, for its effect upon tone, a trial of that thick, splay-footed bridge seen in 17th-century still life paintings. The full-blown Baroque type does exist, either original or reconverted. A fine Stainer may be heard in the small record that comes with this book, and the reader may judge for himself.

A question or two: in order to get some idea of the sound, was it not possible to try the lira da braccio at the Ashmolean Museum, where all the instruments are in playing order? And isn't it time to drop the word "primitive" for anything pre-Baroque, especially when describing f-holes as beautiful as those on this same instrument? Further, it is annoying to look at a plate and not be told where the subject is located. But these are minor flaws in a work that stands as a giant achievement, a model for all future studies where organology may provide the safest clues.

 

F. Geoffrey Rendall: The Clarinet: Some Notes upon Its History and Construction. London: Benn, 1954, revised 1957.

Philip Bate: The Oboe: An Outline of Its History, Development and Construction. London: Benn, 1956, revised 1962.

R. Morley-Pegge: The French Horn: Some Notes on the Evolution of the Instrument and Its Technique. London: Benn, 1960.

Philip Bate: The Trumpet and Trombone. London: Benn, 1960.

There have been countless studies of instruments of the orchestra. The excuse for a new series is the need to remedy the historical insufficiency from which most of them have suffered, and for this purpose it was wisely decided to enlist the services of members of the Galpin Society. Even so, the treatment in the series varies according to individual bias: Mr. Rendall covers the first century of the clarinet in twenty-seven pages, with no mention of Thurston Dart's discoveries about the "mock trumpet" (the chalumeau), whereas Mr. Bates gives three times that space to early trumpets and trombones, together with an account of their social history and an appendix relating his experiments with Bach's tromba da tirarsi.

These are not intended to be exhaustive studies, but simply to give the modern player—whose instrument and technique are treated with the most detail—a knowledge of origins and evolution. Because the reader is not assumed to be an antiquarian, the book on the horn discusses the oliphant and other animal horns briefly, the lur and the buccina in the same fashion, the cor de chasse more fully, and brings us by page twenty-five to the valves.

The textual arrangement of the four books varies: that on the horn has an invaluable chapter on metals and makers' methods; that on the trumpet a chapter on jazz uses; several include a discography (of doubtful value, for it dates so quickly); most have a list of makers which is handy, though necessarily incomplete; some discuss repertoire; two have chapters on famous players of the past (a kind of lore only interesting to the devotee); and only one has a significant number of musical examples.

The natural trumpet is brought up-to-date with an examination in detail of Finke's so-called "clarino trumpet" with its controversial pin-holes. This is a topic that calls for revision in future editions in the light of Edward Tarr's work in Switzerland. None of the illustrations are very good and certainly there are too few of them. There are extensive bibliographies although the authors were held to fewer than three hundred pages of text. Despite this limitation, each volume is authoritative and will probably remain so for a long time.

 

Edgar Hunt: The Recorder and Its Music. New York: Norton, 1962.

To a rare degree Mr. Hunt combines apostolic fervor, common enough among partisans of the recorder, with a not-so-common gift for careful and informed scholarship. He has done as much as anyone in England to establish the recorder as an educational instrument, yet has somehow found time to investigate the most distinguished period of his instrument, the 18th-century. At the same time he has studied with a sensitive and critical eye many of the surviving specimens by early makers. He has written a book that the recorder richly deserves. Somewhat belatedly and still too casually regarded outside the widening circle of initiates, this volume may restore to this misunderstood instrument the dignity enjoyed in its greatest days.

There are several well-documented chapters on the history of the recorder, followed by a rewarding one on design and early makers, others on technique, the modern revival and, finally, on the recorder today. This last chapter indicates that there is a vast army of amateurs and professionals all over the world who cultivate the recorder and have built around it a rich musical life.

Mr. Hunt is oriented toward the 18th century. As a result he does not really come to grips with the iconology of the mediaeval recorder, for which he cites only a few carvings and manuscripts, all of English origin. A search through the margins of French and Flemish manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and British Museum alone would have revealed proof that the recorder was at least as ubiquitous as the rebec or vielle. And we miss the many charming references to the instrument in French mediaeval writings, as we would welcome some help in untangling the confusion of terminology encountered there. The Renaissance comes off a little better, though the abundant evidence to be found in that era's painting is inadequately considered.

But the author warms to his subject when he reaches the Hotteterres, and from there on the documentation is plentiful. The chapter on technique has valuable hints on tongueing and fingering, and sensible remarks about vibrato. There is a list of recommended modern makes of recorder, none of which, incidentally, were first choices in a recent poll of American players conducted by the American Recorder magazine. In this poll first place fell to the recorders of Friedrich von Huene, an American maker who has risen to the top since the Hunt book was published. Future editions will have to take account of Mr. Huene's researches into the technical structure of surviving Renaissance and Baroque recorders. There should also be much more to say about the musical qualities of Renaissance recorders—their large, assertive and un-reedy tone—in the light of the von Huene replicas already being used by American players.

 

Nathalie Dolmetsch: The Viola da Gamba. London: Hinrichsen, 1962.

The viol, whose exquisite impersonality can delineate an abstract musical idea with great conviction, particularly when combined with several of its kind in a consort, still has not found its historian. Until it does, this book will have to do. It is little more than an introduction, though the historical part does contain many quotations from early writers (Ganassi, Simpson, Mace, Rousseau) that are useful, and the volume provides instruction in the elements of playing that is adequate for a beginner. As might be expected from a daughter of Arnold Dolmetsch, it is completely and even reverently on the side of tradition in such matters as fretting, bow hold, string materials and vibrato.

A good and correct guide as far as it goes, this book, like so many English publications, is not blessed with numerous illustrations. Considering this, it seems strange to find the final plate devoted to viols made at the Haslemere workshop, when the eye is eager to be trained in the lineaments of more, and still more, old viols. Would it not have been preferable to make a start toward sorting out a few recognizable main patterns, together with their natural origin?

 

Anthony Baines: Bagpipes. London: Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University Press, 1960.

The indestructible vitality of the Scottish bagpipes, and their presence wherever the long arm of the British empire once reached, tends to overshadow the myriad other forms the bagpipes have had and still have—primitive, eastern European, Italian (the zampogna), French (biniou) and so on up to a hundred and more forms, each with its own name. Here is a book to remind us that the combination of covered reed and wind reservoir has brought cheer to peoples all over Europe and the Near East and from ancient Roman times to the present.

This small book is actually a catalogue of the very extensive collection of bagpipes in the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, which did well to assign its preparation to Mr. Baines. He has an unerring instinct for the organology of folk instruments and has written more than a catalogue—a treatise really. While the photographs are not plentiful, the line drawings are and in this case preferable anyway, since they show structural details more clearly.

 

Anthony Baines: Woodwind Instruments and their History. London: Faber, 1957.

Why read this book when we can find any of the four classes of woodwinds—the flute, oboe, bassoon and clarinet—more fully treated in individual studies? Because any subject treated by Mr. Baines receives an infusion of new life and because a great flock of ancestors and offshoots—cromorne, cornett, curtal, shawm, tiple, zummara, galoubet, aulos, cornemuse, even the humble oaten pepe and ocarina (all but the rauschpfeife, strange to say)—receive their due and are worked into the general fabric in an illuminating way.

By reversing the chronological order and discussing modern instruments in the first half and their history in the second, the author has really written two books. The first confines itself to the physical make-up of the four main woodwinds and their playing technique, together with an invaluable chapter on reeds and reed making. The second is more expansive, and contains a few real finds in the musical examples—a Holborne Pavan playable by five crumhorns, for instance, and an operatic tune arranged for the double flageolet from Briggs' Preceptor! The chapters on mediaeval wind music and 16th-century consorts are especially valuable for their striking and imaginative insights.

 

ICONOGRAPHY

Heinrich Besseler, general editor: Musikgeschichte in Bildern. Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1961—continuing. Thus far issued: I. Oceania II. America III. Egypt IV. Greece V. Etruria and Rome VI. Islam

Karl M. Komma: Musikgeschichte in Bildern. Stuttgart: Kröner, 1961. 743 ill.

Jerzy Banach: Die Musik in den Bildenden Künsten Polens. Cracow: Polnischer Musikverlag, 1957. I. Malerei u. Plastik II. Graphik

The first title here is part of a multi-volume enterprise, whose excellent volumes to date make one impatient for the rest. The series is a large-scale effort to come as close as possible to the ultimate tool for the iconographer—to have every representation of a musical instrument between book covers. This reviewer has not had occasion to put these six volumes to practical use, but can report that they are large in format, allowing for maximum clarity of detail, and good quality, if not, perhaps, the best obtainable. The text is secondary to the plates, naturally. A valuable aid is a table correlating the work of art with historical and cultural events, literature, philosophy and art, musicians and music history.

Karl Komma's book can be recommended as the best available desk companion of iconographical material in a single volume, for it manages to cram 743 illustrations into a lightweight book of textbook size without sacrifice of quality other than that imposed by reduction. There is also an informative text. Plates are in black and white and show all the stock favorites, plus many surprises ferreted out by the diligent author.

The two Polish volumes, one on painting and sculpture and the other on the graphic arts, deserve a wider circulation in this country, for they bring a large body of fresh material to light and make one wonder how much remains to be uncovered in countries peripheral to the main cultural centers of Western Europe—Scandinavia, Russia, Spain, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc. A mixture appears here: many indigenous folk instruments, hurdygurdies and bagpipes, alongside Polish versions of musical conversation pieces that do not differ much from those of other countries except in the quality of the execution, often imitative and weak, and consequently disappointing as works of art. But the layout in these volumes and the superb quality of the plates, many of which are in the finest color, make us wish for more such publications.

 

ICONOLOGICAL STUDIES

Emanuel Winternitz: Musical Instruments and their Symbolism in Western Art. New York: Norton, 1967.

Except for one essay here which is addressed specifically to art historians and tactfully instructs them in the avoidance of some common pitfalls, this book is a collection of papers already in print, but not to be found in music libraries except as scattered reprints. Gathered together and adequately illustrated, they have a stunning impact, and one is tempted to say that no one should write on iconology unless he has the equipment so clearly displayed here: thorough training in art history, acute sensibility and a prose style unequalled for its vivid, almost plastic quality. The author's position as the leading iconologist writing today cannot be challenged.

"The mighty stream of folk music flows on, hardly rippled by the quick vogues of art music"—so concludes a brilliant study of the Apollonian and Dionysian polarization as it is traced from antiquity through the Renaissance. The essay on stage instruments should be read by every organologist before he looks at Renaissance paintings; the one on angel concerts of the 15th century, this reviewer's favorite, contains profound reflections on musical-religious theory. Mr. Winternitz was the first to fix attention on the intrusion of "bizarre and farcical" elements in mediaeval manuscripts, the first to make sense of the Renaissance fondness for the lira da braccio or the centuries-long persistence of vestigial "ears" on stringed instruments. This is, in sum, a book full of delights and intellectual excitement.

 

TECHNICAL

Franz Jahnel: Die Gitarre und ihr Bau. Frankfurt, 1963.

Robert S. Cooper: Lute Construction. Savannah, Georgia, 1963.

Typical of the vast labor that has gone into Jahnel's book is a thirty-page table of 160 different woods used in building guitars. For each wood is listed trade and botanical names, origin, color, hardness, handling properties and the part of the guitar for which it is used. While it cannot substitute for trial at the bench, this table can be a time saver. Metals and string materials are covered in the same thorough way. The whole adds up to a stupendous mass of technical and scientific information. There is an equally thorough discussion of related instruments, and of each of the main historical types of guitar. Included are illustrations with working drawings for the builder. A large and handsome book, it occasionally reflects a deplorable habit of mind common among German craftsmen, overclassification. Witness the division of the lute into two types, classical and modern. Is there such a thing as a modern lute?

Lute making for the novice has gotten off to a rather bad start with Cooper's book. One can hardly say it is better than nothing when the lute it produces is not the historical lute. It will look like a lute but sound like a guitar, for the heavy barring of the table will effectively damp a large number of the higher harmonics that give the tone of the lute its exquisitely radiant, bright quality. As we might suspect, this is something taken over from German makers—the basis for Cooper's design is Hermann Hauser's lutes—and it is to be hoped that the trend will be reversed one day. Perhaps the job will be done by Donald Warnock, whose lutes, like Frank Hubbard's harpsichords, were the first to return to the traditional light construction.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

Sybil Marcuse: Musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1964.

Curt Sachs: Reallexikon der Musikinstruments. Hildesheim: Olms, 1964. Reprint of the 1913 original edition.

Lindesay G. Langwill: Index of Wind Instrument Makers. Edinburgh: Published by the author, 1960; revised 1962.

Miss Marcuse solved a dilemma in the most sensible way: how to cope with an overwhelming flood of material and instruments uncovered by the rapid advances of ethnomusicology in recent years? She has simply incorporated as much of it as was physically possible and as a result has created a tool of the highest value. Here one stands a good chance of finding almost any instrument, all the variants of its name, with an accurate description and a reference to other sources for fuller information. The question of tunings is not shirked as it is in so many works. The book covers instruments of the world—a large order, accomplished without neglecting the commoner instruments of Western European heritage, and these usually appear in a fresh, new light.

The Marcuse book will replace Curt Sachs' Reallexikon; actually it should not, for the Sachs book, appearing at a time when there were fewer non-European instruments on record, is somewhat more expansive and detailed. The publishers are to be congratulated for making it available once more.

Lindesay Langwill's book has repaid its cost many times over for collectors wishing to identify woodwind or brass instruments; most makers of these instruments fortunately had the custom of signing their products. The book was a labor of love for the author, who is one of the Galpin Society scholars and an enthusiastic bassoonist. The first edition brought such a tidal wave of additional names for the compiler that it was necessary to revise his book immediately. Tracking down each of the makers who appear here, would appear to be beyond any one man, so the user may be disappointed not to find more dates; but a listing of known instruments by a maker and their locations does provide a tool for further investigation. Perhaps some future edition will include biographical information and include some judgment upon the quality of work of various makers, as does, for example, Vannes' dictionary of violin makers.

 

FACSIMILES

Filippo Bonanni: The Showcase of Musical Instruments. 152 plates from the Gabinetto Armonico (1723). With new introduction and captions by Frank L. Harrison and Joan Rimmer. New York: Dover, 1964.

"The bells which surround the frame are a misrepresentation of the protruding heads of nails." . . . . . . "It (cymbal) is an unlikely instrument as he describes it" . . . . . . "No resonator is shown, though a musical bow is almost inaudible without one." So it goes, in caption after caption of this book, and rather than turn it into an exercise in clay pigeon shooting, the editors pass over a great many items in silence such as the hopeless hurdygurdy and spinet. Theirs was an exasperating task—to substitute for the original comments in this classic picture book of the early 18th century, a corrected text. One could almost wish that this attractive Dover reprint had only translated the original captions. We should then have a precious and complete document of the Enlightenment's cult of orientalisme and primitivisme with its naive and groping curiosity about non-European cultures, for many exotic instruments have found their way into its pages along with the European.

Sins of distortion, omission and gross malfunction are committed by the artist (many less by Bonanni's text) and render the book useless for organologists; but for others there is lively entertainment and a good deal of aesthetic pleasure from the beautiful, sparkling plates.

 

BOOKS IN PROGRESS OR STILL TO BE WRITTEN

There exists no history of the lute and no definitive history of the viola da gamba. Ideally both should include a photographic index of existing instruments, as inclusive as the publisher would allow, together with details of construction, dimensions and thicknesses. The literature on the organ is extensive, but nowhere can one find anything about the regal. To be sure a forthcoming article in the Galpin Society Journal may help to clear up the mystery. In a recent issue of that journal, a reviewer of the Benn book on the bassoon alludes to a far more thorough and comprehensive study of his own under preparation. This suggests the future course of research for any of the orchestral instruments—greater depth.

Under way is a study by Friedrich von Huene of Renaissance woodwinds, primarily concerned with their structure, dimensions, and bore; in short, those factors determining their tone and resources. The Panum and Schlesinger books on the early history of stringed instruments, pathbreakers for their day, now need redoing with improved illustrations.

Our country is full of inherited square pianos and reed organs whose owners have no way of identifying them or assessing their quality. There is a great practical need for a history of the very American industries that produced these instruments, and it should include a complete list of makers with as much information about them as possible.

Though lesser in scope, a history of instrument collecting and of the genesis of the great museum collections would be as fascinating as the histories of art collecting.

Despite all that has been done, the field of iconography is still wide open. Material in the margins of illuminated manuscripts alone would fill a large volume, and for all periods there are still many works of art unpublished. Edmund Bowles' book on instruments and performance practices in 15th century art, now on the press, is awaited with great interest—the first full-length study of a specific period. Clearly other such volumes would be of value. The student just entering the field of iconology would do well to read the list of topics calling for investigation which appears at the end of the first chapter in Winternitz's book on symbolism. His last topic has, however, been taken care of by Boyden's book on the violin.

The revival of Renaissance (and earlier) music is creating a demand for technical books on home building of many relatively simple instruments: psalteries in a fascinating variety of shapes, dulcimers, the simple two-piece type of rebec and vielle with sturdy out-curving bows to match, small harps, tambourine a cordes. Wind instruments are more difficult, but kortholts, shawms, racketts and crumhorns might not be beyond a determined craftsman.

Constructing the lute and viol should probably be left to the professional. But the latter, who is usually either a violin or a guitar maker, needs to overhaul his thinking and learn to trust the light construction on which these instruments depend for their tone. With this in mind, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has made available instructions for building viols, prepared by Donald Warnock, and similar directions may be made available for several types of lute.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 14/11/2018

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