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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

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Volume 21 (2015) No. 1

Published 2017

A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music. Edited by Stewart Carter. Revised and Expanded by Jeffery Kite-Powell. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012. [560 pp. ISBN: 978-0-253-35706-9. $49.95.]

Reviewed by Candace Bailey*

1. Introduction

2. Issues of Organization

3. Usefulness of the Performer’s Guide

References

1. Introduction

1.1 Since at least the 1970s, issues surrounding the performance of seventeenth-century music have been investigated, evaluated, and modified, necessitating the need for frequent reconsideration and revision of modern opinions as to how music from this period was realized then and how it should be realized now. A thorough account of all practices could not be contained in a single volume, yet the need for an introductory source that guides practitioners through the process of learning about seventeenth-century music remains. Many performers and scholars come to this repertory today with musical experience in other periods, and unfamiliarity with what can be strikingly different approaches to instruments, ensembles, singing, and genres requires a thoughtful explanation firmly grounded in period treatises, scores, and other data. Such is the mission of Jeffery Kite-Powell’s revised and expanded edition of A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music.

1.2 This second edition updates and adds to the first (edited by Stewart Carter, New York: Schirmer Books, 1997) and is a welcome edition indeed, as the first saw a very limited number in print (230 are currently held in libraries around the world, according to the Introduction, xi). Kite-Powell recounts the history of the Performer’s Guide Series in his Preface to the second edition, noting the issues surrounding the publication of the first edition and how they influenced his approach to the second. The authors of the various chapters are largely the same between the two editions, and they represent a broad collection of acknowledged performers and scholars whose specialties lie in seventeenth-century music. How to structure such a book is one of many questions that the editors had to consider, and the second edition closely follows the first in its organization. Kite-Powell’s recognition of the manner in which this book should be used—as a practical guide to performance issues—led him to follow Carter’s initial plan, which allows the reader to look up a particular instrument in order to arrive efficiently at the desired information. This, of course, has its drawbacks. Some of the authors (but by no means all) chose to introduce their material with broad statements about the seventeenth century and their instrument’s part in its music. These all could have been consolidated in the introduction, leaving the individual chapters to get straight to the point at hand. Furthermore, there is quite a bit of repetition of other sorts of material among chapters. For example, David Douglass’s “The Violin: Technique and Style” and Julie Andrijeski’s “Historical Approaches to Playing the Violin” both have sections dealing with the bow that could have been presented in one place. Similarly, Bruce Dickey’s “Cornett and Sackbut” and Stewart Carter’s “Trombone” chapters both discuss some of the same issues.

2. Issues of Organization

2.1 Part 1, “Vocal/Choral Issues,” most immediately suggests that the information presented in this guide could have been organized differently. Four chapters make up Part 1: Sally Sanford’s “National Singing Styles” (3–30); Julianne Baird’s “The Bel Canto Singing Style” (31–43); Anne Harrington Heider’s “Choral Music in France and England” (44–54); and Gary Towne’s “Choral Music in Italy and Germanic Lands” (55–68). The wide disparity in article length is indicative of some of the problems in the volume. Sanford provides much useful information from treatises, helpful charts (Figure 1.1, a chart linking seventeenth-century singing treatises, is particularly illuminating), and rich endnotes that point the reader to further information on many points. Following this lengthy chapter, Baird’s brief contribution, dealing only with Italian practices, seems out of place and much of her work could have been incorporated into Sanford’s. Anne Harrington Heider’s chapter presents materials that should appeal to those in the early stages of learning seventeenth-century performance practice, and she does so in a manner that is simple and direct. So, too, does Gary Towne’s discussion of Italian and German choral music. Much of the material, however, could have been consolidated to avoid issues of repetition and, also, the occasional discrepancy (see, for example, the discussion of English male altos in various chapters).[1]

2.2 With so many authors contributing to the volume, some unevenness is to be expected. Almost all of them describe treatises and verbal descriptions (as well as images) that inform music performance in the seventeenth century. Some choose to examine aspects of performance as indicated in scores, but more speculation regarding seventeenth-century performance practice versus the evidence present in the scores would be helpful. For example, John Michael Cooper’s chapter “Percussion Instruments and Their Usage” limits the discussion to what we can know from existing data, but performances by such performers as Pedro Estevan have opened the door for a much more substantial role for percussionists. How these performers think about the possibilities in performance is worthwhile and needed in such a survey as A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music. Indeed, the book under review here does not provide much direction for students who become interested in performing seventeenth-century music after hearing exciting performances by professionals, and who subsequently seek guidance on how to move their own performances beyond the notated page.

3. Usefulness of the Performer’s Guide

3.1 Apart from the issues discussed, most of which are inevitable in a book with a number of contributors from different perspectives of music practice, A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music is a valuable reference source that provides the reader with basic information and then points to numerous primary and secondary sources that will further enhance performances of this repertory. Most chapters provide practical details on instruments and their histories, addressing alterations in instruments and differences among national preferences. Appendices B and C contain the contents of the two companion volumes, A Performer’s Guide to Medieval Music (edited by Ross Duffin) and A Performer‘s Guide to Renaissance Music (also edited by Kite-Powell); the possibilities for using this information extend from classroom assignments to professional performances.[2] In this respect, the extensive bibliography and the chapter endnotes constitute perhaps the book’s strongest contribution, and they fulfill Kite-Powell’s reasoning as stated in the Preface: the book serves to help the reader learn more about performing seventeenth-century music and where to find new sources of information. Yes, any such guide will be outdated as soon as it is published because there will always be new discoveries that lead to fresh articles, editions, and performances. A functional guide such as this provides the foundation for engaging with the materials (manuscript and print sources, instruments, seventeenth-century descriptions of performances, etc.) in a logical and convenient manner.

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