Early Music History I: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Music

By Gillingham, Bryan | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 1982 | Go to article overview

Early Music History I: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Music


Gillingham, Bryan, Canadian University Music Review


IAIN FENLON, ed. Early Music History 1: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, vii, 381pp.

Because of its attractive hard-cover binding and varied content, EarJy Music History, at first glance, resembles a Festschrift or specialized collection of essays by different authors on disparate subjects. It clearly equals the best of the Festschriften in the quality of its contributions and production processes. The research behind its submissions is thorough, which might be expected in view of the fine editorial board comprised of eleven eminent scholars fromBritain and the United States; the printing is clear and free from typographical errors, the paper is of a durable bond, and the volume is generously illustrated with black and white facsimiles and photographs as well as transcriptions and tables of various sorts. In short, it employs the best materials in both physical and conceptual terms. The surprise is that it is the first issue of an annual journal, not an isolated publication.

Since the essays in Early Music History I address matters from the tenth to seventeenth century, perhaps the fairest way to assess the content is to measure it against the implicit and explicit goals of the edit or(s) instead of ravaging it piecemeal. To do this, we might begin with the title which of necessity must define the limits of the periodical, for this and subsequent installments. One assumes from the main title that Early Music History purports to examine music (and its adjuncts) from at least the seventeenth century (this is confirmed in the preface) and before, although there are some who would also consider contemporaries of J.S. Bach to be exponents of "early music." What, if anything, does the subtitle, "Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Music," convey? It suggests that ancient music is not to be a part of the curriculum, and that medieval and the neologistic "early modern" music are to be. The term "medieval" can be loosely accepted in application to music up to about 1450, even though hardened medievalists might prefer to cut off the period earlier, say in the thirteenth century. The subtitle informs us that we might expect something from the period400-1450, less perhaps a mere 200 years, or portion thereof. Early modern music, which we are also to expect, must therefore be the body of music appearing after the Middle Ages up to and including the seventeenth century. A certain editorial discomfort is understandable in allowing renaissance and baroque music to be considered "early," since a vast quantity of medieval music remains. Yet the inclusion of the oxymoronic phrase "early modern," though it informs us of the erudition of the editors in knowing that music from 1450-1700 is not really early, helps littleinestablishingthechronological parameters of the journal. Furthermore, it is amusing that the bulk of the first volume deals with information from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, a rather late third of the time period suggested. The editors might have allowed the main title to stand alone and, through normal selective processes and/or editorial admonition, allowed the content to define the title. As it is, the subtitle is an unfortunate blemish appearing in a very prominent place.

Further information concerning the goals of Early Music History is offered in a one-page preface to Volume I and in an advertising brochure which preceded it. Several perceived needs have prompted the journal's inception: to provide an outlet for publication of early studies, since space elsewhere is insufficient or declining; to encourage the best in international scholarship in the field; to promote interdisciplinary approaches; and to capitalize on "dramatically expanded" musicological methods developed recently. There is no doubt that the inaugural issue succeeds in achieving the first two of these objectives. Anyone who has been forced to wait years in the publication "queues" of the available periodicals would welcome this new forum for intellectual exchange.

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