The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study in Canon, Ritual, and Ideology

The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study in Canon, Ritual, and Ideology

The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study in Canon, Ritual, and Ideology

The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study in Canon, Ritual, and Ideology

Synopsis

The English invented the idea of musical "classics". Eighteenth-century England was the first country where old musical works were performed regularly and reverentially, and where a collective notion of such works--"ancient music"--first appeared. This is the first book to explore the formation of musical classics in regard to repertory and social context. It examines the performance of old music in eighteenth-century England, from the interest in music of the Elizabethan period through the performance of works by Henry Purcell, Arcangelo Corelli, and other English and Italian composers, to the development of festivals that featured choral-orchestral works of Purcell and Handel. The book examines closely the political and social reasons for these developments. In addition, it shows how they laid the groundwork for the classical music tradition of the nineteenth century.

Excerpt

The English invented the idea of musical classics. Eighteenth-century England was the first place where old musical works were performed regularly and reverentially, where a collective notion of such works-- 'ancient music'--first appeared. This began at the turn of the eighteenth century, when works by Henry Purcell, Arcangelo Corelli, the Elizabethan masters, and indeed a whole host of English and Italian composers remained in performance. Nowhere else, even at the Paris Opéra, where the works of Jean-Baptiste Lully and his successors remained in use, did repertories of old music develop as extensively as in England. the interest in old music grew to such an extent, in both performance and published commentary, that by the 1780s we can speak of a musical canon in England: a corpus of great works from Tallis to Handel that was studied, performed systematically, and revered by the public at large.

It is impossible to understand the genesis of the English musical classics without looking at them within a context of religion and politics. a tradition of preserving old works developed within the cathedrals and the Chapel Royal during the early seventeenth century that was deeply affected by the political upheavals of the next hundred years. the Restoration established services and anthems by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, and their contemporaries in repertories; the movement for religious and social reform at the turn of the eighteenth century gave them an ideological purpose. At the same time recent works--first the Te Deum and Jubilate of Henry Purcell, then the oratorios of George Frideric Handel--became classics in their own right as the focus of grand music festivals.

These developments had their social origins in England's affluence and in its growth as a consuming society. in structural terms, the development of concerts and music publishing sprang from the country's early centralization and its unusually strong transportation and communication during the eighteenth century. in more immediate terms, however, the movement for ancient music sprang from a moral reaction against luxury and fashion, against the excesses seen in . . .

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