Companion to Baroque Music

Companion to Baroque Music

Companion to Baroque Music

Companion to Baroque Music


Baroque music, not long ago considered the province of the specialist, now occupies a central place in the interests of any music-lover. Not just Bach and Handel, but Vivaldi and Monteverdi, Couperin and Rameau, Purcell and Sch¿tz are familiar and loved figures. There is place now for a survey that offers fresh perspectives on these men and the times in which they lived. That is what the Companion to Baroque Music is designed to offer, to all those who are attracted by the music of that crucial century and a half, 1600-1750, which we call 'the Baroque era'. Julie Anne Sadie, herself scholar, performer, and critic, brings to this survey two novel features. First, it is underpinned by a keen awareness of music as sound, intended to be played, heard, and relished by the listener--as witness the group of articles contributed by well-known specialists, such as Nigel Rogers and David Fuller, on the central issues of performance. Secondly it is concerned not only with what the music is like but why it is as it is: and the series of essays, again by specialists, such as Michael Talbot (on Italy) and Peter Holman (on England) which places each region's music in its social and cultural contexts helps to explain its character. The lexicographical part of the book, in which the life of every significant musician of the era is charted and his or her work outlined, is subdivided geographically so as to convey with particular sharpness the special character of music-making in each part of Europe--and a system of cross-references defines the ebb and flow of influences as composers travelled from city to city or court to court, disseminating their tastes, their styles, their ideas. A detailed chronology enables the reader to take in at a glance the sequence of musical events across the entire period. The Companion to Baroque Music, which contains a foreword by Christopher Hogwood, offers both reliable reference material and lively, enlightening reading to all those--amateur and professional, from the skilled practical musician to the person who has never played anything more demanding than a piece of stereo equipment--who love the music of the era that culminated in the great masterworks of Bach and Handel.


'The past is a foreign country', L. P. Hartley reminds us at the beginning of The Go-Between; 'they do things differently there'. In the arts we spend more of our time in this territory than in our own land, savouring its confusing yet comforting ways, enjoying its artistic legacy while often forgetting its political and social shell in our enthusiasm to get at the cultural pearl. Until recently, almost instinctively, its differences were absorbed into a technological assessment of music's progress. We assumed the superiority of the later over the earlier ('the seed sown by Stamitz developed into the full Classical symphony of late Mozart'), the modern over the old ('our Steinway, so much more resonant that Mozart's slight fortepiano'), the public over the private (the opera aria over devotional hymn), the composer over the patron, the studied phrase over the impromptu gesture. But it was not always so, and a delight in the music of the 17th and 18th centuries is soon tempered by some puzzlement as we realize that, in the Age of Patronage, they did things differently.

The lure of the Baroque, at least in the broad view, began at much the same time as the arrival of the LP. It had been preceded by another important 20th-century invention, the concept of 'chamber orchestra'. These two, with the connivance of Vivaldi, ensured that every cultured household soon had daily access to a handful of well-seasoned concerti; everyone was indelibly convinced that the 'Albinoni Adagio' was actually by Albinoni. As a consultative, sometimes almost archival, attitude to records developed, so the number of light anthologies declined, and the greatest omissions from the standard concert repertory were repaired; we began to appreciate the clavichord and the counter-tenor, the Bach cantata and the Handel opera seria, though still in ignorance of their appropriate visual and social setting.

At the same time an attitude to the Baroque developed which can only be described as 'best buy', and with it that unfortunate corollary of the Ur-text, the 'Ur-performance'. 'Wie es eigentlich gewesen' ('As it really was'), the catch-phrase of Leopold von Ranke in the 1830s, became again the watch-word, and a surfeit of Olde Musicke made life in the recreative arts begin to look like one endless historical romance. The death of the past and its resurrection as history can produce as much nostalgia as archaeology; the challenge in all recreative arts is to combine the science of discovering expression in texts with the art of communicating it.

Some commentators still hold that we are busy historicizing ourselves, that musical ventures into past contexts and countries are a form of creative anachronism, as misleading and laughable as Inigo Jones's certainty that Stonehenge was a Roman monument. The opposing school would counter Ezra Pound's exhortation to 'Make it New' with a demand that all works be recreated 'brand old', taking advantage of historical information to try and reconcile the demands of 'then' and 'now', blending archaeology and passion. Over the last 20 years, it has been the Baroque period in particular that has focused our attention on the inherited obligation to temper instinct with information. A dizzying increase in available repertory and styles of performance, constant debate on the value of Telemann as a composer, or the . . .

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