Academic journal article Notes

The Cambridge Companion to the Symphony/The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia

Academic journal article Notes

The Cambridge Companion to the Symphony/The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia

Article excerpt

COMPANIONS The Cambridge Companion to the Symphony. Edited by Julian Horton. (Cambridge Companions to Music.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. [xiv, 452 p. ISBN 9780521884983 (hardcover), $90; ISBN 9780521711951 (paperback), $29.99; ISBN 9781107453319 (e-book), $24.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.

The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia. Edited by Nicholas Vazsonyi. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. [xv, 883 p. ISBN 9781107004252 (hardcover), $180; ISBN 9781107496293 (e-book), $144.] Music examples, bibliographic references, index.

Coming in at 414 pages of text (excluding bibliography and index), The Cambridge Companion to the Symphony is one of the longest music volumes in the Companion series, a not-inappropriate way of recognizing the cultural significance that has attached to the symphony since the late eighteenth century. The volume under scrutiny is, in the words of the editor, Julian Horton, "not a chronological survey of works or composers, although sensitivity to chronology is built into its design" (p. 9). It consists of three passes through the symphonic repertoire, arranged under section headings "Historical overview of the genre," "Studies in symphonic analysis," and "Performance, reception and genre."

Just as composers coming to the genre in the last two centuries were conscious of the daunting legacy they had to live up to, so too the contributors to this volume were working with anything but a scholarly tabula rasa. The major symphonists have all been studied extensively, and seminal works (Haydn no. 45; Mozart nos. 40, 41; Beethoven nos. 3, 5, 9; Berlioz Symphonie fantastique; Brahms no. 1; Shostakovich no. 5, etc.) have been pored over ad nauseum. Moreover, as Horton notes in his introductory chapter, there exist many Englishlanguage surveys of the genre as a whole or in part. As a result, this volume is not the first-level primer that other Companion volumes aspire to be. While there is plenty of basic information conveyed-David Fanning's magisterial survey of the twentiethcentury symphony is exemplary in this regard-much of this volume is positioned as a response to existing scholarly debates.

David Brodbeck's thoughtful chapter on the nineteenth-century symphony exemplifies this approach. Rather than pithily summarizing as many symphonies and symphonic developments as possible à la Fanning, Brodbeck conceives his chapter as a challenge to Carl Dahlhaus's famous (and increasingly disputed) theses about the genre in this era: that symphonists at this time always were responding directly to Beethoven, not to intervening figures (the "circumpolar" argument); and that there was a notable dip in the production of firstrate symphonies in the third quarter of the century ("the dead period"), before a revival beginning with Brahms's First (the "second age" of the symphony). Brodbeck's focus on symphonic reception and production in just two cities (Leipzig and Vienna) further limits the ambit of his discussion. Where Dahlhaus is obsessed by the failure of most symphonies to live up to the Beethovenian sublime, Brodbeck points out that Schubert's Ninth, with its "epiclyrical" qualities, might well be the "new norm" that Schumann and others drew on (pp. 67-71). He successfully conveys something of the aesthetic milieu in which ca. 500 symphonies were produced in the "dead period," revealing that there was a broad acceptance of "mittlere Musik (music of an intermediary niveau)," in which "composers could respond to growing market demands for new music while knowing that they were not charged to seek a place in the canon" (p. 73). Nonetheless, despite its many intrinsic merits, this essay sits rather uneasily as the nineteenth-century chapter in the "Historical overview" portion of the book.

This first part of the volume is in general the most problematic. There are two separate chapters on the eighteenth-century symphony, divided into "The Viennese symphony 1750 to 1827" (John Irving) and "Other classical repertories" (Mary Sue Morrow), a division with which Morrow herself had issues. …

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