Single-author histories of nineteenth-century music are probably no longer tenable in light of today's specialised knowledge. The last credible contender may well turn out to be the challenging study by Carl Dahlhaus, frequently cited in our volume. Yet existing multi-authored histories present their own problems. Putting it baldly, they tend either to define their subject-matter too narrowly in terms of genres and styles, or to sacrifice thematic penetration to geography. Of course it is easy to criticise. However you approach a task like this, you will be wrong. But we hope to be wrong in the right sort of way. In general our approach is thematic, or topical. We try to offer explanations rather than assemble information, and that usually means focusing selectively on key areas that seem to illuminate our subjects rather than presenting straightforward repertory surveys. How, anyway, can such surveys be anything other than partial and arbitrary? More to the point, what do they really say about music history? So we are moderately (though not completely) relaxed about our coverage of repertory. Lacunae will not be hard to find for those who seek. But then what is the framework of certainties that allows them to be identified as lacunae in the first place?
To evaluate just how topics might be selected is the task of our first chapter, which reflects generally on historiography and on the competing claims made on us as historians of music within the Western tradition. In the process two very broad issues are raised, and they in turn feed into the structure of the book as a whole. One is the relationship between the components of music's 'double history', compositional and contextual: between, in other words, works and practices. Our hope is that aesthetic values are properly respected in this volume, but that they are at the same time integrated within broader social and intellectual contexts. That is easily said. In practice it amounts to a perilous balancing act between the demands of the text – 'the music itself' – and the claims of its context. The second issue concerns periodisation. And here (for reasons that will be argued out in the first chapter) we feel that a history of nineteenth-century music has some obligation to bring into focus the caesura separating the two halves of the century, since this is obscured by conventional