Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others

By Smith, Gordon E. | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others


Smith, Gordon E., Canadian University Music Review


Gary Tomlinson. Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993. xvi, 291 pp. ISBN 0-226-80791-6 (hardcover).

In a recent article by Bruno Nettl entitled "The Dual Nature of Ethnomusicology in North America: The Contributions of Charles Seeger and George Herzog," the author comments that American ethnomusicologists tend to think of their work in dualisms - sound and context, anthropology and musicology, theory and application.' In the last several decades, which have seen the institutionalization of ethnomusicology in the North American academy, ethnomusicology has exerted varying kinds of influence on historical musicology; a heightened awareness and need on the part of scholars to consider seriously social and cultural factors is an example. Notwithstanding some historic tensions between the two disciplines, there is an emerging corpus of research in which attitudes and critical methods from both historical musicology and ethnomusicology are combined in innovative ways. Some of these resonate with and extend Nettl's dualisms: one of the most striking is relationships between the interpreter and the interpreted, and questions of "otherness" and "difference." Gary Tomlinson's recent book is a case in point. In Tomlinson's text, the discussion is constructed elegantly and with scholarly thoroughness around the dualism of hermeneutic and archaeological levels of interpretation.

A historical musicologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Tomlinson is known for his doctoral dissertation (UCLA 1979) on the humanist heritage of early opera, several related articles, Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance (1987), and, of course, Music in Renaissance Magic. These writings have earned for Tomlinson a deserved reputation as a distinguished Renaissance specialist. A close reading of Music in Renaissance Magic shows Tomlinson to be thoroughly coherent in other large and difficult domains as well, notably that of critical theory (anthropology, linguistics, and philosophy), and related concepts of historiography. As much as Music in Renaissance Magic is about a historical topic, namely music and its relationships to magic (and vice versa) in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, its subject is much broader and inclusive of issues and ideas Tomlinson feels have been left aside in Renaissance studies, largely because of the traditional eurocentricity of historical musicology. In the opening paragraph of the book's preface, Tomlinson expresses the hope that "the book will appeal both to students of Renaissance and early-modern culture and to those writers in various disciplines who are fostering new, postobjectivist historical approaches" (ix).

Music in Renaissance Magic is divided into eight chapters, a preface, and an appendix in which Tomlinson provides longer originals of primary source quotations cited in the text. The book is framed by two chapters entitled "Approaching Others (Thoughts Before Writing)" (Chapter 1) and "Believing Others (Thoughts upon Writing") (Chapter 8). In chapters 2 to 6 Tomlinson explores in detail ideas and concepts in theoretical, largely philosophical sources on musical magic. Chapter 7 is a discussion of two Monteverdi pieces in which the author applies some of the notions explored in the earlier sections of the book in these two specific musical contexts. In an overall structural sense, the book can be read as a series of essays as well as a continuous narrative; indeed, Tomlinson suggests this several times in the text with references to the book's "essays" (e.g. p. 43).

The chapter that stands apart most - at least in the view of this reader - is the opening one in which Tomlinson discusses the critical apparatus upon which the book is based. As he points out in the preface, his discussion throughout the book moves on two separate, but connected levels: the archaeological and the hermeneutic: "... in this dual motion the book constructs two distinct (if ultimately inseparable) varieties of meaning in the cultural traces it treats" (ix). …

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