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Essays Define Early Music Making in England

The Country Dance, by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

The Country Dance, by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)


Beyond Boundaries: Rethinking Music Circulation in Early Modern England. Linda Phyllis Austern, Candace Bailey, and Amanda Eubanks Winkler, editors. Indiana University Press, 2017. 317 pages.

By Valerie Walden

BOOK REVIEW — Beyond Boundaries is a collection of 15 essays that seek to re-examine 19th- and 20th-century attitudes towards early modern English music making (ca. 1550-1800). The editors explain in the introduction that the artificial social and purpose-driven boundaries created in earlier scholarship are not sufficient to describe the music making of the period, which “fluidly moved between social and professional hierarchies, oral/aural and written traditions, and sacred and secular contexts.” These richly resourced essays, organized in chronological order, convincingly re-evaluate the use of architectural space and the distinctions between nationalities, gender, professional status, and class distinctions to arrive at a deeper understanding of the musical practices of this era.

BeyondBoundariesCover 400Chapters 1, “Tudor Musical Theater: Sounds of Religious Change in Ralph Roister Doister” (Katherine Steele Brokaw), and 2, “English Jesuit Missionaries, Music Education, and the Music Participation of Women in Devotional Life in Recusant Households from ca. 1580 to ca. 1630” (Jane Flynn), describe how musicians negotiated the political dangers inherent in the antagonistic relationships between the ever-changing Protestant and Catholic governments of the 16th century. Brokaw, for example, demonstrates how the composer Nicholas Udall was able to utilize what she calls “shape-shifting to successfully negotiate the social and religious anxieties of the court of Mary Tudor,” while Flynn provides an interesting account of the clandestine accommodations made to liturgical practice by Catholics during the reigns of Protestant monarchs.

Chapters 3, “The Transmission of Lute Music and the Culture of Aurality in Early Modern England” (Graham Freeman), and 4, “Thomas Campion’s ‘Superfluous Blossomes of His Deeper Studies’: The Public Realm of His English Ayres” (Christopher R. Wilson), discuss the popularity and dissemination of solo lute music and songs with lute accompaniment, detailing the performance environment, including choice of location, which sometimes created incentives for publication and sometimes did not.

Dramatic vocal music is the topic of the next three essays: “Oyez! Fresh Thoughts about the ‘Cries of London’ Repertory” (John Milsom); “‘Locks, Bolts, Barres, Barricados’: Song Performance, Gender, and Spatial Production in Richard Brome’s The Northern Lass” (Katherine R. Larson); and “‘Lasting-Pasted Monuments,’ Memory, Music, Theater, and the Seventeenth-Century English Broadside Ballad” (Sarah F. Williams). These describe English audiences’ fascination with text taken from working class topics, including Williams’s look at the “pop” tunes printed on broadsides being especially engaging.

Moving forward to the post-Restoration period, Chapter 8, “The Challenge of Domesticity in Men’s Manuscripts in Restoration England” (Candice Bailey), regards gender and musical purpose in the evaluation of keyboard music. Chapters 9, “A Midcentury Musical Friendship: Silas Taylor and Matthew Locke” (Alan Howard); 10, “Music and Merchants in Restoration London” (Bryan White); and 11, “Daniel Henstridge and the Aural Transmission of Music in Restoration England” (Rebecca Herissone), examine the practice of categorizing the professional or amateur status of musicians by social level and question the validity of evaluating compositional worth and purpose by the degree of difficulty in the notated music. Also interesting is the observation that, despite rising literacy rates in England, aural transmission of music remained an important method of distribution well into the 18th century.

Portrait of Queen Anne by Michael Dahl (1705)

Portrait of Queen Anne by Michael Dahl (1705)

The final four chapters bring the reader fully into the 18th century and identify a variety of issues regarding patronage by the upper classes. Chapter 12, “Courtly Connections: Queen Anne, Music, and the Public Stage” (Amanda Eubanks Winkler), discusses the use of music to popularize Queen Anne’s rule, while Chapter 13, “Disseminating and Domesticating Handel in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain” (Suzanne Aspden), uses Handel’s career to demonstrate the “intermingling of the public and the private” in 18th-century London’s entertainment.

The final two chapters — “From London’s Opera House to the Salon? The Favourite (and Not So ‘Favourite’) Songs from the King’s Theatre” (Michael Burden) and “Education, Entertainment, Embellishment: Music Publications in the Lady’s Magazine” (Bonny H. Miller) — detail how publicly performed arias and popular songs migrated from the stage to the home, again blurring the distinction between public and private, professional and amateur music making. Burden is especially successful in explaining and visualizing the performance practices of 18th century opera singers.

While the academic style of the prose is occasionally dense and sometimes detracts from an easy understanding of the topics under discussion, this book is valuable in bringing new research and a fresh approach to demonstrate that music making in England during the 16th to 18th centuries was vibrant, varied, often spontaneous, and a shared experience enjoyed by all of its citizens.

Valerie Walden received her Ph.D. from the University of Auckland, is the author of One Hundred Years of Violoncello; A History of Technique and Performance Practice, 1740-1840, a chapter in The Cambridge Companion to the Cello and Reader’s Guide to Music, and 31 entries in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musician. She is preparing an edition of the music of the noted 19th-century London cellist Robert Lindley for A-R Editions.

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Goerne’s Bach Cantata CD A Partial Success

German baritone Matthias Goerne sings two Bach cantatas on his new disc. (Photo by Marco Borggreve)

German baritone Matthias Goerne sings two Bach cantatas on his new disc.
(Photo by Marco Borggreve)


Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas for Bass
Matthias Goerne, baritone; Katharina Arfken, oboe and oboe d’amore; Freiburger Barockorchestra; Gottfried von der Goltz, violin and conductor
harmonia mundi HM 902323

By Benjamin Dunham

CD REVIEW — A catchy title for this release might be “Wotan Sings Bach.” Matthias Goerne, who has made an excellent impression as the Wanderer and Wotan in productions of Wagner’s Ring cycle, takes on two of the cantatas Bach wrote for the bass voice, “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen,” BWV 56, and “Ich habe genug,” BWV 82 (but not the more curious secular cantata, “Amore traditore,” BWV 203).

GoerneCover 400The context for the CD is the period from late 1726 to early 1727, when Bach stepped away from writing cantatas with elaborate opening choruses and focused on solo and dialogue cantatas — identified as “Ich” cantatas in the excellent accompanying notes by Peter Wollny — some with simple concluding chorales. The intensely personal texts were written by a theology student in Leipzig, Christoph Birkmann, and were sung, presumably, not by students at St. Thomas’s, but by older pre-professionals.

As a Wotan, Goerne is praised for his extended range of vocal color and sensitive interpretation (which he also demonstrates in concerts and recordings of 19th-century lieder). With such flexibility of vocal production, from an ominous lower register to a truly angelic upper octave, he has choices to make; these are often intelligent and rewarding, but sometimes hard to fathom. It is true, for instance, that Johann Joachim Quantz observed that German choruses of the time hacked their way through passagework (“ha-ha-ha-ha for each note”). But was it necessary for Goerne to make the last aria of “Ich will den Kreuzstab” — which begins “Endlich, endlich will mein Joch/Wieder von mir weichen müssen” (At last, at last, my yoke/Needs will fall from me) — into a “rage” aria, gruffly aspirating on each note in his lower ranges? It’s a sublimely joyful song in which the flow of notes seems to take flight. In contrast to Goerne’s vocalism, the lines of Katharina Arfken’s obbligato oboe are suitably liquid and smooth.

A page from the final aria in Cantata 82, in Bach's hand.

The first page from the final aria in Cantata 82.

Goerne is warm and persuasive in the opening aria of “Ich habe genug” and perfectly enchanting in the second aria, “Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen” (Go to sleep, you weary eyes). But again, in the concluding “Ich freue ich auf meinen Tod” (I long for my death), he manages to convey a sense of irritation rather than blissful resignation. Also, in the recitatives, the listener is distracted by the singer’s breathing. Possibly because of all his singing in large opera houses, Goerne has developed a way of taking a breath that is all-too-often audible.

The cantatas are introduced and separated by two instrumental works: the opening Sinfonia from Cantata 21, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis,” and a reconstruction of the Harpsichord Concerto No. 4, BWV 1055, with an oboe d’amore as the soloist, again played by Arfken, whose excellence also graces “Ich habe genug.” The Freiburgers (along with the singers filling out the chorus in BWV 56), under the leadership of violinist Gottfried von der Goltz, are unimpeachable throughout.

Former EMAg editor Benjamin Dunham has reviewed recordings for The Washington Post and Musical America.

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