Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows
Oxford University Press, 1997
428 pages
  AmazonUK   £11.99 AmazonUS  $22
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Over the past forty years, early music has been "rediscovered" by both performers and listeners. Enterprising musicians have saved countless major works of European music from the abyss of being forgetten, and have attempted to revive period instruments and performance practice. While one has to admit that the many successes in this area have been accompanied by failure as well, one cannot deny that the wealth of music from this period deserves this attention.

The problem for listeners is how to make sense of the many different forms, styles, instruments and varieties of early music. Without a program, it is hard to tell the players. And there are indeed many players - starting with the composers themselves, but also many of the performers, who have developed cult-like status in the early music world. In some cases, this is justified; many performers have attempted to restore old music while remaining faithful to the original atmosphere and context. Yet, in others, the performers have adapted the music to their own tastes, in the name of "historical practice" about which we often know little.

Early music lovers are confronted with wide range of musical styles and forms that span several centuries - the scope of this book is the period from the beginning of the Christian era to 1600, and it is no mean feat to examine such a vast amount of music in such a limited space. The goal of this book is not to present a list of composers and their works, but rather to examine the many issues that come into play involving early music.

The book's 49 essays, written by renowned musicians and musicologists, examine the following major themes:

The music of the past and the modern ear
Aspects of music and society
Questions of form and style
Using the evidence
Pre-performance decisions
Performance techniques

(Some of the well-known musicians contributing to this book are Philip Pickett, Anthony Rooley, Hopkinson Smith, Paul Hillier and Andrew Lawrence-King.)

Most of the essays provide valuable insight into early music, be it the context, performance or form of the music, and help better understand what this music has to say to us, and why. The first section is particularly interesting - it addresses the many issues of how 21st century listeners hear and appreciate music, and examines the thorny issue of whether any performance can be called "authentic".

While this book is not written specifically for musicians, some of the essays are more complex than others (such as the article on Pythagorean tuning, or the one on Modes). But most of them are accessible to the basic music-lover, whose knowledge of the workings of music is minimal.

All in all, this book provides no answers to many of the issues it deals with - rather it presents the issues in a very subjective manner. It is a book that elicits more questions, without necessarily resolving them. It is nevertheless highly recommended for anyone interested in early music, and curious about what stands behind it. This excellent collection of articles is something that lovers of early music will find themselves returning to often.


Kirk McElhearn

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