Promoting Historically-Inspired Performances of Early Music and Baroque Opera
This is the second of three volumes by surveying musical developments in the 18th Century. In the first volume, Professor Heartz dealt primarily with the music of Mozart, Haydn and their contemporaries. The second volume covers a much wider range of musical styles and forms, actually extending from the late 17th Century despite the formal starting date of 1720.
It is a stunning achievement, the equivalent of at least 100 lectures by one of the foremost authorities on 18th Century music. With so much material to cover, the author wisely elected to organize it by city, and within each city by composer.
From a vastly quantity of surviving scores, excerpts, and incipits, Professor Heartz has selected a limited number of works that he considers to be of greatest significance. For these he furnishes detailed analyses with musical examples. He has paid particular attention to connections and influences, presenting each composer in context.
The quantity of interesting references is so great that it is difficult to do justice to the book in a brief review. For example, in the section about Neapolitan composers after Scarlatti and Porpora, ie, principally Vinci, Leo, Pergolesi and Jommelli, Professor Heartz explains how their styles evolved and diverged, with numerous references to and translations of poorly known, contemporary sources as well as recent scholarly works of limited distribution, such as Ph.D. dissertations.
Concluding that Vinci probably was poisoned by a jealous composer, perhaps Porpora or Sarro, Professor Heartz relates anecdotes about the rivalries, including the occasion when Gaetano Berenstadt, one of Vinci's singers (and previous the second castrato of the Royal Academy of Music), disrupted the dress rehearsal of a Porpora opera by blowing snuff onto the stage. He also furnishes a complete translation of Metastasio's harsh denunciation of Porpora, which was partly truncated by Burney.
The book is easy to read and understand, and consequently is quite suitable for those with no prior knowledge about the subject matter. Yet it is packed with information that the most experienced early music enthusiasts will not have encountered previously.
The book also stands out for its practicality and usability. Though large and heavy, it is very well designed and opens flat, even to pages near the front and back. In these hectic times when books often are read while engaging in some other activity, such as exercising on a stationery bicycle, it is quite handy to have a book that stays open to the desired page hands-free. Norton deserves credit for refusing to cut corners, as many publishers have done.
Because of the parallel organization, there is no need to read straight through. Cities, composers and operas may be sampled at the reader's prerogative. This is a book that I return to frequently to look up particular works and events. Highly recommended!