The Medieval Review 10.06.02

Epp, Maureen and Brian E. Power. The Sounds and Sights of Performance in Early Music. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009. Pp. xvii, 291. $99.95 ISBN 978-0-7546-5483-4. .

Reviewed by:

Jennifer Saltzstein
University of Oklahoma

The Sounds and Sights of Performance in Early Music: Essays in Honor of Timothy J. McGee endeavors to investigate performance from a broad disciplinary and historical perspective. The contributors to this beautifully illustrated collection have been drawn from musicology, art history, and dance history; they explore a diverse array of materials such as musical iconography, choreography, manuscripts and partbooks, theoretical treatises, and contemporary music recordings.

The volume is addressed warmly to its honoree and attempts to emulate McGee's interdisciplinary approach, which brought art and dance history into dialog with musical sources. McGee's influential monographs, The Sound of Medieval Song: Ornamentation and Vocal Style According to the Treatises (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998) and Medieval and Renaissance Music: A Performer's Guide (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), are notable in the breadth of primary sources considered, including music theoretical treatises, iconographic and archival material, and historical accounts. Arguably, one of the great strengths of McGee's work is its accessibility for scholars and performers alike. Although non- specialist readers of The Sounds and Sights may find the technical language and narrow focus of some of these essays unapproachable, several contributions have practical implications that will be of interest to early music performers.

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, "Viewing the evidence," the contributors address visual evidence and its relationship to performance. An essay by John Haines highlights an illumination of the medieval author Gautier de Coincy playing the vielle and, more remarkably, sight-reading from a music manuscript. Haines offers the intriguing hypothesis that the image might be a representation of a music exemplar used in the copying of Gautier's Miracles de Nostre Dame. Andrew Hughes focuses on a melisma found in Pastor cecus, an antiphon for the office for Thomas Becket. Hughes uses computer analysis to identify the variants across its surviving manuscripts, arguing that the variants raise questions about the performance of the chant and how one might ascertain the "correct" melody in a case such as this. Through a survey of the rubrics attached to liturgical polyphony in the early fifteenth- century Trent Codices, Brian E. Power discusses scribal inconsistency in the application of performance cues for the improvised harmonic practice known as fauxbourdon. Honey Meconi proposes a fresh assessment of the Munich partbooks, a sixteenth-century manuscript of polyphonic German songs. Whereas it was assumed that the manuscript was missing parts needed for polyphonic performance, Meconi argues that the majority of the songs can be sung as written. She also suggests that that the collection may have been designed for an amateur owner, its contents progressing methodically from monophonic tunes to full polyphonic settings. Maureen Epp addresses the signum congruentiae in manuscripts Paris 12744 and 9346, arguing that these markings should be interpreted as repeat signs. Epp further suggests that the use of this sign indicates these songs may have been a stylistic precursor to the Parisian chanson. In the final essay of "Viewing the Evidence," Leslie Korrick proposes a different context for a well-known dispute between Gioseffo Zarlino and Vincenzo Galilei over whether the chromatic and enharmonic genera, tuning systems associated with instruments, could be applied to the human voice. Korrick examines how this debate involves changing attitudes toward the categories of nature and art, and argues that Galilei's use of an analogy involving painting demonstrates his knowledge of contemporary theories in the visual arts.

The second half of the volume, entitled "Reconsidering Context," opens with Randall Rosenfeld's reassessment of a late fourteenth-century manuscript of dances (London, British Library, MS Add. 29987). He argues that the dances may have originated in the Morea. Three subsequent essays deal with performance practices in renaissance courts. Keith Polk explores chamber music of the fifteenth-century courts of Ferrara and Burgundy, providing documentary evidence that chamber musicians performed polyphony and that solo singers performed with instrumental accompaniment. Jennifer Neville examines the relationship between dance and gender roles in fifteenth-century Italy, arguing that treatises and choreography posit dance as a representation of a woman's inner virtue as manifest through her beauty and grace. Barbara Sparti offers a study of the galliards of Salamone Rossi. She examines the problems they pose for both dancers and music editors and argues that the prints of dance music produced in the mid sixteenth-century are more danceable than previous scholars have assumed. Robert Toft's contribution takes issue with an interpretation of Monteverdi's madrigal, "Baci soavi e cari," posed by Gary Tomlinson in his book, Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). Toft argues that the work is not an example of Monteverdi's compositional immaturity, but rather, is a successful work when viewed within the context of rhetoric. The book ends with an illuminating essay by Jennifer Baines, who explains how the chants of Hildegard of Bingen came to be described as ecstatic by critics and scholars. Although the wide range and large melodic leaps present in the chants are usually cited as evidence of this ecstatic quality, Baines demonstrates that these musical features are not, in fact, pervasive in Hildegard's music, and that overall, her style is within the mainstream of compositional practices described by contemporary theorists.

A number of aspects of The Sounds and Sights demonstrate the challenge of emulating McGee's interdisciplinary, integrated approach to early music scholarship. The structural division of the essays between those addressing visual evidence and context corresponds to traditional methodological categories: source studies and cultural studies. Because of the wide range of sources under consideration, which span diverse liturgical and vernacular musical genres from the twelfth through late sixteenth centuries, these essays will perhaps be most illuminating when approached on an individual basis. If there is a feature that unifies the collection, it is in the careful consideration of the practical demands of performance in explorations of early music, even when the evidence the sources provide is ambiguous and difficult to interpret.