Capital tunes

February 23, 1996

Early Music: Music in Purcell's London I Edited by Tess Knighton Oxford University Press, quarterly, Pounds 22.00 (students), Pounds 36.00 (individuals), Pounds 49.99 (institutions) ISSN 0306 1078

This issue offers a refreshing invitation to the reader and musician sated by the duplication of Henry Purcell biographies and studies in the tercentenary last year. The substantial articles by young scholars feed the imagination with the vibrant Zeitgeist of musical London during the Restoration, and enable one to appreciate all the more the significance and beauty of Purcell's oeuvre. An exploration of "Music on the Thames" provides Julia Wood with rich examples of ceremonial music played at water pageants and Restoration celebrations including the 1648 Frost Fair, and, if Purcell's music was not frequently played, the evocation of music played at processions and royal concerts, as in the Mayor's Day festivities surveyed by Michael Burden, offers a glimpse of the popularity of such ceremonial styles. Surveys of sheet music available, discussed in two articles on manuscripts and the prolific copyist Stephen Bing, show a proactive public exposed to contemporary and past English composers; and new facets of Theorbo technique in Continuo are considered with engaging expertise.

If such contextual research affirms that "a musicologist's first duty to the public is to write about early music the way it was (imperfectly imagined: we know that)" - the view of Andrew Pinnock - it does not necessarily imply that this is "not the way it needs to be if it's to interest living audiences - the way performers will have to present it if they want to earn their daily bread". Such highly questionable polemic is aimed against the current "supermarket values" of musicology, but suffers from its own hidden agenda: the apparent plaints of a Purcell Society editor about the plethora of rival editions. Does Pinnock really believe, along with Boethius, that only musicology may claim authenticity? Surely it is a mark of great music that it transcends context; and the interpreter is the mediator for that which is truly authentic, namely the musical experience. Certainly the "benchmark" importance of the monumental Complete Purcell recordings by Nicholas King is given due credit in a fascinating review by Eric van Tassel, while his careful criticism as to interpretative possibilities shows the breadth of "robust" musicology, and adds further insight into performance practice.

Happily performance remains firmly at the centre of this tercentenary tribute, with the rich contribution of record companies displayed in attractive advertisements that enhance the elegant design characteristic of Early Music.

There is one curiosity among the mainly Baroque and pre-Baroque contents: a striking profile of Norrington's latest Wagner disc, perhaps a timely reminder that Early Music is not only an outstanding periodical but also about an expanding, ever-exciting field.

Malcolm Miller is a musicologist, critic and tutor, Open University.

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