A Performer's Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music, 2nd Edition

Stewart Carter, ed., A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music Second Edition. Revised and Expanded by Jeffery Kite-Powell. Indiana University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-253-35706-9. List price: $49.95

[Editor's note: an e-book version is also available and snippets of the text can be previewed on IUP's Website]

In this age of the volatile publishing world where books seem to go out of print before you can say, well sadly, “Encyclopedia Britannica”, we are fortunate to have this fine resource not only back in print but in a revised and expanded edition. The first edition of this book was published by Schirmer Books in 1997 under the auspices of Early Music America. The current edition is over 100 pages longer and includes three more chapters: “The Trombone” by Stewart Carter and by others on the violin and violoncello/violone. Carter’s chapter on the trombone is certainly of immediate interest to HBS members, as are the newly-revised versions of “Cornett and Sackbut” by Bruce Dickey, “Trumpet and Horn” by Steven Plank, “Percussion Instruments” by John Cooper, “Ornamentation in Early Seventeenth-Century Italian Music” by Bruce Dickey, “Meter and Tempo” by “George Houle, “Tuning and Temperament” by Herbert Myers as well as his chapter on “Pitch and Transposition”.

This book is an invaluable resource with a wide range of topic addressed, all directed toward the needs of the performer. The contributors are world-class scholars and performers. That said, this review will focus on the revisions and additions contained in the new second edition of the book. Bruce Dickey’s chapter on the cornetto and sackbut contains new information on repertory and editions, the cornetto in Spain, internet resources, and updated listening selections. Dickey’s chapter on ornamentation does not seem to contain any significant revisions, but the essay is comprehensive and authoritative; a more informative concise study of 17th century ornamentation is hard to imagine.

Steven Plank’s chapter on the trumpet and horn is also largely unchanged although it includes new listening suggestions. Plank includes an informative historical introduction analysis of the instruments, repertory, playing techniques, and a summary of some of the controversies regarding trumpet and horn. John Michael Cooper’s chapter, “Percussion Instruments and Their Usage,” is also mostly the same as the original essay and covers a wide range of topics including a historical summary, discussion of many percussion instruments, historical sources, and performance techniques. The chapter, “Meter and Tempo” by George Houle is also identical to the first edition and is also extremely thorough in the approach to this topic. Houle presents a clear explanation of some difficult topics such as mensural notation, concept of tactus, notational signs, theoretical sources, and the evolution of notation in regard to meter and tempo over time. Herbert Myers’s two chapters; “Pitch and Transposition” and “Tuning and Temperament” also highly authoritative, clear in its presentation of some very thorny issues and does contain a number of updated information.

Stewart Carter’s new chapter on the trombone is a most welcome addition to this edition. It includes a careful examination of instruments, performance practice issues, theoretical and practical historical documents, repertoire, and an interesting section of considerations of choosing an instrument for the player today. This chapter is well presented in every aspect.

A minor quibble about the new edition is that the font size is smaller than in the original edition as are the illustrations and musical examples. No doubt an economic consideration. However, A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music is an invaluable resource and it wonderful to have it available in this revised and expanded edition.

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum