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Music, Solid and Spacious

ISSUE:  Winter 1939

The Music of the Seventeenth Century, By C. Hubert H. Parry. Revised by Edward J. Dent. New York: Oxford University Press. $6.00.

The first sentence of C. Hubert H. Parry’s preface to his history of seventeenth century music has irritated readers for more than a generation now: “The seventeenth century is, musically, almost a blank.” Professor E. J. Dent, editor of the revised edition, phrased the notion more fairly in an address at Harvard in September, 1936: “Persons of taste do not feel safe outside the limits of that period which begins with John Sebastian Bach and ends with Brahms.” To such persons, surely, the seventeenth century is no blanker than the sixteenth or the fourteenth. To more intrepid students of music, the seventeenth century is singularly engaging: it is more varied, more experimental, more daring than the eighteenth century, and it is virtually free from the vulgarity of the nineteenth.

In the new and enlarged edition, the “Oxford History of Music” devotes four volumes to the music which is earlier than Bach. The first three of these—the Introduction and Volumes One and Two—have the advantage of the unifying editorship of Sir Percy C. Buck,. The introductory volume is a collection of compendious essays on ancient music and on such miscellaneous but fundamental background topics as notation and instrumentation. It contains very valuable critical bibliographies, a feature unhappily not included in the main volumes of the series. All of the essays are solid, but they vary considerably in attractiveness—from the excessive technicality of Cecil Torr on Greek music or the crabbedness of Dom Anselm Hughes on medieval theory to the humane and luminous writing of E. J. Dent on “The Social Aspects of Music in the Middle Ages.”

The two volumes of H. E. Wooldridge on “The Polyphonic Period” have been thoroughly revised, and considerable portions rewritten. Although the wealth of Wooldridge’s illustrations has been reduced, the whole material is more clearly ordered and more accessible than it was in the original edition. The fruits of twentieth-century investigation are incorporated into several of the chapters, and provide two new chapters: one on “Song” by J. A. Westrup and one on “Instrumental Music” by Gerald M. Cooper. Both topics have been obscure; so it is very valuable to have them summarized here for the greater completeness of the treatment of medieval music.

In the light of what had been done with the preceding volumes, the new edition of the third volume is disappointing. One would suppose that it could not have been in bet


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