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Full of interest, this performer’s guide sometimes seems aimed at the listener and musical historian as much as the performer. The 22 essays, from a variety of contributors, vary in their focus and practical use. Excellent opening chapters on singing reveal a gulf between today’s uniform purity of sound, supposedly ‘historically informed’, and the diversity of seventeenth-century vocal styles: singers and choral directors take note. Yet the chapter Meter and Tempo gives too much theoretical detail from previous centuries for most performers of seventeenth-century music. Some contributors jolt our perceptions of the colossal changes that took place during the century; I’m intrigued that the chapter on woodwinds does not give the Hotteterre family a role in transforming Renaissance instruments into their baroque counterparts. There are omissions; despite a useful chapter on vocal divisions, the book provides little information for instrumentalists on the interpretation of ornamentation signs.

Too much happened in the seventeenth century for a single, truly comprehensive volume, as the editor acknowledges; he hopes that the extensive bibliography – some 40 pages – will make amends. From that huge list I would recommend, as a compact introduction to early music performance generally, Thurston Dart’s The Interpretation of Music. Yes, the book is nearly 60 years old, but much of it stands the test of time and really is addressed to the performer.

Jeremy Barlow Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing