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Although the title indicates a restricted period and a restricted world, what emerges from this survey is a picture of the region in a far wider sense, both as regards time and place. as Rrobert Burns tells us, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’men gang aft agley, and the musical mice hoping for a quiet nest in one of the many small German courts often found their house in ruin owing to war, princely extravagance, political change or other whims of those guiding the plough.

Most readers of this magazine will be aware that until the unification of Germany in 1871, the area was divided into dozens of smaller and larger kingdoms, principalities, dukedoms and other units, generally consisting of a large impoverished mass with a swanky court stuck on top. The highly competitive swank was not only in the form of luxurious palaces, but also of music, a situation that provided work not only for German musicians, but also a large contingent of Italians, and, to a lesser degree, French. The blatantly undemocratic political situation probably only escaped revolution precisely because these countries were so small.

For musicians there was one way out, however: working more or less freelance in one of the large democratically run cities such as Hamburg, with large churches and public theatres.

Fourteen of the chapters in this book are each devoted to a particular court, with chapter 15 summing up the whole situation and enlarging on the above escape route. Famous names, such as Bach, Telemann, Keiser, Hasse et al, flit through different chapters.

The 15 contributors do not all have adequate narrative skills to provide a smooth read over what must inevitably be a lumpy ride of lists of names, dates and other data, including copious footnotes, but for readers with the energy to persevere, a fascinating picture emerges of the birth and nurture of a rich musical tradition which continues today in democratic form with the unequalled wealth of German musical performance in virtually every German town. The book could have done with a slightly more eagle-eyed proofread, and there are some mistakes in dating – for instance on page 239, to name just one.

DELLA COULING Read the full review on Agora Classica


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