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Andrew Parrott belongs to the outstanding generation of performers/ scholars that emerged in the 1970s and 80s. In recent years his activity in the concert hall and opera house has been regrettably much curtailed, with just the occasional reminder of what we are missing. The performance arena’s loss has been scholarship’s gain, with Parrott making an incalculably valuable contribution to some of the most important debates in early music.

Some of the fruits of his labours now appear in Composer’s Intentions?, a collection of essays that were originally published elsewhere. At its heart lie the topics that have especially exercised Parrott over the years: the forces employed in Bach’s choirs, transposition in Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers (and other 16th- and 17th-century vocal works), and the thorny issue of falsettos, related to both Purcell’s so-called ‘countertenors’ and French Baroque music.

Throughout Parrott’s writing two features stand out. One is the rigour of his scholarship, which time and again over the years has put the flawed or plain lazy thinking of his adversaries (often not too strong a word) to shame. This is particularly true of his work on Bach’s choir, fiercely opposed by, in particular, certain German scholars. (Indeed my one criticism of the present book would be that room was not found to include the Early Music essay by Andreas Glöckner that Parrott so eloquently demolishes in his response.) The second is Parrott’s work as a musician, work that has enabled him to reach conclusions where scholarship is backed by practical investigation. The transposition question is the classic example.

I am in no doubt that this is an immensely important book, one that demands to be read by all who practise early music.

Brian Robins Read the full review on Agora Classica


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