Musical Text as Ritual Object

Edited by Hendrik Schulze
Brepols (Turnhout), 2015.
220pp, €75.00.
ISBN 978 2 503 54074 0

I find this a rather mixed book, with 16 contributors. The “ritual object” is fine for the non-”conventional” music such as Egyptian papyrus, Hindu initiation, Turkish Alevism, Garhwal Himalayas, etc. But I could not grasp the concept of a ritual object in the context of the composers of music. One might separate performance from academics (at least in the period covered, mostly Italian 17th century). But although a lot of dead music survived, it came alive again several centuries later. I don’t understand this as ritual object: music scores (and parts without scores) are what comes from the thought and notation of composers, while in some cases solo performers can present their music without having it written. Nevertheless, I can’t relate any of the “sources” of music to ritual object. This book would be much more valuable if it was based on the music itself. I’m not happy with the actual volume; it isn’t easy to hold in the hand – a smaller format would be easier to hold. (Personally, when reading, I sit in a comfortable armchair and note comments on the copy.) The printing seemed a bit light compared with the lengthy Lives of George Frideric Handel, reviewed elsewhere.

There is a vast quantity of music in the 17th-century items covered in the volume – these can stand without any suggestion of ritual object. Some 16th-century English church music survived or was revived in the 18th, while Corelli has survived to the present. I was puzzled by the various remarks on Luigi Rossi’s exclusively Italian existence, since he visited Paris in 1646-7 and 1648-9 for his opera Orfeo (in Italian). I edited the work for Boston & Drottningholm (1997) and an English version in London based on the same edition last autumn. Monteverdi’s activities towards the end of his Mantuan period are primarily concerned with the relationship with his seniors and the people he wants to favour – I don’t think I would call that a ritual object.
This is a useful book, provided that readers can ignore the title and irrelevant passages.

Clifford Bartlett