The subject of musical arrangement is one that has begun to arouse increasing interest among musicologists in recent years, as they have moved away from a long-standing tendency to deride such reworkings—considering them, as Willi Apel wrote, to ‘occupy a much larger space than they deserve relative to their historical and artistic significance’ (The History of Keyboard Music to 1700, trans. Hans Tischler (Bloomington, Ind., 1972), 288)—in the belief that the only musical works of artistic value are composers’ original works. Such viewpoints are built largely on a nineteenth-century conception of the composer as genius; it is a rocky foundation that accords poorly with the status of many composers, then as now, but that is particularly inappropriate for periods up to the end of the eighteenth century, when the status of professional composers was generally much more akin to that of a skilled craftsman than an other-worldly creative force. It is thus particularly welcome that musicology’s re-evaluation of arrangement as a creative activity has included a strong focus on early music, especially that of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There are now a good many modern editions through which such arrangements have become accessible, and scholarship on early modern arranging activities has also grown gradually. Nevertheless, Sandra Mangsen’s book is the first full-length study of the topic for the early modern period, so it forms an important addition to the field. Encompassing arrangements of popular song and ballads, art song, and (mainly) theatre songs, the book reminds us that much keyboard repertory in this period had its origins in pre-existing materials of this sort, at a time when the boundaries between vocal and instrumental music were considered to be entirely porous (p. 17). Both were drawn on freely by performers whose playing was founded on improvisatory practices (p. 12), and who used this popular source-material to mould their own interpretations without any sense that a composer’s original composition needed to be preserved or distinguished from their own creativity; paths of transmission are thus extremely fluid, and difficult to trace (p. 25). As Mangsen notes, the appeal of these keyboard arrangements was in fact largely due to their derivation from the pre-existing material, so it is hardly surprising that published collections in particular tend ‘to exploit rather than hide’ these connections (pp. 122–3). She thus sets out to explore this still-unfamiliar territory by tracing these connections in order to assess their contribution to the musical experiences of ordinary people in the early modern period. The book is structured chronologically and divides into two unequal parts: its first chapter comprises a broad survey of the materials used for arrangements created by the virginalists of the earlier part of the period under consideration, focusing first on ballads and other popular songs, then on the ‘composed vocal music’ (lute songs, madrigals, chansons) that was reworked for keyboard by a select group of professionals, including Peter Philips, William Byrd, and Giles Farnaby. Chapter 2 then jumps to the turn of the eighteenth century—Mangsen explaining that her decision to ‘pass quickly over the latter half of the seventeenth’ was made because ‘the tradition of playing keyboard arrangements … continued relatively unchanged until the end of the century’ (p. 3). This and the remaining three chapters essentially comprise a series of case studies highlighting the key publications of individuals associated with producing keyboard arrangements of theatre music in the period up to the death of Handel: a set of anthologies masterminded by the publisher John Walsh—The Harpsicord Master (1697–1734), The Ladys Banquet (1704–6, 1720, 1730–5), and The Ladys Entertainment (1708–11)—plus the Suits of Celebrated Lessons (1717), by the prolific arranger and virtuoso player William Babell, and a later Walsh set containing Handel arrangements, Sonatas and Chamber Aires (c.1725–60). These series were undoubtedly extremely important to the consumption of theatre-music arrangements by eighteenth-century keyboard players. But in concentrating almost entirely on such published collections Mangsen arguably tells only one part of the story: as she freely concedes, manuscript arrangements and transcriptions ‘remained central to the transmission of British keyboard repertoires’ (p. 3) until the end of the seventeenth century and were still an important means of dissemination in Handel’s day. Andrew Woolley and I have both demonstrated that arrangements found in such manuscripts preserve evidence of the substantial creative contributions made by their scribes, who ranged from professional performers, composers, and music teachers to inexperienced novice players (see Woolley, ‘English Keyboard Sources and their Contexts, c. 1660–1720’ (Ph.D. diss., University of Leeds, 2008); and Herissone, Musical Creativity in Restoration England (Cambridge, 2013), 315–74). There is considerably more diversity of approach in these manuscripts than is evident in the printed collections, and—while some flavour of that variety does come across from Mangsen’s chapter on the virginalist arrangers—it is a shame that this extremely active and vital part of keyboard arranging is largely disregarded within the rest of the book. Mangsen’s decision to step over the Restoration period results in another very curious omission: the contributions of John Playford, and, to a lesser extent his son Henry, to the development of published keyboard arrangements of popular repertory. Although Walsh came to dominate the genre from the turn of the eighteenth century, it was the senior Playford who effectively invented it in series like Musicks Hand-maide, first issued in 1663—also an important early example of the use of engraving to overcome the practical difficulties of movable type as a printing method for keyboard music, a method on which Walsh entirely relied. Playford’s many other instrumental and vocal collections pioneered the commercial techniques later to be honed by Walsh, such as the regular publication of new editions of popular series with just enough new material to entice regular customers, as well as the emphasis on the newest and most fashionable repertory. Arguably the space Mangsen devotes to the later editions of The Harpsicord Master and The Ladys Banquet in chapter 5—which do not add much to our understanding of the topic—might have been omitted in favour of a fuller consideration of the contribution of the Playfords to the printed market for keyboard arrangements, which receives scant attention at the start of chapter 2 (pp. 59–61). In other respects, Mangsen’s decision to structure the book largely as a series of what she calls ‘snapshots’ is an understandable way of negotiating an intimidating amount of material. Selectivity is obviously required, but it poses its own challenges, since the reader needs some idea of the parameters by which featured items have been chosen in order to understand how indicative they may be of the bigger picture. In this case we need to know the basis on which the ‘selected’ keyboard pieces used to examine arrangements of ballads and popular tunes and then lute and other art songs in chapter 1 was made (pp. 13–16) as well as the wider context in which the volumes used as case studies in chapters 2–5 should be situated, not just because of the missing manuscript material, but also because of other printed keyboard volumes produced by Walsh’s rivals that are not covered in this book. Lacking such background, the observations made about particular sources can seem random rather than representative, particularly when they are not pursued in any depth, so that we are effectively left with a series of dangling questions and relatively few answers. Deeper contextualization of the phenomena Mangsen observes in her chosen examples would have helped to explain a good many of the features she picks out. The practice of creating keyboard arrangements from popular repertory was in fact part of a much more widespread phenomenon in which material was arranged for diverse solo instruments and ensembles so that it could be enjoyed in domestic contexts, Playford being a key contributor here, as noted above. This larger tradition is hardly mentioned within the book, which is problematical since many of the characteristics Mangsen associates with Walsh, William Babell, and her other protagonists actually had their roots elsewhere: she describes the ‘theatre suite’—comprising a range of movements extracted from one or more dramatic productions and rearranged to make a coherent set of instrumental movements—as being the ‘most striking innovation’ of Babell’s Suits of Celebrated Lessons of 1717 (p. 123), for example. But this kind of suite originated in the mid-Restoration period, and can be seen in a range of manuscripts, such as New York Public Library Drexel MS 3976 (entitled ‘The Rare Theatrical’) and London, Royal College of Music MS 1172, as well as several manuscript publications created to order by William’s father Charles, who was a key figure in the development of the genre. In chapter 3 Mangsen discusses at some length the way in which Walsh capitalized on the popularity of theatre productions by producing his various engraved prints—first of the songs themselves, then later of arrangements for instruments, including keyboard—as quickly as possible after the productions, allowing them to function at least in part as souvenirs of the productions, with heavy emphasis on the performers who had realized them on the London stage (pp. 80, 85, 90–1). But Walsh was not the first to exploit this marketing opportunity: in fact the production of cheap single-sheet prints of music from the latest performances had been pioneered by Thomas Cross at the end of the 1680s, several years before Walsh appeared on the scene, and his operation worked on similar principles to those John Playford had used to establish his music-printing business a generation before, as mentioned above. The use of engraving rather than printing from type was essential to Cross’s success, since it enabled a much quicker production process. Once engraved, the plates were retained, and this also allowed whoever owned them to reuse them in different contexts: on several occasions Mangsen describes this practice in passing, since Walsh recycled his materials wherever possible—this serving to explain some of the overlapping repertory between the later editions of The Harpsicord Master and The Ladys Banquet (pp. 168–72), as well as the foundation of The Ladys Entertainment in the plates Walsh had issued on a monthly basis as Mercurius Musicus (p. 77). But no mention is made of the way in which engraving revolutionized music printing in London in the 1690s, making it commercially viable for the first time, and therefore opening up the market to competition, which was how Walsh came to enter the profession in 1695. If this bigger picture is largely absent from Mangsen’s account, it is because her primary aim is to analyse the musical characteristics and qualities of the arrangements, for which purpose she provides a large number of helpful and mainly well-produced music examples and reproductions. Her analysis enables her to identify subtle but important ways in which the settings changed over time due to the skills of the chief arrangers: they started in the hands of musicians like Littleton Ramondon—who was probably responsible for most of the arrangements in the first two books of The Ladys Entertainment (1708)—as largely generic transcriptions, in which ‘the entire vocal line is given to the right hand, while the left plays the bass and adds harmonic, rhythmic, or occasional melodic interest, … the original ritornellos and short instrumental interjections [being] … omitted entirely’ (p. 70); only limited concessions were made to the keyboard at this point, such as the incorporation of occasional ornamentation signs (pp. 74–6). Gradually the settings became more idiomatic and sophisticated, particularly those of William Babell, whose arrangements in Books 3 and 4 of the same series (1709 and 1711) wove the ritornelli and instrumental parts around the vocal line as well as adding much more elaborate ornamentation, making them more demanding for the player as well as imbuing them with what amounted to a new identity as keyboard pieces (pp. 96–101). By the 1720s, however, the pendulum had swung back towards the more generic arrangement, as John Walsh Jr began to use a single set of engraved plates to provide settings for diverse instrumental groups, thus moving away from bespoke transcriptions for keyboard (pp. 174–86). In parallel with this tradition, which Mangsen associates firmly with the amateur market, there was another, which began with Bull, Byrd, and Farnaby in the age of the virginalists and involved the use of the popular pre-existing tunes as the basis for elaborate, virtuosic ornamentation and passaggi, which, Mangsen states, ‘gave professional or advanced players a way of demonstrating their prowess within the confines of the familiar’ (p. 189). In the early seventeenth century such repertory was circulated mainly in manuscript form, but William Babel published a number of examples in his Suits of Celebrated Lessons in 1717, and Mangsen argues that this publication was intended to serve, at least in part, as an advertisement for Babel’s services as a virtuoso harpsichordist and as a teacher, since, as James Hawkins later remarked, the ‘passages’ were so elaborate that ‘few could play [them] but himself’ (p. 119). One wonders whether Mangsen’s tendency to assume that only the simpler arrangements were designed with non-professional players in mind, while the more elaborate ones were destined to be either used by or illustrative of the practices of professionals might oversimplify matters to some extent—not least because the two types of arrangement rub shoulders in Books 3 and 4 of The Ladys Entertainment, as well as in earlier complex collections like Parthenia—but she does at least attempt to address the question of the function(s) that books like Babell’s 1717 Suits were intended to fulfil, given their excessively technically demanding contents. It is here that we encounter a recurring trope of the book: Mangsen is keen to know how the textual origins of the arranged songs might have been reflected in the arrangements themselves or the performances they facilitated. She considers this first for the ballad settings assessed in chapter 1, suggesting in relation to the multi-version ballad ‘Fortune my foe’, for instance, that ‘in playing the borrowed tunes shorn of their texts, harpsichordists may tell their own favourite version of the ‘Fortune’ story, while leaving the gory details discretely hidden’ (p. 36). But it is particularly the dramatic repertory on which chapters 2–5 concentrate that interests her in this respect. In chapter 3 she speculates that Babell’s increased use of ornamentation might have been influenced in a general way by the performing practices of Italian singers such as Nicolini, who created the role of Pyrrhus in Pyrrhus and Demetrius in 1708 (providing material for Book 3 of The Ladys Entertainment), and was famed for his ‘vocal agility’ (p. 97). Later, when considering the most elaborate music in the Suits, she shifts her view, suggesting that we ‘might think of them not so much as recompositions of a musical original, but rather as creative reenactments of a dramatic moment, with the keyboard player having replaced both soloist and orchestra as the star attraction’ (p. 155). Elsewhere, though, she considers a much more direct relationship between the original dramatic contexts of the songs and the arrangements: repeatedly she returns to the question of ‘whether eighteenth-century keyboard players would have approached them … on the basis of the music alone, without mentioning the actual text or dramatic context’ (p. 109). She describes the plots of most of the source operas (see, e.g. pp. 115–17, 139–51), but then has to explain that the order in which the songs are presented in the keyboard arrangements ‘makes nonsense of events’, conceding that arrangers ‘cared more about the musical coherence of the suite[s] than about the original dramatic contexts’ (p. 117). The divorce of arranged repertory from its original dramatic function was, indeed, a ubiquitous feature of theatre suites from their inception in the 1670s, and it was much more common for collections to be arranged by key than by opera, let alone for movement order to be preserved. Indeed, in the era of the suitcase aria, dramatic coherence was clearly not a high priority for London’s opera producers in this period either, a fact of which Mangsen is evidently aware (pp. 109, 114–15). Yet she seems wedded to the idea that some residue of the dramatic origins of the arrangements must have remained, even where suites were compiled from multiple operas, and eventually constructs hypothetical ‘stories’ that she suggests might be traced through two of Babell’s suites, proposing—rather unconvincingly—that ‘perhaps these suites built from arias found in several operas merely take the idea of the pasticcio a step further, from the stage to the salon’ (pp. 152–3). The Introduction addresses briefly some of the enormously difficult questions of musical ontology raised by arrangement—how we can determine what constitutes the ‘original’ version of an arranged work (p. 7); the role of the performer in the creative process (p. 6); at what point an arrangement becomes ‘unrecognizable’ and a new work is created (p. 6), and so on. In a chapter of scarcely more than ten pages, Mangsen can obviously do little more than pose questions about these key issues, but—while this book is obviously not intended to be a musical-philosophical study—it is a pity that her exploration of these major issues was not more historically nuanced. In the early modern period there were a number of specific factors affecting the ontology of arrangements: the unusually flexible status of musical notation, particularly in keyboard music; the relationship between improvisatory practices and surviving notation of the repertory; notions of authorship and originality; and an approach to manuscript transmission that allowed scribes to imbue the pieces they were copying with their own creative nuances. In such a climate arranging was not only a ‘normal’ part of musicians’ activity, it formed a positive and significant contribution to the collaborative musical creativity that abounded among professionals and non-professionals alike. In not acknowledging this broader context Mangsen perhaps underplays the importance of the very activity on which she focuses her attention. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Music and Letters – Oxford University Press
Published: May 15, 2018
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