Friday, December 20, 2013
Recently, I took on the commitment to review a recent book by Kate van Orden entitled Music, Authorship, and the Book in the First Century of Print. As I work my way into the final chapter, I have to say that reading this book has been a real treat, primarily for the ways in which van Orden lucidly examines the tension between the documentation of music and the practice of music. Of particular interest has been how van Orden has explored the ways in which practice was not dependent on notation. What sticks with me most, however, is a footnote that identifies current early music performing groups that have been working to acquire the skill of improvising counterpoint in up to four voices. There is even some discussion of the sorts of heuristics that are likely to be invoked in the exercise of that skill. As one who has long believed that "the music is in making," rather than in any marks on paper that might prescribe, or even suggest, that "act of making," reading van Orden's book has been as uplifting an experience as the study of how a text as massive as the Odyssey could be the product of an oral culture!