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Review of Spitzer, John and Neal Zaslaw. 2004. The Birth of the Orchestra: History of an Institution, 1650-1815. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rice, John A.

Musicological books by more than one author are (with the obvious exception
of anthologies) relatively rare. So it is natural to be curious both about
the individual contributions that John Spitzer and Neal Zaslaw made to
this monumental book and about the nature of their collaboration. In their
preface, they explain that "Neal Zaslaw wrote the first drafts of Chapters 3
and 6 ['Lully's Orchestra' and 'The Orchestra in France']; the remaining
chapters were drafted by John Spitzer. The two of us edited, rewrote, and
reedited the entire book together" (v). Their combined labors have resulted
in the most comprehensive, accurate, and insightful account ever written of
the orchestra's early history. I need to make this absolutely clear at the outset
because my review points to what I feel are some flaws in the book.
These observations must be considered in the context of the authors' overall
achievement in so expertly and indefatigably covering such a vast and
complex field. The book falls into two large parts. The first part (chapters 1-9) consists
largely of a series of chronologically-arranged surveys tracing the development
of the orchestra in France, Italy, Germany (by which the authors
mean the German-speaking part of Europe), and Britain and its North
American colonies (all treated in a chapter inaccurately called "The Orchestra
in England"). The second part of the book (chapters 10-14) explores
various topics throughout the period indicated by the book's title, from
performance practices, rehearsals, seating, acoustics, and orchestration, to
the conductor, the economic status of orchestral musicians, and (in conclusion)
"The Meaning of the Orchestra."



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Columbia University
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November 5, 2014