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Review: Friederich Erhardt Niedt. The Musical Guide: Parts 1 (1700/10), 2 (1721), and 3 (1717) and The Musical Dilettante: A Treatise on Composition by J. F. Daube.

Christensen, Thomas

Ever so slowly, English-speaking musicologists are bringing to light important documents of eighteenth-century musical thought in scholarly, annotated translations. Still, when we consider how long the vast corpus of ancient writings on music theory have enjoyed the attention of scholars (Meibom's "edition" of Greek theory treatises was published, it will be recalled, in 1652), the paucity of editions for more modern writings might seem perplexing. This is especially so for eighteenth-century music-theoretical treatises, given that the music contemporaneous with them is among the most widely performed and analyzed today. Until only recently, though, just a handful of the most important theoretical documents of eighteenth century music theory was available in published English translations. Of course there are obvious explanations that can be offered. First of all, there are not the overt paleographic and linguistic barriers with the writings of a German or French music theory text from the eighteenth century that one faces with a medieval theory manuscript penned in Latin. Further, a treatise on, say, the thorough bass presumably needs less exegesis than does a text on mensuration from the fourteenth century. But such complacency, I fear, is misplaced. As the two recent translations reviewed here vividly demonstrate, we still have much to learn about eighteenth century perspectives on music that can be gleaned by a thoughtful reading of primary documents. Perhaps more to the point, we have a number of persistent prejudices and misconceived notions regarding eighteenth-century music theory that need to be laid to rest.



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Columbia University
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May 1, 2015