Challoner's History of Music

MR. CHALLONER’S Science and Art of Music 1 is professedly a text-book designed for class use. With the exception of Chapter IX., which is devoted to a succinct account of men whose names have become famous in connection with the art, beginning with Gregory the Great, and ending with Theodore Thomas, the book is written in the form of a musical catechism ; questions being propounded, and as regularly answered. It is a gratifying sign of how great importance musical instruction is assuming in the general scheme of education in this country that it should have been deemed advisable to compile a work on the subject so purely didactic in form and purpose as the present one. That anybody will ever read it, except as a “ required study ” in an academic course, may be reasonably doubted; we do not read the Westminster Catechism except on parental or pedagogic compulsion. Learning in so grimly systematized a form is not palatable, and the constant reminders, in small type, that we are reading a school-book take away from the zest with which we otherwise imbibe useful information. Such continually recurring questions as “ What is harmony?” “Does the beautiful reveal itself through a single art-form ? ” and the like, interrupt our train of thought, and we quickly tire of carrying on this sort of dialogue with an imaginary school-master. However, one can hardly quarrel with a text-book for being nothing more than a text-book. What we do object to in the present work is the ex cathedra style in which it often deals with points still open to dispute, and gives its author’s opinions all the irrefragable authoritativeness of unquestioned truths. But notwithstanding this blemish the book contains a vast amount of information on almost every topic connected with the art of music and its history. This information is also generally very well arranged. The wording is clear; the sentences are concise and to the point. The author is, however, not invariably exact in his assertions, and the book is not free from grave errors. For instance, it says, speaking of the old mensural notation of Franco of Cologne, “ The singers counted according to the value of the notes, — a longa and a brevis representing three beats, and a longa representing two.” This would inevitably lead the student to infer that the relation borne by the brevis to the longa was the same as that borne by a half-note to a whole-note in modern notation. But this relation really held good only in the then exceptional tempus imperfectum, or binary rhythm. In the far more common tempus perfectum, a longa counted three breves, of which fact Mr. Challoner makes no mention, although it made one of the characteristic differences between mensural notation and our modern system.

Again, in answer to the question, “ Which of these [Italian] schools remained the most loyal to the traditions of the style of Palestrina and his contemporaries, in regard to the music of the church as distinct from the musical drama ? ” Mr. Challoner simply says, “ The Roman school, with its disciples, among whom were Allegri, Agostini, and Carissimi [sic !], remained the most true to the traditions of Palestrina.” This lumping together of Carissimi with the Roman church composers who came after Palestrina is singularly misleading. True, Carissimi never wrote for the stage, but nothing can be farther from the fact than that he was true to the Palestrina traditions. In his oratorios, motets, and other compositions be followed Monteverde’s lead in the modern tonal system, instead of adhering to the old model system, in which Palestrina wrote ; and his music had far more affinity with the operatic music of the day than with that of Palestrina, between whom and himself lay the impassable gulf which separates two wholly distinct musical systems.

The book, although handsomely got up, contains many serious misprints : Hayden for Haydn; Jean Phillipe Rameau for Philippe, etc. By what authority Mozart’s name is changed from Wolfgang Amadeus to Wolfgang Gottlieb we do not know. Upon the whole, the book, with all its imperfections, fills a place ; and so much in it is well done that it is perhaps ungracious to insist upon its faults. A thorough revising, togethe with cutting out a good deal of useless matter, would, however, do it good.

  1. History of the Science and Art of Music: Its Origin, Development, and Progress. By ROBERT CHALLONER. Cincinnati: Geo. D. Newhall & Co. 1880.