Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kickin' It Real Old School

My blog was dormant for two months because I'm back in school, pursuing a masters in music at Tufts, which has left me with little time to see shows or even blog. My first major paper was on a historic music text in one of Tufts' special collections, A General History of Music by Charles Burney. It was one of the first two comprehensive histories of music published in England. Burney released his first volume in January, 1776 but didn't finish the four-volume series until 1789. His rival Sir John Hawkins released his history 10 months later in its entirety. The rivalry was immediate and has persisted for 200 years. Hawkins's strength was in his coverage of ancient music, but that's about the only advantage he held. Burney's writing style was accessible, and the clear structure of the work made it a useful research tool, whereas Hawkins's style was detached and the work is so disorganized that it is difficult to find a particular subject within the text. While Hawkins intentionally excluded contemporary music, viewing it as worthless, Burney embraced it; it is largely because of his extensive coverage of his contemporaries that he is still cited today. Besides being an antiquarian, Hawkins was also a curmudgeon, while Burney's social skills allowed him to travel in more prestigious circles than his middle class background might have limited him to. The story has the makings of a great screenplay.

As I gingerly leafed through Burney's and Hawkins's books, it occurred to me that I doubt I've ever touched anything that old other than a building. And as I synthesized my research materials, I started to feel kinship with Burney. I have immersed myself in the world of contemporary music but struggle to make sense of music of the distant past, and until now my knowledge of music history has been through self-study and interaction with musicians. I'd like to think that my writing is accessible, but I am humble enough to seriously doubt that anyone will be quoting me 200 years from now.

1 comment:

magpie bessie said...

You know, you might be the perfect person to write up a screenplay for this story.... :) It does sound really interesting; you never know what will "keep" for the future....