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Reviewed Work(s): A History of Bel Canto by Rodolfo Celletti and Frederick Fuller
Review by: David Galliver
Source: Music & Letters, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Aug., 1992), pp. 447-448
Published by: Oxford University Press
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Accessed: 07-12-2016 07:42 UTC
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always remain a matter for debate. It could be

are cast on whether Prince Leopold's marriage to

argued, for example, that the Brandenburg Con-

an unmusical princess was really responsible for

certos provide several examples of 'the thoroughly

Bach's move from Cothen, while on page 29 this

contrapuntal design and extent of the ritornello

is put forward as a principal reason for his apply-

structure', not to mention the 'maturity of

ing for the Leipzig cantorate; we have to consult

writing', that Wolff identifies in the above-

the Acknowledgments on pages 437 -8 to find that

mentioned violin concertos and which he argues

it is the first statement that conveys Wolff's latest

may have benefited from Bach's experience in

thinking on the subject. The assertion on page 30

writing ritornellos and sinfonias for his Leipzig

that Bach composed 'five complete yearly runs' of

cantatas. And the First Brandenburg Concerto

cantatas in his early Leipzig years is likewise

calls into question the statement (in support of a

amended to 'close to four year-cycles' on page

late date for the Overture in B minor, BWV

361, while the date of Bach's resignation from

1067) that Bach never experimented at Cothen

the Leipzig collegium musicum is twice given as

'with hybrid forms combining the idea of a suite

1741 (pp. 226 & 279) and later (p. 361) as 'after
1742'. As well as such inconsistencies as these,

with that of a concerto'.

One can understand Wolff's unreadiness at this

some remaining misprints and other minor errors

stage to present his new perspectives in the

could profitably have been removed, beginning

framework of a full-length monograph, but this

perhaps with the attribution of eight bars of

does not diminish the value of the present

Bruckner's E minor Mass (Ex. 8.7) to Palestrina.

volume. Much of the author's most important

For all its partial view and its trifling incon-

research, on the original editions of Bach's works,

sistencies, this volume is an important and

has by now been incorporated into the standard

welcome addition to the Bach literature currently

literature and will be familiar to readers of this

available in English. There will be few readers

journal; the chapters on the Clatier- Ubung

whose understanding is not deepened and whose

series, the Musical Offering and the Art of Fugue,

preconceptions are not challenged by it, and

as well as those on Bach's personal copies of the

fewer still who will not look forward to the book

Schiibler chorales and the Goldberg Variations,

that this book is about.

nevertheless make stimulating rereading, despite


some repetition. Unfortunately, the section that

Wolff devotes to the technical aspects of printing

(pp. 193-5), and to which he more than once

A History of Bel Canto. By Rodolfo Celletti.

refers the reader, is not really helpful to an

Trans. by Frederick Fuller. pp. [vi] + 218.

understanding of the processes involved, so that

(Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991, ?30. ISBN

one is left wondering why the wide range of


tonalities in Book II of the Well- Tempered

Clatver would have made its printing extraor-

This elegant and lucid translation of Rodolfo

dinarily difficult, and why the similarity between

Celletti's Storia del belcanto (reviewed in Music &

Bach's hand and several printed pages of Clavner-

Letters, lxv (1984), 371-2), is to be warmly

Ubung III should speak against the composer's

welcomed. In the author's view 'the "belcantists"

involvement in the engraving of that work.

are first and foremost the composers, then the

(Perhaps the most helpful concise description of

librettists, and lastly the singers' (p. 10). The

the engraving methods involved in the original

study is thus directed towards operas themselves

prints of Bach's works is that by Richard

and what they reveal of the singer's art, rather

Koprowski to be found in a seminar report on

than only to vocal matters such as technical

the Art of Fugue in Current Musicology, xix

treatises, although some discussion of these is also

(1975)-a report which, incidentally, bears

included. If Celletti's premisses are accepted, the

witness to Wolff's influence as a teacher, since he

bel canto style, emanating from the Baroque

was responsible for the seminar in question.)

period, had as its aim the creation of a world of

It is not surprising to find, in an anthology of

wonder and imagination, and reached its peak in

essays spanning more than twenty years, some

the operas of Rossini. I'he argument is convinc-

changes of viewpoint and emphasis. Important

ingly developed in an extended chapter, full of

corrections of fact and references to more recent

interesting and pertinent examples, tracing the

research are incorporated in postscripts rather in-

evolution of opera from the early Florentines to

conveniently placed, along with the notes to each

Handel, followed later on by an equally detailed

chapter, at the end of the volume. Some incon-

study of Rossini. However, not all would agree

sistencies remain, however. On page 7 doubts

that the-admittedly somewhat nebulous-term


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Semiramide redenta: archetipi, fonti classiche,

'bel canto' should be thus restricted. Lucie

Manen, for example (in Bel Canto, Oxford, 1987;

censure antropologiche nel melodramma. By

reviewed in Music & Letters, lxx (1989), 119),

Cesare Questa. pp. 405. 'Letteratura e antro-

propounds a rather different approach, which

pologia', ii. (QuattroVenti, Urbino, 1989,

sees the culmination of the art in the operas of

L.40,000. ISBN 88-392-0103-3.)

Verdi, and considers the younger Manuel Garcia

(whom Celletti calls 'the leading theoretical writer

In a famous passage of The Raw and the

of the Rossini school'; p. 172) as being mainly

Cooked, Levi-Strauss accepts Wagner as 'the

responsible for the decline of the true bel canto

undeniable originator of the structural analysis of

technique. When dealing with specifically vocal

myths' (Eng. trans., London, 1970, p. 15). The

matters Celletti sometimes tends to rely on unsup-

whole enterprise of cultural anthropology has its

ported assertions; for example, if Caccini, whose

roots, of course, in the structuralist insights of

exercises served as the essential basis for the new

Levi-Strauss and others; the author of this new

style of singing (e.g. the messa di voce codified by

study of the Semiramis myth forgives the great

Porpora; p. 73) is really 'overrated as a vocal

anthropologist for his ingenuousness in not notic-

technician' (p. 15), some supporting argument is

ing the major myth-analyses of Mozart, Rossini

surely called for. But such reservations are

and Verdi (p. 320 n. 94).

relatively few and minor. This is an imaginative

It has been the office of comparative studies to

and valuable book, the fruit of profound study,

reveal the myths at the centre of literature, music

and can be strongly recommended, as much to

and art, and thus to show art's function as protector of social norms and repository of the pre-

singers as to all others concerned with the period.

occupations and standards of each age. This kind


of work takes place on the interface between

'Le feste di Apollo': Concluszone di un impegno

criticism and anthropology; it is at once inter-

rjformistico a Parma. By Paolo Mecarelli.

and scientific, making forays into high

speculation as well as matching the patterns of

pp. 87. (Battei, Parma, 1991.)

human society to inner processes revealed by


Gluck's Lefeste d'Apollo of 1769 was an occasional work made up of a prologue and three one-

Questa's book is an exemplary study of a

act entertainments on mythological themes (one

mythical archetype, the story of the Babylonian

of them a version of the Vienna Orfeo ed Euridice

queen Semiramis. It is perhaps more interesting

of 1762), put on in Parma for the wedding of the

as a piece of cultural history than as a contribu-

ruling duke. This short book presents it as the

tion to opera studies; other investigations of

climax of the reform of opera attempted by the

classic myths such as Otto Rank's Die Don-Juan

minister Du Tillot, whose influence had already

Gestalt (1924; Eng. trans. as The Don Juan

in 1759-60 given Parma two reform works by

Legend, Princeton, 1975) and Denis de Rouge-

Traetta, based on librettos translated from

mont's LAmour et l'occident (1939; Eng. trans.

French ones used by Rameau; these are generally

as Passion and Society, rev. edn., London, 1956)

held to have contributed to Gluck's own reform in

have the advantage of culminating in works cen-

Orfeo. The author argues that the 1769 commis-

tral to the repertory (respectively Don Giovanni

and Tristan und Isolde). Rossini's Semiramide,

though a magnificent piece, is not often perreforming policy, and is evidence of the rise of the
formed today and is not thought of as definitive.
bourgeoisie and the 'abandonment of aristocratic

sion demonstrates the continuity of Du Tillot's

culture' even though in the event the Parma

However, Questa has much to say about the con-

reform failed because it was too dependent on the

ventions of opera seria and the technical novelty

court. Curiously, she does not examine the parts

of Gaetano Rossi's libretto for Rossini's opera. In

of Lefeste d'Apollo unrelated to Orfeo. Accord-

fact, the richness of his book gives it relevance for

ing to Einstein, about half their music is borrowed

any historian of culture, whatever his field.

In the most ample classical version of the story,

from Gluck's earlier (unreformed) works, and

'the only remarkable feature is the modish
Graecization of these accustomed feste teatrali'.

The Parma reform has already been a good deal

studied (by Yorke-Long, Heartz and others);

that of Diodorus Siculus, Semiramis is a changeling who is miraculously raised by doves. A

minister of the King of Babylon finds her and
marries her; subsequently she provides signal

Mecarelli's work cannot be said to contribute

help to the king in a problem of war. The king

anything new.

falls in love with her and snatches her from her

husband, who kills himself. After the king's death



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