Andrew Talle delivers on the promise of this book's title. He provides a richly textured discussion of the roles music played in the everyday lives especially of young, affluent townspeople (and some nobles) in German-speaking Europe in Johann Sebastian Bach's day. His focus on keyboard instruments allows him to illuminate female as well as male performance, amateur as well as professional. Talle uses a variety of sources to reconstruct the way people used music to woo spouses, show off to guests, and pass the time. He discusses the acquisition of keyboard instruments, taking lessons, and domestic performance as tools used by the elites to demonstrate their distance from manual labor and the natural world: raw materials were crafted into sophisticated instruments that generated sound with the touch of a key, without having to be blown into, bowed, or held. The focus is on music made in well-appointed domestic interiors, especially from printed and manuscript Galanterien. Musical instruments and musical performance demonstrated knowledge, discipline, discernment, and worthy use of time.
The early and middle chapters of Talle's book take the reader through the manufacture of instruments, the increasing popularity of keyboard music for amateurs in the early decades of the eighteenth century, and accounts of the roles music played in the lives of individual women and couples. Later chapters give male amateur and professional musicians their due. Music analysis is not the focus here, but in Chapter 5 Talle examines a trove of seven hundred music manuscripts copied and compiled for two young countesses, and he more briefly discusses other music collections for young women, mostly light Galanterien, elsewhere in the book. The volume is handsomely produced and well illustrated. A companion website gives extended quotations from many sources cited in the text.
Talle excels at sketching vignettes of encounters between individuals and giving accounts of people's pursuit of music in their homes. He crafts these with a wealth of descriptive, elegantly phrased detail. For example, as Leipzig heiress Christiane Sibylla Bose, godmother to two children of Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena Bach, “prepared for the arrival of her music teacher … [m]aybe she wore her pleated Contouche dress along with her matching black-and-white scarf and shoes. Surrounded by porcelain bowls … and gleaming scientific instruments, she would have run through the chorale preludes and galanterien her teacher had copied for her over the past several weeks” (p. 59). Often, Talle reconstructs people's thoughts and motives in imaginative ways, and he is to be praised for attempting this: because we rarely have descriptions of contemporaries’ emotions, informed speculation is necessary. His evocation of the intimacy that arose from musical interactions is one strength of the book—interactions between pupils and teachers, or twenty-nine-year-old Leipzig professor Johann Christoph Gottsched's gifts of music to sixteen-year-old Luise Adelgunde Gottsched. Talle generally sets the scene by presenting a detailed description of, for example, a student's journey to his place of study, his lodgings, and his social life, before delving into his musical life.
Another strength of Talle's book is his pairing or juxtaposing of complementary things: male and female amateur music making, or the lives and careers of a clavichord maker and the tax collector who bought one of his instruments. Discussing such people or groups in relationship to one another helps Talle to produce insights into, for example, the similarities and differences between the roles of music in the lives of female and male youth. For both sexes, music could be a surrogate for social interaction or could greatly facilitate it, but young men had much greater freedom of movement than young women, were encouraged to be adventurous generally, and were also encouraged even as amateurs to improvise, ornament, and play in public, unlike the daughters of elite families, who were supposed to learn a more limited range of music and techniques.
Johann Sebastian Bach appears repeatedly in the book, usually at some distance from its main characters. In its early pages, Talle sets up a relationship of “tension between Bach and his contemporaries” (p. 7): Bach's counterpoint and dense textures were at odds with galant style. Talle's discussion of the reasons for Luise Adelgunde Gottsched's maintaining a critical distance from Bach's music is persuasive. She had a large collection of music by other composers and was proficient on the harpsichord and virtuosic on the lute, so could well have handled the technical demands of Bach's work, and one might assume that she played works by this Leipzig neighbor. However, the critique that she and her husband leveled at what they called a “turgid” (p. 130) style in literature carried over to music. Because Bach and her husband interacted professionally, and in view of Bach's prominent role in Leipzig's musical life, she did not openly express critical opinions, but her lack of praise for or even detailed discussion of his work spoke for itself. A Catholic lawyer in Fulda and one of his friends, featured in Chapter 7, are the only figures in the book to collect and perform serious, extended works by J. S. Bach, including the Musical Offering. They are also the only Catholics to be discussed in detail by Talle—an imbalance that is not uncommon in the literature on early to mid-eighteenth-century amateur musical life. The argument that most of Bach's contemporaries cultivated composers other than J. S. Bach is not new; what Talle does is flesh out why and how they cultivated other music.
Like composers, music historians work in the context of conversations and traditions. While Talle's lengthy bibliography is well stocked with works on music, literature, and history, the book would have been enriched by reference to or fuller discussion of various works that are not cited. Despite Talle's focus on galant culture, there is no mention of Daniel Heartz's Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style.1 Talle demonstrates that the desire for a quiet audience in German towns (if not the reality) predated a similar push in France, but does not mention James Johnson's Listening in Paris.2 Talle uses a new, as yet incomplete edition of Johann Christoph and Luise Adelgunde Gottsched's correspondence, which facilitates new insights into the couple's life; making it clear to readers how he has benefitted from this material would have been helpful. He also omits to cite important recent work on the Gottscheds.3 Scholars who have recently worked to situate Bach's life, music, and career within its surroundings, and more broadly to explore intersections of social life and music, are likewise not mentioned: John Eliot Gardiner, whose biography of Bach has a productive emphasis on various contexts for Bach's life and work, despite some insufficient citation, Alexander Fisher, and this reviewer.4 Discussing recent research on professional musicians by Stephen Rose and Christian Ahrens would have provided further context for Talle's discussion of this topic.5
The book also contributes new insights on the roles of women and gender in eighteenth-century music. Talle cites specifics from works by Mark Peters, Matthew Head, and Katherine Goodman, but engaging with their arguments would have clarified how this book builds on and differs from theirs.6 When he makes a specific historiographic argument, as at the beginning of Chapter 5, he does so deftly. Perhaps Talle's goal was to provide a smooth narrative that appeals to nonspecialists. He succeeds here—for example, in introducing the functioning of various keyboard instruments clearly in layman's terms at the beginning of the book. His writing is also refreshingly free of jargon. He could, however, have added historiographic reflections without being pedantic.
From this reviewer's disciplinary perspective as a social historian, Talle's book is a welcome addition to the growing number of studies by musicologists who are looking beyond prominent professional performers and composers, and beyond texts closely connected to individual works of art and their creators. He mines a rich vein of narrative sources such as diaries, travel accounts, and letters, and his arguments are generally well supported. At the same time, the book has shortcomings of a sort that are often evident when musicologists discuss society at large and work with early modern texts. An understanding of general social dynamics, familiarity with the historical literature, and experience in working with contemporary texts are still developing. In Talle's book, for example, “townspeople” would perhaps have been a more precise term than “bourgeoisie,” whom Talle mentions as making up about a quarter of the German population (p. 13). (The German equivalent of the French “bourgeois,” “Bürger,” generally meant a homeowning, non-noble urban dweller, but half or more of the population of most towns did not own their own homes and were not Bürger. “Bourgeoisie” also acquired another meaning across Europe in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—middle-class or upper-middle-class non-nobles.)7
One emphasis of this book is on women's use of music making as a vehicle through which to depict themselves as happily domestic, socially proficient but not forward, skilled but not a threat to men's dominance. Talle works with a range of individual pieces and collections of music to support his point that lessons were intended to develop women's talents only to a limited extent. He captures girls’ and young women's uncertainty over how to respond to men's music-related overtures, and their fear of appearing unchaste. Talle's stress on elite women's lack of power in the shaping of their lives is well supported in some cases. In others, consideration of recent literature that emphasizes the power that women did have, even if it was limited, and the ways in which young women might manipulate conventions and expectations, would have been helpful.8 Some young, unmarried, elite women were doubtless “sequestered” (pp. 57, 71), but more evidence is required to establish a frequent link between good keyboard skills and rarely going out. Talle's citation of two students who wrote that young women were out and about more often in some towns than in others (pp. 156, 176), for example, points to variation rather than uniformity. And speculating on possible positive dynamics would have been a good counterweight to speculation on some of the negatives in young women's lives. For example, rather than perhaps subjecting Christiane Bose to “draconian physical punishments,” members of her family may have treated her more gently; and rather than giving her a very limited education, they might have given her a solid one (pp. 48–49). In wealthy families across early modern Europe, either path was a possibility.
All primary sources are imperfect and reflect their authors’ perspectives and biases. Most of the sources that Talle uses were inevitably produced by men. Common eighteenth-century biases shape the treatment of one theme: sex and other relations between people who were not married to one another. Talle states bluntly that a tutor used music lessons as “cover for an emotional, if not physical affair” (p. 195), and rightly calls out theologian Karl Friedrich Bahrdt for depicting a drunken tutor as a victim of sexual advances by a maid (p. 154). More frequent contextualization of the educated male perspective on lower-status women as temptresses and ultimately disposable would have been welcome. Generous quotations from diaries help to give the text its immediacy, but letting these young men speak for themselves without placing them more firmly in context risks allowing early modern norms to dominate the discussion. While a teenage student away from home was vulnerable, a maid living in her master's household was even more so. If she became pregnant, she was usually cast out permanently by her family as well as her employer and lived the rest of her life as a vagrant and/or prostitute (prostitutes figure in several student and traveler accounts): this would have been the likely outcome for a teenage maid mentioned in future pastor J. C. Müller's diary, who was sent away to bear a child whose father could have been the head of the household or his son (pp. 193–94).9 In dealing with a number of sources, it would have been helpful if Talle had flagged evidence dating from decades after an incident (pp. 60, 65), or offered more evidence that Luise Kulmus (later Gottsched) avoided performing Bach's music because she did not want to demand too much from her audience (p. 118). Clarifying whether Johann Christoph Gottsched handed over to his wife “all” (p. 132) writing jobs on music or did so “routinely” (p. 281n68), providing more evidence for this argument, and specifying what Johann Adolph Scheibe wrote regarding this subject, would also have been helpful.
This book is nevertheless an important contribution to the literature. Talle eloquently evokes a society in which music played important roles in human interactions. He persuasively supports his framing arguments that “the meaning of music is … to be found … in the relationships it creates and sustains between people” (p. 9), and that “[m]usic offered a means of coming to terms with the world's overwhelming complexity, of clarifying social positions, of initiating, maintaining, and furthering interpersonal relationships” (p. 259). Music performed these roles in a society that was relentlessly hierarchical, sexist, and competitive, but offered performers and listeners moments of beauty, reprieve, and entertainment. This is a book from which readers from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, musicians and lay people, can learn much.