Written in the form and style of the popular “novel of circulation” (or “it-narrative”), this article examines and provides an experience of the performance practices of eighteenth-century amateur music. It tells the typically complex history of a minor hit, “Come Haste to the Wedding,” a tune that was sung in a 1760s Drury Lane pantomime, rewritten as a rondeau for London publishers, danced as a jig in Irish and Scottish halls, transcribed as a fiddle tune by a captain in the Continental Army, circulated as a flute or guitar melody as far abroad as Calcutta, and collected by a young loyalist in Charleston, South Carolina. I argue that common to all these versions—and among many similar and neglected amateur genres, including sectional variation sets and dance collections—was the practice of desultory reading. The term “desultory” itself comes from the period, and the practice suggested here extrapolates from evidence of readers' experience of approaching literature and periodicals out of order. Many musical texts asked readers to skip between pages and sections, rondeaux chief among them but also instructional treatises. Some of those same treatises, by C. P. E. Bach (1753–62) and Quantz (1752), hint at desultory reading in subtle admonitions. Through a lively engagement with period style, this article outlines a new definition of music reading informed by eighteenth-century language and practical context, a definition attuned to the ocular and physical habits of the era's most plentiful practitioners: domestic performers of domestic music.
In 1767, one Mr. Moran published a tale ostensibly authored by a wooden bowl, and the story is about as interesting as you might expect. But tucked into the opening pages is a curious statement:
Consider now a reading of eighteenth-century music that would suit a similar context. Surely no one would attempt to play music while enduring the prodding of a friseur, but without doubt, gentle people do use music to pass the time, particularly at home in the waning light of the day, particularly after the arrival of guests, and, to be perfectly candid, particularly when such guests display poor verbal comportment. Could those irksome hours be made pleasurable with an equally casual reading of music? And if so, what sort of reading would it be?
If you will permit me yet another miscellaneous list, I suggest that such a reading would allow the following techniques in combination: a linear playing-through, of course; a linear playing-through halted by some practical measure, such as relighting a failing candle, wiping a brow, or closing a window; a sectional playing-through, as when prompted to take more repeats by said verbose visitor who but for his attention to his own melodious dronings-on would have heard the music he now asks to rehear; and a desultory playing-through, as when one discovers some section to be too digitally demanding and thus decides to return back or skip forward to a more manageable passage. I submit that this variety of approaches to reading produces fiddle-faddle in a sense most appropriate to its context.
The following hypothetical account may delve more deeply into that context than you are accustomed to, referencing the exigencies not only of bodily comfort but of domestic etiquette and print layout. But any reader who objects here, already, at the outset, should ask herself this: How deeply into the daily experiences of music making—or what a few of you have called “low-level intentions”—should consideration of performance practices go?3 You seem to have generally accepted that, in my day, players would not always hold an unmarked crotchet for the full length of four semiquavers, and that they would have used their perception of affect to determine tempo.4 But what about performance decisions that are even more variable? Given that, for instance, the publisher Artaria issued some of W. A. Mozart's keyboard sonatas as playable on harpsichord or fortepiano because both instruments were in circulation in the 1780s, then surely you would do well to experiment with both instruments?5 Likewise, since some players read written music in order and some skipped around—between sections on a page or even pieces within a set—should you not emulate both approaches? This is my gentle admonishment, informed by the practices of my day. Oddly, it is my suspicion that you do already experiment in this way but may not take such experimentation seriously as an activity that reflects historical experience.
And so, in a jumbled but intensive tour of eighteenth-century approaches to the reading of novels, plays, periodicals, instructional texts, rondeaux, dance music, musical sets in general, and analysis itself, I present evidence that amateurs read some music in just such a desultory manner, jumping between sections in sectional pieces. Further, I thereby offer, by example, an invitation to apply more scholarly rigor to the interpretive strategies of amateur readers, to consider the ways in which those strategies were informed both by experience of an array of heterogeneous texts and by the pursuit of pleasure itself.
An Introduction to My Story
I will endeavor not to begin this little story with cheeky humor. [Clearly, at that task we have already failed.] I am a print of a rondeau. My contents, to be explicated in rapturous detail below, elaborate a tune first sung on the London stage in the mid-eighteenth century. For you, now, I present an account of my own ancient reception and performance—in words transcribed by an interlocutor [hello] who interjects from time to time in order to make me understandable. [Indeed, mainly because the object is prone to diversion and miscomprehension.]
This tale derives its [dis]organization from a type of English-language written diversion that was popular in the eighteenth century, the novel of circulation [or it-narrative]. Tomes of this variety relate anecdotal and often jumbled material histories of objects considered mundane (stagecoaches, coins, pets, clothing, even enslaved individuals).6 Relaying not biographies but autobiographies, their words provide a view of a brisk marketplace from the vantage point of its lowliest participants. Through the partial intervention of an interlocutor [still here], and replicating the sectional assemblage and fictive misdirection of such novels, the story told in these pages connects two commonplace musical activities: reading and the interpretation of amateur or “miscellaneous” collections. A gentle dusting off of that connection reveals that amateurs read in a variety of ways and indeed may have played pieces like me out of order—desultorily. Deeper intellectual excavations in the same vicinity reveal weaknesses in your own reflections on historically (or even ahistorically) worthy interpretation and its arbiters—and should, further, remind you to consider the reading of music to be more nearly a set of activities and priorities rather than a singular approach. [We wish, in other words, to add yet more perspective to what Karol Berger has called a “history of musical hearing,”7particularly with regard to amateur music, a cultural product whose practical use remains, in our view, undertheorized.]
An Introduction to My Self
Let me begin [again] by explaining something of my background, and perhaps you will understand my point of view. I was published by Longman and Lukey in London around 1770 and was purchased by Louisa Wells of Charleston, South Carolina, probably between 1770 and 1774. No one knows with complete certainty how I came into Louisa Wells's possession. She may have acquired me from her father, Robert Wells, a successful printer and bookseller, or she (or her father) may have ordered me directly from London sellers, or she may have requested that her London friends purchase and send her some recent music, including me.8 In 1812, when Wells (by then Louisa Aikman) visited London with her family, she brought with her a collection of more than one hundred similar prints and had them bound into an album—in which I was placed first (see figures 1 and 2).9 Thereafter, my history is more than a little tricky to retell, but I do know that in 1992 Louisa's collection was purchased by the Library of Congress, the Performing Arts Reading Room of which played host to my first delightful acquaintance with my interlocutor in 2014.10
There ends the overview of my personal history. What of the history of my contents? My pages provide a rondeau based on a little ditty, “Come Haste to the Wedding.” The rondeau was composed by John Alcock (1740–91), a genteel English composer of my era who wrote a variety of mostly domestic pieces that circulated modestly, including sets for keyboard and flute, anthems, and songs.11 As a print, I offer two versions of the rondeau, one for keyboard (see figure 3) and one for flute (see figure 4).12 (A recorded performance of the version shown in figure 3 may be heard in audio example 1.) My principal tune was written by an unknown author for William Harvard's pantomime The Elopement, first performed at Drury Lane in 1763.13 As far as my interlocutor can tell, this was not an amazingly popular show. [As far as we know, only one copy of its full text currently exists, and that copy is in manuscript in the collection of Carleton University in Ontario, Canada.14] And yet the tune was reprinted in several editions: first, for vocal duet and keyboard as part of a set of “Comic Tunes” from The Elopement (see figures 5 and 6),15 with optional versions for flute and guitar; at least one with text only [and no musical notation]; and one for keyboard only.16 I know now that a version of my tune also made its way to Calcutta and was there performed for a community of amateurs in 1789.17 [We will examine further complexities of the early—and later—history of the tune below.]
So, in effect, my musical contents have migrated from one collection (the 1763 pantomime) to another (Louisa Wells's volume). I am proud to say that I have a long history of being highlighted in these collections. I was extracted and transcribed as a notable musical interlude from a pantomime, and now, in my current position, I am first in Louisa's book.
I am telling you this—all of this, about my current and previous history—so that you understand the difference between my present stature and past function. My interlocutor, one E. H. Green, reads things like me, like this narrative, in order. In perusing my contents, she confessed, she found herself wondering if there was any method to the placement of myself within Louisa's volume. I am, after all, the first piece and a piece about marriage. Might that have had some significance for Louisa Wells, given her burgeoning affection for (or at least association with) Alexander Aikman, whom she married in Jamaica in 1782?18 Possibly, but my position holds less importance if you think critically about what exactly constituted reading in the later eighteenth century.
In Which the Object Engages in a Reading of Reading Directed toward an Explanation of the Desultory Variety
We do not have a record of anyone's experience of reading me, but before I suggest an array of approaches, let me provide some vignettes that relate a number of ways of reading literature practiced during my time. The first is in the voice of Francis Place, a recollection of the year 1793:
The whole, or nearly the whole, of the eight months when I was not employed was not lost. I read many volumes in history, voyages, and travels, politics, law and Philosophy. Adam Smith and Locke and especially Humes [sic] Essays and Treatises, these latter I read two or three times over, this reading was of great service to me, it caused me to turn in upon myself and examine myself in a way which I should not otherwise have done.19
In nearly the same year as that of my birth, 1769, James Boswell described an evening of reading poetry and songs with the famous Samuel Johnson:
[Johnson] repeated the song “Alexis shunn'd his fellow swains,” &c. in so ludicrous a manner, as to make us all wonder how any one could have been pleased with such fantastical stuff. Mrs. Thrale stood to her gun with great courage, in defence of amorous ditties, which Johnson despised, till he at last silenced her by saying, “My dear Lady, talk no more of this. Nonsense can be defended but by nonsense.” Mrs. Thrale then praised Garrick's talent for light gay poetry; and, as a specimen, repeated his song in “Florizel and Perdita,” and dwelt with peculiar pleasure on this line: “I'd smile with the simple, and feed with the poor.”20
Another example from a little earlier than myself is more explicitly musical: in 1728, one Gertrude Savile recalled in her diary,
Mrs. Newton, Lady Palmerston, Lady Clavering and 2 daughters (great fortunes), and 3 Mrs Fox's here. While the last 2 were here, and Mrs. D'Enly alone in Mother's room, I read “The Beggar's Opera” to them in intervalls before and after supper.22
Each of these examples represents a distinct approach to reading texts—and in the cases of Savile and Boswell demonstrates music's proximity to literature in the home. Before recapping these examples further, I provide two others that have a bearing on the task at hand. First, Fanny Burney's account of a discussion of her own desultory reading on a summer evening in June of 1779:
Finally, the historian Edward Gibbon engaged in the same kind of reading while recovering from an illness as a student. His account was published in 1796:
As often as I was tolerably exempt from danger and pain, reading, free desultory reading, was the employment and comfort of my solitary hours. … I was allowed without control or advice to gratify the wanderings of an unripe taste. My indiscriminate appetite subsided by degrees in the historic line.25
And now, an abrupt summary of these disparate accounts, if I may. Boswell's and Savile's readings involve oral delivery; Place's and Gibbon's (and probably Burney's) are silent. Several involve sectional repetition (Boswell, Place). Place's is methodical and orderly; Burney's and Gibbon's are partial and interrupted, or in some way haphazard. Many individuals from your own approximate century have tried to describe and classify these varieties and others—especially with respect to literature. [The scholar Rolf Engelsing, for instance, has outlined a general move from “intensive” to “extensive” reading in the eighteenth century, particularly in Germany, “intensive” meaning repeated, studious reading of a given text (Place's approach), “extensive” meaning nonrepeated reading of an ever-changing library of new works—perhaps represented in the recollections of Boswell, Burney, and Gibbon. (There are those, including Reinhard Wittmann, who believe such a shift never took place at all.)26A great deal of ink has been spilled regarding the possibility of yet another historical shift, between sounding and silent reading.27
Most relevant for our purposes, several scholars of literature have responded to the records of domestic diarists and have presented ample evidence for nonlinear reading practices. Abigail Williams has noted that communal reading of literature in England in this period was often “partial” when performed aloud, with listeners coming and going in the room.28Peter Stallybrass has suggested that it was the change from scroll to codex that enabled the use of bookmarks and sectional, interrupted, or “discontinuous” reading, a term taken up, alongside “miscellaneous,” by Eve Bannet in her extremely thorough investigation of reading practices in the eighteenth century.29Wittmann, meanwhile, notes a general tendency in this period, especially among provincial individuals, toward “unruly” reading” (a term we will come back to), “a mode of reading that was naïve, non-reflexive and undisciplined,” his words echoing Roger Chartier's characterization of the “Bibliothèque bleue” as a French type of chapbook (or short, inexpensive single-subject book) that “was not necessarily bought to be read, or at least not to be read carefully,” and was intended for “a person of weak reading skills, who could assimilate only brief, elementary bits at one time.”30Finally, Jan Fergus borrows from Edward Gibbon and refers to this common kind of reading that stops, starts, and jumps between the individual books of multivolume publications as “desultory reading.”31Because it is rooted in the language of the object's day, this is the term we prefer, though the object does sometimes use the word “miscellaneous,” not without historical precedent.32
Desultory and partial practices are nowhere explained in musicological literature, though there are those who have highlighted, often through implication, an episodic mode of composition as a significant part of eighteenth-century musical experience: Elaine Sisman, in her consideration of variation and repetition as rhetorical devices; Roger Moseley, in his exploration of recombination as a basic approach to musical creation; and Nicholas Mathew, in his account of Joseph Haydn's attention to an economy of miscellany in London.33All three accounts interrogate the more traditional value of goal-oriented phrase structure and formalism associated with music of this period. None goes so far as to suggest or examine the performance practices inspired by their critique, an omission that the object's verbose explanation below attempts to remedy.]
On Reading Music Out of Order, in a Zirkel
“Miscellaneous.” My interlocutor has used this word with me often, but I never quite understood what it meant until I looked in the mirror, so to speak. Although I have explained my origins, I neglected earlier to describe myself in detail, though it is in keeping with the genre of the present narrative that I reveal these things piecemeal. Like many amateur works published in my time [particularly in London], I consist of several versions of the same tune. One is for keyboard or guitar, and one for German flute or violin (as indicated on the title page and in the score; see figures 2–4). I think it is fair to say that my collected self was not meant to be read in order. This is certainly an obvious point, but we must sometimes articulate the straightforward before moving on to something more intricate: no reader would feel the need to play the two versions of the rondeau successively, one on a keyboard or guitar and then one on a flute or violin. The very fact that my title page lists these several optional instruments confirms that my contents were meant to be read out of order or partially in this most basic way.
Further, I present a rondeau—one of the most miscellaneous forms there could be. [We will address the rondeau/rondo distinction below.] Daniel Gottlob Türk described the shape of a rondeau to be a “Zirkel” (as in a Zirkelstück, or circle piece),34 presumably because a simple design of alternation between a refrain and contrasting sections creates a circular experience. My refrain [marked “A” in figure 3 and table 1 ] consists of the original “Come Haste” tune [sixteen measures, marked “a”] plus an additional short tag written by Alcock [marked “b”].35
|A .||B .||A .||C .||D .||A .||E .||[A] .||F .||[A] .|
|a .||b .||a .||b .||a .||b .||a .||b .||a .||b .|
|C major||C||C minor||C major||C||C||C||C||C||C minor||C major||C||C||C||C|
|16 mm.||12 mm.||23 mm.||16 mm.||12 mm.||33 mm.||25 mm.||16 mm.||12 mm.||26 mm.||16 mm.||12 mm.||19 mm.||16 mm.||12 mm.|
|refrain written out||no refrain marked||refrain written out||refrain implied by “Da Capo”||refrain implied by “Da Capo”|
|A .||B .||A .||C .||D .||A .||E .||[A] .||F .||[A] .|
|a .||b .||a .||b .||a .||b .||a .||b .||a .||b .|
|C major||C||C minor||C major||C||C||C||C||C||C minor||C major||C||C||C||C|
|16 mm.||12 mm.||23 mm.||16 mm.||12 mm.||33 mm.||25 mm.||16 mm.||12 mm.||26 mm.||16 mm.||12 mm.||19 mm.||16 mm.||12 mm.|
|refrain written out||no refrain marked||refrain written out||refrain implied by “Da Capo”||refrain implied by “Da Capo”|
I am told that my rondeau's particular form has a name that is supremely unpronounceable: Abac Daeafa. [Here the object misunderstands the representation of its form: ABACDAEAFA: see table 1. One could also consider the form in more manageable bites: AB–ACD–AE–AF–A.36] The piece opens with a C major singable refrain above a simple bass line that certainly should be elaborated with full chords where possible. Each couplet thereafter is fairly similar, despite changes in tincture.
[Here, the object, becoming tired, struggles to express itself, confusing terms it may have heard only once. In fact, the first couplet (the term the object prefers)37in C minor represents a change in mode, texture, and style. The bass is filled out with fuller sonorities while the treble line is less vocal. Couplet C is again in the major, presenting a mixture of keyboard styles and references to the thematic material of the refrain, while D relies on a continuous Alberti bass. Couplet E is in the minor and toys with a plaintive motive, while F returns to the major and relies on sixteenth-note scalar figures. By comparison with the refrain, all episodes are both more repetitive in their use of small ideas and less regular in their phrase structure.]
Yes, although what you call section F seems newly accelerated because of those Lilliputian divisions, my couplet sections share many characteristics. Noting one such similarity, I venture to guess that Mr. Alcock quite liked the eighth-note written-out turn (or could not think of much else with which to furnish a melody), as he uses it in nearly every line of music. Further, all couplets end similarly: Alcock concludes each with a generic cadenza-like windup, sometimes in C major (sections C and F) and sometimes on G major (sections B, D, and E). The degree of predictability in the harmonic preparation for the refrain, in other words, is consistently high; the exact method of that preparation, inconsistent.
Because the couplets are all independent of the refrain and none is more developed than any other [harmonically or stylistically], I maintain that they could be interchangeable—or allow for a desultory reading. Enabling such a reading, the sections are well situated on the page by Messrs. Longman and Lukey, the publishers, such that each takes up no more than a precise half page. It would be easy to pick and choose which sections to play or skip. Are your fingers stiff? Skip section F and its trifling sixteenth notes—or replace it with a repetition of B. Do you find continuous broken triads in the bass tricky or—worse—monotonous? Replace or skip section D. Or do plaintive figures appeal to you? Return more than once to section E. To push these hypothetical decisions further, I suggest that a sensitive reader might even decide to insert a refrain after section C, which ends with a rhetorical pause but no marked or written-out refrain.
These are the skills of a desultory reading, and any amateur—of your time or mine—possesses them. In fact, as is common in rondeaux, the layout requires the eyes to jump around the page because not all repetitions of the refrain are written out: at the close of sections E and F they are signaled by the simple marking “Da Capo.” Alcock (or the publisher) has written out more refrains than was common in such pieces in my day and earlier. Even so, if a reader does play my rondeau—or any other rondeau—straight through, she must turn pages back and forth, stopping her reading of the music mid-page and starting again on a different sheet, repeatedly. You might call this approach “miscellaneous” or “desultory”—and I would encourage you to, as I know you use vocabulary and neologisms to signal value in (and even affection for) history's lost practices. I would simply call it “reading.”
At this point, there is likely some confusion about the genre of my contents—confusion that may infect a reader's willingness to accept my argument. In the mid-eighteenth century, the rondeau coexisted with the rondo, and the terms were used interchangeably. Pieces boasted these titles haphazardly, as in Hoffmeister's print of W. A. Mozart's “Rondeau” in A Minor, K. 511, published in 1787—a work commonly known today as a rondo, and a typical example of the kind of rondo described below. On the other side of the coin, there were numerous light, vocal pieces—many of them theater-derived, like mine—published as rondos. Adding haze to this already cloudy historical situation, as late as 1789 Türk himself conflated the rondo, rondeau, Zirkelstück, and Rundgesang (song with refrain). I understand that, unlike Türk and his contemporaries, many of you draw a firm distinction between the terms “rondeau” and “rondo,” using the former for pieces like mine with a simple tune that alternates, through clear sectional boundaries, with contrasting couplets. The number of alternations in this genre varies quite a bit, and rondeaux can be long or short, owing not to the length of the sections but to their number. Not surprisingly, given its abundance of vowels, this name was most commonly used in France in the first part of the eighteenth century, either within opera or as a kind of simple, tuneful piece for voice or keyboard. The latter type, of which my rondeau is certainly an example, was also found in London as part of the large body of domestic music to draw tunes from the city's rich theatrical offerings. “Rondo,” in contrast, is a term you often use for pieces of a similar circular design that are longer, more complex, and ambiguous—both in the key relationships between sections and in style.38 In short, the rondo is less of an amateur piece. Recall that my rondeau is entirely centered on C major/minor; what you call a rondo would have a broader harmonic vocabulary. It should be further noted that such a rondo is no less miscellaneous than I am, often boasting yet greater variety of mood in its couplets [venturing out of the light stylistic vocabulary of the rondeau, for instance].39
[Broadly across the eighteenth century, then, the rondo and the rondeau have several things in common. Both are typically based in alternation as a formal principle and use a simple melody and accompaniment style, at least in the refrain. And both were seen as exceedingly popular. Malcolm Cole points to several sources that lamented the popularity of the rondo, including Carl Friedrich Cramer, who claimed, in a 1783 review of C. P. E. Bach's fourth collection of “Kenner und Liebhaber” sonatas, W56, that rondos were too plentiful in the marketplace.40]
Your central question here, I suspect, is whether the kind of jumpy reading I propose above could also apply to what you call a rondo. Because of the typical blurring between the sections of a rondo, coupled with composed alterations to the refrain, any reading even mildly out of order would require recomposition—and thus expertise. For instance, it might not be clear to an amateur at first blush where a section of a rondo ends, posing a challenge to any effort to repeat or replace passages in the manner described above for the rondeau. This is not to say that out-of-order reading would be impossible. In fact, the miscellaneous quality of the rondo in its contrast between sections, in conjunction with the common view of extemporizing as a performance of taste, might operate as an invitation to change or invent an Eingang or two and, at the very least, repeat a couplet [or episode]. Nonetheless, if our subject here is the habits of amateurs, then I am inclined to say that the more opaque the sectional boundaries, the less likely an amateur would be to attempt sectional alterations—or even to play the piece in the first place.
Jumping with the Eyes and Feet, or An Investigation into My Tune's Current and Former Use as a Jig, Combined with Further Thoughts on Desultory Reading
There are, however, contexts in which amateurs would find the desultory reading of music quite easy—and necessary—and my tune's own history supplies some examples. In particular, in addition to its history at Drury Lane and at the hands of John Alcock, “Come Haste to the Wedding” developed a parallel, vibrant, and long-lived trajectory: from the mid-eighteenth century until your present day, my tune has come to be known as a dance tune, most commonly as an Irish or Scottish jig.41
I will list only a few of its progeny in order to make my point. This tune found its way into a manuscript collection of Scottish ballads in the decade from 1770 to 1780.42 It was also published as a country dance, complete with dance instructions, in volume 3 of Thompson's Compleat Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances (1775), under one of the many names it was to accrue, “Rural Felicity” (see figure 7).43
There is also evidence that “Come Haste to the Wedding” was played in revolutionary communities in the North American colonies. A version nearly identical to that shown in figure 7 appears in the music notebook of a captain in the rebel [Continental] army, George Bush Esq. [no known relation to present-day figures], dated 1779. Bush categorized it both as a “fiddle tune” and as a country dance complete with dance instructions.44 (I should also point out that, given this colonial aspect of the tune's history, my appearance in Louisa Wells's collection should be less of a surprise. Perhaps she or her father heard it somewhere in their environs and sought it out.) The tune could have been used by military bands for a number of purposes, even including, surprisingly, marching, though its triple meter might not seem to lend itself to that purpose as easily as the squarer meter of tunes like “Yankee Doodle,” with which it was grouped in Bush's notebook.45 Between concerts, dancing, marching, and morning operations, the opportunities for musical performance in the military were quite varied, and it seems likely that our little tune was heard in more than one of these contexts.
I have chosen to unravel this other history of my contents because these genres—jig, country dance, and march—require flexible, sectional readings of tunes. [And by the way, none of these involve what post-eighteenth-century criticism would consider iconic modes of “performance.”] Performers of jigs and country dances would present the first two phrases twice—once as a kind of introduction, giving dancers a chance to hear the tune and take their places, and again as the beginning of the dance itself. This practice is written out, in fact, in an early print (see figure 6), and could certainly have been improvised when necessary even when not written. We can also assume that, in the context of dancing as well as that of marching, a certain sectional approach was needed, as players might have to add, at the very least, multiple repeats if setup or ending were delayed, disorganized, or in some manner poorly communicated to the musicians.
Such a desultory practice is further documented in a number of dance treatises. Consider the directions of John Playford, whose English Dancing Master (1651) focuses exclusively on country dances and was reprinted in the eighteenth century. Playford specifies some dances for particular numbers of people (four or eight, typically) and others for “as many as will,” in which cases the directions can be modular, instructing dancers—and thus musicians—to repeat the patterns “till you have fetcht up all the We [women].”46
Learning to Jump, or Contextual Primers on Amateur Reading of Music and Words
If my discourse on jumpy reading seems extreme to you, consider that still other quite popular kinds of text—of both the generalist and the amateur variety—required ocular acrobatics. In the several generations that preceded me as well as during my early lifetime, the layout of journals and weeklies often forced readers who were following a single story to skip pages and columns, pursuing something like what your newspaper editors in fact call the “jump.”47 Similarly, if an eighteenth-century reader wished to take in the contents of a single page of news, she might read only segments of a number of stories. Even when not promoting such broken storytelling, periodicals offered readers at least an amount of desultory experience, as their sections prescribed no particular order. See, for instance, figure 8, which my interlocutor has annotated to show the many places on the page where one may initiate or reinitiate reading among a true miscellany of subjects [quite!]: precise celestial information, meteorological information, a summary of some recent book publications, an advertisement for English language lessons, and an advertisement for some sort of forestry trade in the form of a letter to the editors. [I chose a Parisian journal in particular because I believe the multicolumn style of English periodicals, such as the “London Gazette,” may be already known to you.]
In the musical realm, one of the most common amateur genres of the eighteenth century similarly allowed eyes to move easily around the page. The variation set boasts sections that, like mine, are stylistically distinct, each requiring a different skill in its rhythmic, physical, or affective demands. And because each variation is usually harmonically closed, as you call it, a reader could easily skip around. Although you will certainly be familiar with numerous examples, I provide a page opening from one variation set in order to demonstrate how truly separate each variation was made on the page by eighteenth-century engravers (see figure 9).48 In this edition, even in the reduced reproduction presented here, the beginning and end of each variation is immediately apparent. [Compare the opening from a modern edition shown in figure 10, where the beginnings of the variations, though marked by numbers, are not as readily visible. A performer could still skip around with relative ease, but the earlier edition openly invites that activity in the way it presents each variation as a distinct item.]
Other kinds of eighteenth-century printed material intended for amateurs not only allow for but require desultory reading. Straddling a nonexistent line between literary and musical texts, treatises and even some biographies contain heterogeneous material. Music treatises in particular provide a variety of types of communication: long explanatory paragraphs, short directives, snippets of music examples, and long-form instructional pieces. Each of these types of writing explains the others, and a reader needs to leaf through pages, forward and back, to digest fully the points made. Often, instructional pieces fall at the end of the volume even though they illustrate the explanatory text, making for large ocular leaps indeed. In the case of Johann Joachim Quantz's Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752), the reader is asked to flip to the end of the book for each individual music example discussed in the text. Figures 11a–c illustrate the different reading habits required for an edition from my day and for one from yours: figure 11a requires a jump to figure 11b, whereas in figure 11c the kindly Edward R. Reilly has inserted the examples within the text to enable a non-desultory experience.
Now two additional examples, one more miscellaneous than the other. First, several generations before me, copyists transmitted the movements of Johann Jacob Froberger's keyboard suites in a variety of orders. Figure 12 reproduces a manuscript copy made by Jakob Ludwig in 1662 of a suite in D major in which the order of the movements is Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue.49Figure 13, meanwhile, shows a copy of the same suite made by Mihály Bulyovszky in 1675, in which the movements are presented in the order Allemande, Gigue, Courante, Sarabande.50 The careful reader will note, too, that the gigues are different, as Ludwig mistakenly (I assume) substituted one in D minor.51 In fact, whether or not an error, Ludwig's substitution points at least to his own practice of desultory reading while copying. While some of you might view the different order between the manuscripts as a mere inconsistency, this reception of Froberger's sets is more than an exception to the rule: it constitutes material evidence of a desultory reading habit.
Second, I would like to highlight that I was sung at Drury Lane, a place run by one Mr. Charles Dibdin. This same Mr. Dibdin published an autobiography in 1803, The Professional Life of Mr. Dibdin, Written by Himself, together with the Words of Six Hundred Songs Selected from His Works. A sample page is shown in figure 14, with one solo tune and one “duet” interpolated into the narrative. Is the reader supposed to articulate the words to these songs straight through and then continue with the text? Boring. To know their tunes and sing aloud—either alone or recruiting a partner? Likely for some, unlikely for all. I think the fairest guess is that the reader of this biography approached the text similarly to the way a reader approached me, or the way Miss Savile read The Beggar's Opera “in intervals”: reading, singing, or skipping sections depending on her preferences and familiarity with the music.
On the Expertise Required of Desultory Readers
Desultory reading of my text would have recalled more than a casual experience of amateur nonmusical texts: it would have engaged a level of expertise that you have already acknowledged existed among amateurs with musical aspirations. Some of your wisest thinkers have pointed out that basic musical skill in my day included, for example, the ability to extemporize on a given text.52 That skill requires acute sensitivity to harmony and the interplay between phrases of music. [Or, awareness both of the repetition of material, so that one might elaborate a melody already played, and of the approach of cadential chords, so that one might interject cadenzas. A similar awareness of repetition and sectional beginnings and endings is relevant when reading in the particular way we suggest.]
In 1752, Quantz, for instance, described like ways in which to improve a repetitive allegro: “If, however, through the oversight of the composer, too-frequent repetitions do occur, which could easily arouse displeasure, the performer is in this case justified in improving them through his skill. I say improve, not disfigure.”53 [In the nineteenth century, A. B. Marx, a champion of a later strain of compositional advice, asked, “Is the main Satz of a rondo always in fact worthy of three appearances? Or indeed four appearances, when an appendix fashioned out of it is included?—It can be omitted from the middle of the form.”54Marx was not advocating the kind of interpretive reading we describe; he was prescribing formal design—and certainly he was referring to the rondo and not the rondeau. But a sensitive performer might still take his advice and recompose somewhat in the sectional manner suggested above. Both Quantz and Marx, then, three generations apart, suggest an opening for recomposition. That kind of rewriting is of the same family as that suggested by Walther Dürr in his 1979 assessment of the melodic figuration added to Schubert's songs by Johann Michael Vogl; here, Dürr argues that today's performers consider Vogl's alterations not “falsifications” but a model for tasteful recomposition—something that, as far as I know, still no one practices.55]
There is in fact a whole class of unique pieces of musical funny-business from my day that require tasteful recompositional expertise in the domestic setting. Musical dice games, or Würfelspiele, proved a popular diversion, involving an exclusively modular approach. W. A. Mozart's example (published by Simrock, 1792) compels a reader to construct a piece measure by measure, selecting from a list of isolated small musical ideas (which you might call “cells”). In the resulting piece, the ideas would never appear in the order in which they are printed and numbered arbitrarily on the staff. In other words, the reader is required to move around the pages, probably never realizing the work in the same way twice.56 [We will return to these dice games below.]
Intensive Consideration of the Nature of Reading Music, or In Which the Object Fiddle-Faddles
Music reading, even when not organized by the throwing of dice, is a complicated activity, as your collective literature on performance practice has shown. The particular appearance of the music within my pages—the directives to return to the refrain, the changes in style or technique from section to section, even the clear delineation of sections themselves—uses a complex vocabulary, and any reader has to interpret that complexity in order to play the piece. Upon thinking through this situation—from the description of the desultory approach to its broad application to and the inspiration it draws from many sorts of printed materials—my interlocutor slapped her forehead and mumbled a few things:
Something about being literate but not really knowing how to read.
Dreading having ever to explain this style of reading to a class of students, for fear of reinforcing the validity of a style of reading in which they (and their teachers) are all too conversant.
A realization that she herself and perhaps many of you practice desultory reading fairly commonly in the process of research, casual domestic music making, and engaging with the arachnoid tubes.57
Particularly if you had a similar set of reactions, you may benefit from learning what certain musical thinkers from my period of origin had to say on the subject of desultory reading. The evidence is, as you would say and as we have already hinted, circumstantial. The idea of large-scale repetition surfaces in the context of embellishment and when explaining repeat signs, as in J. A. P. Schulz's allowance in 1774 that “when a melody is repeated by singers or instrumentalists, they can sing or play many things completely differently the second time from the first time, without violating the rules of composition.”58 To repeat is, in other words, to recompose, to create an extemporized variation section [as Elaine Sisman points out when she quotes this passage]. That kind of directive allows for the addition of sections, which is one kind of jump. Authors contemporary with me direct no specific attention to the mechanisms of or motivation for the other skills of desultory reading, namely the omitting or moving of sections. [The passages quoted above from Savile, Boswell, and others are descriptive in the particular rather than the abstract.]
The silence of these texts does not, however, rule out the possibility of what I propose here. After all, that silence may be due to the fact that treatises from the later eighteenth century—by Quantz (1752), C. P. E. Bach (1753–62), Leopold Mozart (1787), Türk (1789), and Tromlitz (1791)—fail to instruct their readers significantly on the skills of execution that are appropriate to specific domestic genres.59 These authors explain rather general interpretive approaches, concentrating on techniques of melodic variation and the performance of affect and all that it entails (tempo, articulation, embellishment, rubato), which can be applied to most any piece of music. Each author gestures to the variety of types of piece on the market in a limited way: Leopold Mozart, for example, addresses the differences between solo and ensemble playing, while Quantz briefly describes the tempos appropriate to a variety of types of dance (including the rondeau, which he mentions is simply to be played “tranquilly”). Quantz also admits that an allegro should be embellished less than an adagio.60 All these authors address the best and worst approaches to different types of cadenza, but their discussions are as close as anyone gets to acknowledging differences in interpretation as determined by what you call “form” or “formal placement.” Nowhere do these thinkers specifically recognize the existence of examples of music such as myself—rondeaux or variations on known tunes. [Quantz's brief reference is too general, and it is difficult for us to discern the precise sort of rondeau he was imagining, though because he lists it among other (mostly French) dances like the gavotte, gigue, and bourrée, we assume that he means the type of rondeau used in ballet and opera rather than the simpler domestic variety based on popular tunes.] Though such works were exceedingly popular, we were apparently not worthy of serious consideration, and thus my impression is that the skills encouraged by our texts have been forgotten or neglected in the gnostic realm.
In order to encourage further consideration of this art, my interlocutor and I would like to show where desultory reading fits into your and my general understanding of the activity of music reading in my period. We collaborated on the following list. Reading music in the later eighteenth century can mean any of the following:
Being able to play written music “at sight, slowly, without missing a single note”61 [playing through casually, i.e., not performing; also, interpreting the most basic information communicated by notation].
Analyzing, including the act of looking at the page silently, in and out of order, possibly considering something called “hermeneutics” [“to show how music works in the world by interpreting both music and musical performances in language”62].
Using one's whole physical person to translate text into a singular, sounding event [making, “by labor,” “the irreversible experience of playing, singing, or listening”63].
“[Playing] from the soul, not like a trained bird!”64 or playing a written work—for oneself and possibly others—with taste, communicating affect, executing elaboration and ornamentation [interpreting, especially through some lens of “musicianship,” broadly defined].
Indeed, the last two definitions describe most accurately a player's rendering of my text. To me, there is no meaningful playing of music without the fourth definition and its filter of taste, particularly as manifested in the execution of affect and necessary ornamentation, such as appoggiaturas and the like.67 And once my interlocutor had explained the vocabulary of the third definition to me, it seemed quite apt. I now accept that it is a combination of approaches 3 and 4 that truly admits a desultory approach. I will let my interlocutor explain.
A Discourse on Domestic Music Reading
[The desultory kind of reading the object suggests is invited by the printed manifestation of the music as well as the amateur's domestic context: a decision to read in this way could be motivated by how the work feels in the hands, how it looks on the page, and the performer's taste and—meaningfully—pleasure. A player's willingness to pursue her own path through a musical text would, we argue, be enabled by her experience of reading the written word. Carolyn Abbate's argument in this direction, quoted above as the fundamental justification for definition 3, is not historical; if it were, she might be more inclined to acknowledge that most readers of music are first readers of text, and that their reading habits—cerebral and physical—are informed by their engagement with written matter of all sorts.
If we expand definition 3 by combining it with 4, our reading approach is yet more drastic than Abbate's. To show where her argument might allow for the desultory, I would like to pull passages from it thematically in the way that she herself quotes Adorno:
While musicology's business involves reflecting upon musical works, describing their configurations either in technical terms or as signs, this is, I decided, almost impossible and generally uninteresting as long as real music is present—while one is caught up in its temporal wake and its physical demands or effects.
Real music is a temporal event with material presence that can be held by no hand.
Doing this really fast is fun.
Between the score as a script, the musical work as a virtual construct, and us, there lies a huge phenomenal explosion, a performance that demands effort and expense and recruits human participants, takes up time, and leaves people drained or tired or elated or relieved.
Why not take intellectual pleasure from music not as a work but as an event?68
Abbate gives her game away later in the paragraph from which the last two quotations above are taken: “Philosophical treatises, the Bible, novels, memoirs, paintings, poems, these texts (and even plays, consumed on paper) lack that really big middle term, that elephant in the room,” meaning the sometimes exhausting effort required to make written music into sound.71Here, for the eighteenth century, she errs. As the object mentioned earlier, many sorts of nonmusical text in this period were read aloud—were treated drastically in the home. Their realization required an in-the-moment mental labor and praxis that was not analytical in the twentieth-century (or later nineteenth-century) sense. The blindness to this praxis is a pitfall in much recent work, not because that work misses music's performative complexity but because it fails to note the parallels between the activity of amateur music making and that of other domestic diversions particular to the eighteenth century.72If we now acknowledge the rich tradition of the spoken and desultory reading of many kinds of text, then we can allow that some players would have been predisposed to a similar reading of music.]
The Inventive Reader Reads Sonatas
For someone named Barthes, in a book whose title looks like an engraver's mistake, a reader of any text is someone who helps to invent it.73 But of course she is. For me, performance is reading is embellishing is authoring. You may know that Rameau's nephew already suggested as much to one Elisabeth Le Guin when he failed to understand how a sonata could “ever be better than its performance.”74 Only the opposite can ever, to my mind, be true.
But what of your prized genre from my period, the sonata? Can a reader invent her text in this desultory way in that genre too? In four or possibly five important senses, the approach we suggest is indeed compatible with sonatas. First, desultory reading was possible within larger collections or sets of pieces, such as sonatas, groups of songs, and even symphonies, in that one could select, repeat, or skip individual movements. [Yes, and this type of reading was applied to such sets in even some of the most formal of performances until well after the object's time. George Grove reported that, in the early nineteenth century, the Allegretto of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony was often inserted into others of his symphonies, regardless of key.75Furthermore, in the Seventh Symphony's first performance, that same movement was played a second time after the audience demanded it.76
In the realm of published music, there is evidence that the order of movements within a sonata did not always matter to composers. For example, a couple of generations after the object's time, Beethoven wrote to his amanuensis in London, Ferdinand Ries, in 1819,
Should the sonata [opus 106] not be suitable for London, I could send another one; or you could also omit the Largo and begin straight away with the Fugue … which is the last movement; or you could use the first movement and then the Adagio, and then for the third movement the Scherzo—and omit entirely no. 4 with the Largo and Allegro risoluto. Or you could take just the first movement and the Scherzo and let them form the whole sonata. I leave it to you to do as you think best.77]
Second, we can suspect without much of a leap [sigh …] that people listened periodically. That same Elisabeth Le Guin suggested as much in her fanciful account of the Salon de Parnasse.78 Here, individuals I recognize (d'Alembert, Diderot, Rousseau, and Johann Pezzl, among others) ask musicians to play sectionally and, in equal measure, to attend to that performance in brief spurts between points of conversation. In fact, the possibility of periodic attention has occupied you folk for some time.79 I admit that listening in bursts is not the same as playing out of order, but it at least constitutes another challenge to the historical justification for linear presentation—or linear hearing.
Third, it is potentially consistent with divisio topicorum and other things.80 [Here the object stumbles again on language foreign to its period. It quite aptly attempts to raise the subject of topic theory, an approach that attends to discrete moments in eighteenth-century repertoire. In cataloging a vocabulary of styles, topic theory encourages sectional listening, privileging the differences between musical materials over their connected development. By the admission of its own key thinkers, topic theory teaches you to engage with styles and types of music as clues to a composer's or reader's context rather than to the exclusively internal logic of a piece. Ironically, a central critique of the approach, particularly from within its own ranks, argues that topics or at least their theory can lack a sense of “syntax” or hierarchical order—a critique that betrays (as Caplin has pointed out, if not in so many words) the long influence of the kind of nineteenth-century linear analysis discussed under “Against Analysis” below.81In the end, the approach is relevant here because of its attention to the intercombination of well-defined ideas; particularly when pieces leap from topic to topic, readers leap with them. Their eyes may not be jumping around the page in the way described above, but their imaginations may certainly move alinearly from one topic's context to another. After all, to mix anything, from eggs to affects, one is required to move briskly, back and forth, back and forth.
The desultory approach is consistent with other recent analytical orientations that acknowledge recombination as a central feature of music from this era. Here, we are thinking of Robert Gjerdingen's galant schemata, or the “stock musical phrases” of mid- to late eighteenth-century music that define music's syntax according to a system of reuse.82And on a larger scale, Hepokoski and Darcy's idea of “rotation” highlights the gently recombinatorial approach to formal design in a typical sonata-form movement—an approach that tracks, among other things, a piece's discrete themes and the order of their presentation.83One could argue that the very notion of “rotation” itself reflects a deep consideration of this music's sectional and modular default design. Neither of these analytical frameworks suggests or describes any kind of desultory approach to performance; rather, to an even greater extent than topic theory, they examine compositional technique. We mention them here because each highlights the ways in which many eighteenth-century pieces, broadly conceived, are an admixture of distinct ideas, phrases, and sections.
Fourth—and this is a somewhat facile point—analytical discourse itself, historically so bound up in sonata rhetoric, requires a kind of silent reading out of order. Ironically, to build an argument about development and form, your eyes have to jump around the page—or at least consider the work in intervals. Is the written-out refrain on page 3 the same as that on page 2? The only way to find out is to look back and forth. The fruits of such silent reading can be equally jumpy. We offer an example from just three decades after the object's time, a review of a set of two quartets by M. G. Fischer (see figure 15).84In his zeal to demonstrate coherent intervallic content across the first movement, the critic presents a dizzying panoply of examples. This array may not overwhelm modern eyes, however, as the approach foreshadows the style of twentieth-century music analysis.
Last (and here we go out on a limb), the dice games mentioned above suggest that efforts at recombination, much like embellishment, were a way of engaging one's sense of cleverness and taste (or of music reading in the fourth sense listed above). In such games, the inventive reader, the good reader, makes beauty out of small bits. Such an attitude could have bled into [or from!] the playing of sonatas, much as the impulse for physical play at the keyboard determined compositional approaches, as Roger Moseley has argued. In other words, that impulse could have provided further motivation for readers to interpret written music sectionally. Was the object a single-player parlor game?85Possibly!]
And as for sonatas, an example such as the first movement of Mozart's sonata K. 282 could have looked more like me than you realize, either in its status as a set of movements or perhaps even within a single movement, considering its distinct and easily discernible ideas at measures 1, 4, 9, and 11 (see example 1).86
On the Inappropriateness of What Has Been Suggested
O, dear reader, how I wish to reveal to you all the imperfections of this extended silly tale! The type of reading I have described is also inappropriate for the playing of sonatas. First, it is probably not possible within movements of ensemble music, such as the “accompanied sonata,” a genre of some common renown in my day. It would be impossible to coordinate jumps around the page with other players, particularly when playing without rehearsals, as was the typical practice. And second, even in solo sonatas, this approach does not adhere to the very popular dictates of musical rhetoric, which call for, above all, a reasoned development of ideas, especially for first movements. Here, musical ideas are to emerge out of forward-moving, coherent dialogue or discourse. That kind of motion is not written in a way that is easy—or fruitful—to interrupt.
[The desultory approach also operates in opposition to the critical reception of the sonata from the early nineteenth century to the present day. And our discussion of this opposition points to a divide between some silent and sounding readings of music. Here we touch upon analysis again, the second of the four types of reading listed above. (Without wishing to contradict myself, I must acknowledge that I am presently challenging a point made several paragraphs ago, where I suggested that topic theory, schemata, and, above all, motivic analysis from a period slightly later than that of the object involved or required a jumpy reading.)
Consider this. The goal of some of these analytical styles is to explain linear cohesion. Motivic analysis in particular concerns itself with the ways in which musical ideas play out through a piece as an expression of form. Though the kind of silent reading implied may be desultory, the kind of performance prescribed is exclusively linear, because only then can one experience the music's coherent, teleological force. No, this incarnation of formalism does not suggest one whit of desultory presentation, which is why it suits works whose operations are themselves goal-directed—namely, sonata-form movements. Historically, such analysis has implied that music is, at its best, an “expression of artistic reason,” as A. B. Marx argued, wherein the material of a work has a will of sorts—a will that develops from the beginning and that can be unfortunately abandoned when distracted by extraneous motives.87Here, music is a literal playing-out of linear thought. Further, as this strain of analysis has led to the conclusion that music is [more] valuable when formally and thematically coherent, many have been drawn to consider how all movements of sonatas—and sets of sonatas—might be logically related, cyclically integrated, or expressions of an “opus concept.”88]
But I am here to remind you that such pieces can be simultaneously goal-directed, interrelated, and incoherent, or at least they can be read that way. While you readers generally see the sonata design as an outgrowth of the Enlightenment impulse toward order, what I propose, and what topic theory has already implicitly proposed, is that it contains within it seeds of the unruly or, in twenty-first-century words, the structurally heterogenous.
Amateur Music Reading, Ethics, Gender, and Pleasure, or A Reading Too Drastic?
To make the whole of my argument yet clearer, let me recapitulate it. I could have been read, by one seeking to perform me, (a) in a variety of single selections (a reader could play the rondeau for guitar or the rondeau for keyboard, etc.), and (b) in a variety of orders within each selection (a reader could disrupt linear flow by redistributing, repeating, or skipping sections). And further, these twin approaches would have been enabled by skills developed through other activities, such as the tasteful ornamentation upon repetition of musical sections in other pieces, the realization of variation sets, treatise study, and the reading (both aloud and silent) of plays, periodicals, and literature.
My suggested reading is unruly. Is it wrong? In all likelihood, desultory reading is an interpretive approach that contemporary thinkers would have thought somewhat too drastic89—or as Quantz said about poor ornamentation, it might “spoil more than [it] improve[s].”90 John Locke would have thought so. A few generations before me, in 1707, he complained of the miscellenization91 of the Bible, afraid that the printing of the text in numbered verses would cause individuals to take phrases out of context:
The dividing of [the Epistles] into Chapters and Verses … whereby they are so chop'd and minc'd, and as they are now Printed, stand so broken and divided, that not only the Common People take the Verses usually for distinct Aphorisms, but even Men of more advanc'd Knowledge in reading them, lose very much of the strength and force of the Coherence, and the Light that depends on it. … These divisions also have given occasion to the reading these Epistles by parcels and in scraps, which has farther confirm'd the Evil arising from such partitions.92
Better, he believed, to print this text “in continued Discourses where the Argument is continued.”93 Several generations later, Gibbon named and ultimately judged this kind of reading in an account quoted above. For him, desultory reading was a poultice for the pain of recovery but was also a sign of lack of control, “unripe taste,” and “indiscriminate appetite.”94
Gibbon's and Locke's judgments associate this kind of disorderly process with a deficit in health and class. For Gibbon, the reading is suitable only in convalescence, and for Locke it is the refuge of “Common people.” And yet—and yet!—Gibbon engaged in it and found it a source of gratification and healing. Gibbon's is an admission of the root cause of desultory reading: pleasure. As Abbate suggested, certain sections simply feel good to turn around and around, either in the mind or under the fingers. Others do not and are naturally skipped. [Paul Fleming's assessment of late eighteenth-century attitudes to dilettantism sums up this discussion: “in doing everything right, by doing all that art asks—accepting the invitation, being pleased, heightening pleasure by producing—the dilettante gets it all wrong.”95]
You may already have inferred the association between sectional reading and pleasure from several passages quoted above. Recall one of Quantz's directives: “If, however, through the oversight of the composer, too-frequent repetitions do occur, which could easily arouse displeasure, the performer is in this case justified in improving them through his skill.”96 It is the art of negotiating an adequate number of repeated passages—and their tasteful variation—that arouses pleasure. Similarly, James Boswell reported in 1769 that “Mrs. Thrale … repeated [Garrick's] song in ‘Florizel and Perdita,’ and dwelt with peculiar pleasure on this line: ‘I'd smile with the simple, and feed with the poor.’”97 [The “dwelling,” the act of disrupting linear flow, is what produces pleasure.
Further, pleasure may account for the persistence of this reading strategy beyond the eighteenth century: desultory reading was simply too easy and too much fun—too well suited to domestic life—to give up. Wittmann has outlined a convincing argument that post-Enlightenment efforts to teach a coherent, orderly reading practice (what he calls “useful” reading) to a rural population more inclined toward an unruly approach “largely failed.98In fact, only a slight amplification of Wittmann's argument explains the famous rash of suicides inspired by Goethe's “Werther”: here was a population of readers engaging only with passages, missing the coherent whole for the vivid sentiment of particular moments of dreadful action.99
Finally, the astute reader will have noted in the undertones of the eighteenth-century critique quoted here an implied association between desultory reading and femininity; those who judged this approach poorly did so at the expense of the most common type of domestic reader. Pleasure, convalescence (for Gibbon), and general weakness (for Locke) circumnavigate the feminine, and all add up to a supposedly less edifying experience. For her part, Burney, quoted at the outset of this argument, does not judge desultory reading poorly. Rather, she claims it makes her “clever.”100
No matter what the ultimate appraisal of the jumpy practice we have examined, your study of it is still valuable. In fact, we would argue that if your ideal scholarship aims to describe—and even reproduce—historical practice, you must engage with habits judged to be incorrect or weak, for the simple reason that those habits existed and persist. If you ignore them, then you ignore their practitioners, and your own scholarly efforts serve only to prescribe limited interpretive approaches to eighteenth-century music rather than describe reading and playing in their full, resplendent jumble.]
A Further Thought, One about Glasses, Candles, and Worms
Unfortunately, the pleasure of desultory music reading could be stymied by something I have not yet mentioned: the very real practical challenges of reading music. If a reader had good vision and played during the day, then this point is to be dismissed. But recall that more than one of the accounts quoted above mentioned the evening or after-supper hours as the time for the social presentation of music and literature. In those and other circumstances, reading could pose somewhat of a challenge. First, reading glasses were not common, making music difficult for some to see at any time of day.101 My interlocutor has further pointed out that even if a player possessed reading glasses, that curious invention might not function at the proper distance for music reading, as music typically sits further from the face than a book. (Could it be that many of you have experienced this problem?) Second, candles, necessary for a significant part of the day in northern Europe, were tricky: some were stinky or burned too quickly, and it may also have been challenging to place them effectively. George Adams, one of many writers who theorized about the best way to preserve one's eyes, suggested in 1789 that candles be placed between the eye and the page.102 This would have been virtually impossible for music, especially at the keyboard. Both of these difficulties could have made a player stop and start with some frequency, adjusting either the light source or the music itself.
But with your more reliable infrastructure for reading at all hours, you have been freer to consider texts linearly—and to push others to do the same. Granted, those already mentioned who have argued for cyclic integration and the “opus concept” stop short of suggesting that such collections be performed in these larger sets. Sisman does not propose a concert of the whole of Haydn's opus 76, for instance, but a gentle reader could not be blamed for assuming that a hope for experimentation with some kind of large-scale presentation was implied. In navigating for you the circumstantial evidence for desultory reading, I propose that opposite sorts of experimentation are historically valid: performances, particularly those in the parlor or wherever you locate informal, small-scale music making, can skip around sections or movements. Further, acknowledging the existence of multiple approaches to reading gives us a sense of the richness of musical experiences in my day—and yours. And because the population of people who could read music was [and is, comparatively] so small, you simply cannot afford to ignore the habits of the large and active, if possibly wrong or disorderly, amateur subset.103
I will leave you with the words of a cohabitant of the Library of Congress, Ben Franklin's epitaph for himself (written in 1728), a clever acknowledgment that a text can encourage many types of consuming experience:
I am grateful for the advice and support offered by a number of people during the development of this article, not least in relation to its unorthodox style: Jacqueline Burek, Mark Ferraguto, Glenda Goodman, Roger Mathew Grant, Catherine Mayes, Ronit Seter, and the anonymous readers of this Journal. None of them would have had the opportunity to take a chance on it without Stephen Gorbos's initial encouragement to let it see the light of day.
Moran, Wooden Bowl, 3–4.
An earlier version of this paper was read at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Milwaukee, WI, November 2014.
This terminology is adapted from Randall R. Dipert. Peter Kivy and Richard Taruskin have used Dipert's language similarly in order to compare composers' explicit directives, or “high-level intentions” (such as pitch and duration), with assumed or implicit directives, or “low-level intentions” (such as instruments and performance spaces). Dipert, “Composers' Intentions,” 206; Kivy, Authenticities, 34–36; Taruskin, Text and Act, 54.
See, for example, Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 62–70; Türk, Klavierschule, 358–65; Brown, Classical and Romantic Performing Practice, 282–312; and Hefling, Rhythmic Alteration.
The object refers to the Artaria editions of K. 330–32, issued ca. 1784: Mozart, Trois Sonates. Here, as in many other keyboard editions from the 1770s and 1780s, the title page specifies the “clavecin ou pianoforte” as the intended keyboard instruments; see Maunder, “Mozart's Keyboard Instruments.”
The relation between the it-narrative and the reception of music and musical collections is explored in Green, “Memoirs.” There, a similarly miscellaneous collection of music based on an English theater tune of the eighteenth century makes the suggestion that such narratives are models for the multiplicity of ways in which musical prints were received.
Berger, “Toward a History,” 406.
The second and third of these seem more likely, particularly because, as an astute person has pointed out in the unbound, typed pages tucked into Louisa's collection, hints of creases in some of the pages bound into the volume support the theory that parts of the collection arrived enclosed in envelopes sent directly to Louisa (rather than in a mass of copies sent in a large, flat stack to a bookseller). Bonny Miller supposes this astute person to be “the seller, antiquarian dealer and musicologist Richard MacNutt”: Miller, “Songbook,” 2.
The object simplifies Louisa's life to quite an extent here: she had since married a Scottish immigrant to Jamaica, Alexander Aikman, and moved to Jamaica; see Aikman, Journal of a Voyage, published posthumously on the basis of her journals.
The collection is held at the Library of Congress, M1.A633 1769 Case.
Please do not confuse this Alcock with his father, also John Alcock (1715–1806), the organist and composer. Our assertion that this piece was written by the younger Alcock is based on the “MB” following his name on the title page, which is not typically used in association with his father. Further, the son composed far more secular music than the father.
The first measure of each b section in figure 3 shows an arpeggiated G major triad in the right hand above C major harmony in the left, which seems ungrammatical for this piece (and the period). We therefore assume that the right hand should have a 6/4 C major triad in this measure, thereby forming a sequence with the second measure.
We presume that Alcock is the author of the rondeau only, not of the tune itself. First, nowhere is Alcock's name associated with the pantomime, and it is doubtful that he was involved in the Drury Lane production. Second, his name appears on the object's version of the tune but is absent from all other versions. And one last note. A printed playbill from 1768 attributes the score of The Elopement to Charles Burney! This playbill is held at Princeton University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, C113 box 16. In 1830, the tune was described in Parke's Musical Memoirs as “Dr. Arne's”: Parke, Musical Memoirs, 2:209. We consider both of these sources to be misled, at least in part by the typical eighteenth-century combination of lack of information and fanciful thinking. A collection of “Comic Tunes” from the pantomime that was published by John Johnston (see below) provides an attribution for the overture only (Tommaso Giordano); no composer is listed for “Come Haste to the Wedding,” which appears on the last page of the print. The pantomime itself was attributed to Harvard but never printed. It was performed as an “afterpiece” to Shakespeare's Cymbeline on April 6, 1763, at the Theatre Royal (Drury Lane); see Van Lennep et al., London Stage, 4:987, and “An Account of the Piece Called the Elopement,” London Magazine, or Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer, no. 32 (April 1763): 199–201.
The pantomime is preserved in two formats at Carleton University: on microform at the MacOdrum Library (PN6111.T48 LOCAL), and on fifty leaves of manuscript paper at the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery (Larpent 223).
Comic Tunes in the Pantomime of “The Elopement,” 19.
Though the pantomime was an unprinted one-off entertainment, the tune “Come Haste to the Wedding” had a life of its own in print with several alternate titles (including “The Country Wedding” and “The Shepherd's Wedding”). The vocal duet edition can be found at the Morgan Library in New York (and a number of other places, including the Boston Public Library and Oxford University's Bodleian Library). Sadly, that edition is preserved without a title page or publication information, suggesting that it formed part of a collection. There is another version at the UCLA library published by C. S. Thompson that may or may not be the same as the Morgan Library edition. A print including the text only, titled “The Shepherd's Wedding,” is held at the British Library and available through Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. There is also a print from as late as 1820 at the Library of Congress, called “Come Haste to the Wedding: Dance,” which includes just the tune and a simple left-hand accompaniment (published in Boston by Graupner): https://www.loc.gov/item/2015562946/. It is unclear why the tune is sometimes published as a “shepherd's” tune, as, according to the summaries printed at the time (see note 13 above), there are no shepherds in the plot.
Ian Woodfield cites a “Violin concerto, with the admired air of ‘Come haste to the Wedding’” as part of the subscription series promoted by William Bird in Calcutta in March 1789; he also suggests that the repertoire of these concerts depended on the availability of printed amateur music in the city, in which case the Alcock tune was likely to have been available for sale there: Woodfield, Music of the Raj, 248, 143. William Bird was an Irish musician living in Calcutta in the 1780s, known for a collection of “Hindostannie airs,” The Oriental Miscellany, published in that city in 1789.
These facts about Wells's personal life are drawn from her own account in Aikman, Journal of a Voyage.
Place, Autobiography, 119. Place's interest in government economic reform, particularly in favor of welfare for the working classes, surely explains his interest in Smith, Locke, and Hume—and his decision to report such readings in his autobiography.
Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, 1:313–14.
See, for instance, OED Online, s.v. “repeat, v.,” accessed December 10, 2019, https://www.oed.com, esp. definition 5a.
Savile, Secret Comment, 103.
Her reading matter includes, in her own spelling, “The Prude,” “The Beautifull Pyrate,” “The Perplex'd Dutches,” and “Clarke's ‘Parraphras on the Evangellists’”: Savile, Secret Comment, 134, 137, 129.
Burney, Early Journals and Letters, 3:313. The Mrs. Thrale mentioned here and by Boswell is certainly Hester Lynch Thrale (1741–1821), a diarist, author, and patron.
Gibbon, Memoirs, 71. Also discussed in Fergus, Provincial Readers, 108.
Engelsing, Der Bürger als Leser, 384–429; Wittmann, “Was There a Reading Revolution.” William St. Clair's influential and slightly problematic tome is also worth examining in this context, as it argues that changes to copyright laws in England in particular affected the balance of old and new books in personal libraries across the country, making older books cheaper than newer ones for a time: St. Clair, Reading Nation. For an account of some of this argument's problems, see Saglia, review of The Reading Nation, and Kenyon-Jones, review of The Reading Nation.
See Michaelson, Speaking Volumes; De Bolla, Discourse of the Sublime; Raven, “From Promotion to Proscription”; Chartier and Bourdieu, “Comprendre les pratiques culturelles”; Seibert, Der literarische Salon, 360–69; and Faulstich, Die bürgerliche Mediengesellschaft, 29–44.
Williams, Social Life of Books, 20–21.
Stallybrass, “Books and Scrolls,” 46; Bannet, Eighteenth-Century Manners of Reading, 174–92.
Wittmann, “Was There a Reading Revolution,” 290. We will examine below the implicit value judgment in Wittmann's characterization.
Fergus, Provincial Readers, 108–17.
“Miscellaneous” was applied to reading strategies by Vicesimus Knox in 1788 in his Winter Evenings: Lucubrations on Life and Letters; see Bannet, Eighteenth-Century Manners of Reading, 189–190.
Sisman, Haydn and the Classical Variation, esp. 19–47; Moseley, Keys to Play, esp. 178–235; Mathew, “Interest and the Musical Histories”; and Mathew, “Interesting Haydn.”
Türk, Klavierschule, 398.
We would like to explain two aspects of the formal diagram that may be of interest to a select audience. First, we have chosen to view sections a and b as parts of the refrain. We recognize that this makes for a longer refrain than is typical (twenty-eight measures rather than the more common sixteen), but these sections never appear separately; when the refrain is written out, Alcock includes all twelve measures of b. Second, we have labeled couplets C and D as separate sections. Some might see this passage as continuous material, but couplet C ends with a six-measure descending flourish that feels rather rhetorically significant, particularly in that it echoes the beginning of the couplet. Further, the material that follows that flourish (couplet D) has slightly more melodic direction than we have seen in the previous thirty-three measures. And finally, lumping the two sections together would create a problem of proportion by comparison with the other couplets. But there is, admittedly, a simple reason for regarding them as forming a single section: their vocabulary is more alike than it is different, as both are governed by simple, limited (or, to some, insipid) melodic material and an Alberti bass.
Hepokoski and Darcy represent rondeaux using this pairing approach: Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory, 388–97.
The object is not alone in this preference. For contemporary use of the term “couplet” for rondos and rondeaux, see Türk, Klavierschule, 398, and Koch, Versuch einer Anleitung, vol. 2, section 4, ch. 4, in the discussion of aria. Johann Gottfried Walther and Friedrich Erhard Niedtens both use the term “clausul” for the nonthematic sections: Walther, Musicalisches Lexicon, 531–32; Niedtens, Handleitung zur Variation, 100. It is worth pointing out, though, that current analysis does prefer “couplet” for pieces of the rondeau variety. Hepokoski and Darcy use “couplet” for the pairing of refrain and contrasting section in what they call “rondeau”: Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory, 388–97, 611–14. See also Caplin, Classical Form, esp. 231.
We recommend that the reader consults the very thorough article “Rondo” by Malcolm S. Cole in Grove Music Online.
This description draws on three sources: Cole, “Rondo”; Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory, 388–97, 611–14; and Caplin, Classical Form, 231–41.
Thesession.org, an online catalog of tunes and a discussion platform for players of Irish and Scottish music, lists the following series of alternate names for the tune: “Cape Breton's, Come Haste To The Wedding, Fast Trip To Reno, Gigue Des Petits Moutons, Haste To The Sou'west, Haste To The West, Haste Ye Tae The Wedding, Hasten To The Wedding, Mary, Cut Your Toenails You're Tearing All The Sheets, Quick Trip To Reno, Rural Felicity, Thurot.” This site also compiles a list of seventy-two performances of the tune on seventy-nine tune sets. By comparison with many other tunes listed here, these numbers are not high, implying that “Come Haste” and its derivatives are known but not exceedingly popular. It is clearly a repertoire staple, however, as it has been listed on the site for seventeen years. See https://thesession.org/tunes/582.
See Montgomerie, “Bibliography,” 107, 114. The tune is number 42 and is titled “Carrick Furgus.” A tune titled “Carrick Furgus” exists today but is entirely different, as far as we can tell.
Thompson and Thompson, Thompson's Compleat Collection, 3:96. These Thompsons appear to be unrelated to George Thomson, who collected Scottish tunes by composers who may be well known to you in the first decade of the nineteenth century.
It is known from contemporary accounts that soldiers did quite a bit of dancing; see Camus, Military Music, 46. Bush's version is transcribed in two separate resources: Keller, Fiddle Tunes, 16, and Hendrickson and Keller, Social Dances, 12. Bush dated his manuscript collection September 28, 1779. Hendrickson and Keller suspect that Thompson's Compleat Collection (figure 7) was Bush's source.
The tune may have a current practical function as a marching tune performed by reenactment bands. Spotify, for instance, lists seven versions of “Come Haste,” six performed as jigs and one as a Revolutionary War marching tune, performed by the Nathan Hale Ancient Fife and Drums. The decision to categorize the tune in such a way appears to be historically appropriate, as, according to Raoul Camus, not everything that a fife-and-drums corps played was in a square meter: Camus, Military Music, 82–95. Vera Lawrence documents a “Freemason's March” in 6/8 from a New Hampshire tune book of 1730: Lawrence, Music for Patriots, 33. Perhaps the implied duple of a 6/8 is more adaptable to marching than a slower 3/4. Either way, we feel the need to point out that the last movement of Schumann's Carnaval may not be as counterintuitive as it seems.
Playford, English Dancing Master, 87. This modular approach is implied for later country dances by Hendrickson and Keller, Social Dances, 12. John Ogasapian discusses this approach to country dances yet more explicitly: Ogasapian, Music of the Colonial and Revolutionary Era, 102–3.
The “jump” only really exists in printed newspapers, where a story may start on one page and finish on another.
Jakob Ludwig, “Partitur-Buch voll Sonaten, Canzonen, Arien, Allemanden, Couranten, Sarabanden, Chiquen” (1662), Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2°, Heinemann-Nr. 2369, p. 27, http://diglib.hab.de/mss/34-7-aug-2f/start.htm?image=00032.
Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden, Mus.1-T-595, pp. 68–73, https://digital.slub-dresden.de/werkansicht/dlf/112521/73/. Howard Schott points out that “this sequence was Froberger's preference according to his friend Matthias Weckmann's note in the Hintze manuscript [1653?, held at the Yale University Music Library]”: Schott, “Froberger, Johann Jacob.”
Many differences between the Ludwig and Bulyovszky manuscripts are apparent both here and in the broader collections from which these excerpts are taken, particularly as regards the approach to elaboration. Ludwig's transcriptions are simple, hardly adorned with ornaments. He clearly tried to fit each suite onto one side of a single leaf in portrait format. (Note the compression at the end of the Sarabande.) Whether his preference for economy influenced his inclination toward starker textures cannot be determined. Bulyovszky's transcriptions, by contrast, take up many sheets in landscape format. They are far more elaborate, in both musical and scribal ornamentation.
See, for instance, Fuller, “Performer as Composer”; Levin, “Instrumental Ornamentation”; Crutchfield, “Voices”; Lang, “Ornamentation and Improvisation”; and Gossett, “The Written and the Sung.”
Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 135.
Marx, “Form in Music,” 80–81.
Dürr, “Schubert and Johann Michael Vogl,” 127.
On this curious pastime, see Moseley, Keys to Play, 124–25, and Zaslaw, “Mozart's Modular Minuet Machine,” 221. Moseley notes that musical dice games were attributed to Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Maximilian Stadler, and Joseph Haydn.
Quoted in Sisman, Haydn and the Classical Variation, 66. Quantz makes a similar argument in On Playing the Flute, 138–61.
Several authors briefly explain a number of broad differences between genres, including Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 291.
Mozart, Treatise, 215–25; Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 291, 163–78.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, letter to Leopold Mozart of February 2, 1778, in Mozart et al., Letters of Mozart, 460 (Mozart's emphasis). Here, Mozart is discussing the musical abilities of Aloysia Weber.
Kramer, Interpreting Music, 1.
Abbate, “Music—Drastic or Gnostic?,” 505. See also Cook, “Music as Performance,” esp. 207.
Bach, Versuch über die wahre Art, 1:119: “Aus der Seele muß man spielen, und nicht wie ein abgerichteter Vogel” (our translation).
See Best and Marcus, “Surface Reading.” See also Williams, Social Life of Books, 76.
Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 24; Bach, Essay on the True Art, 147: “Of course it is only rarely possible to reveal the true content and affect of a piece on its first reading.”
See Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 91–108. Celia Applegate has written about the importance of taste to a slightly later generation of amateur readers: Applegate, Bach in Berlin, esp. 125–72. We take this opportunity to emphasize that the difference between the first and last definitions provided above could be understood as the reason for the very existence of the whole field of historically informed performance.
These quotations are taken from Abbate, “Music—Drastic or Gnostic?,” respectively 511, 531, 511 (and 533), 533, 533.
See Ronyak et al., “Colloquy: Studying the Lied.”
See Goodman, Cultivated by Hand; Head, “‘If the Pretty Little Hand’”; and the body of work by Richard Leppert, including Music and Image.
Abbate, “Music—Drastic or Gnostic?,” 533.
Here, we are thinking of Ronyak et al., “Colloquy: Studying the Lied,” as well as the overarching and deep critique in Cook, Beyond the Score. Even Christopher Small's earlier critique of music as a written tradition takes the concert performance as its jumping-off point: Small, Musicking, esp. 110–19.
Barthes, S/Z, 4.
Le Guin, “Visit to the Salon,” 16. Here, a first-person narrator engages several interlocutors in a dialogue about eighteenth-century musical practice; one of these, it is implied, is Rameau's nephew.
Grove, Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies, 255.
See ibid., 236.
Beethoven, Letters, 2:804–5.
Le Guin, “Visit to the Salon.”
Here the object is thinking of Johnson, Listening in Paris, and Botstein, “Listening through Reading.” Weber, “Did People Listen,” also addresses this issue.
Because of its eighteenth-century origin, the object has little reference for the concept of “theory” in the academic sense, though it does intuitively understand topoi. In attempting to recall the term “topic theory,” it mistakenly uses language describing the division of topics in Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae: Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, 86. Editions of Isidore's encyclopedia, originally penned in the sixth and seventh centuries CE, were published in 1580, 1599, and 1797–1803; see ibid., 27. In the eighteenth century, Isidore was certainly known as an author even if there existed no recent edition of his central work.
Caplin, “On the Relation of Musical topoi,” 113–14. For the critique in question, see, for example, Agawu, Playing with Signs, and Allanbrook, “Two Threads.”
Gjerdingen, Music in the Galant Style, 6.
Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory, esp. 611–14, where the authors acknowledge the strong association between the rotational principle and the music that we consider ripe for desultory reading—rondeaux, rondos, variation sets, and the like.
“Recension: Zwey grosse Quartetten für zwey Violinen, Bratsche und Violoncell, verfertigt, und dem Herrn Doctor Brassier hochachtungsvoll zugeeignet von M. G. Fischer,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 2, no. 30 (April 23, 1800): 525–28, here 525–26.
Moseley uses similar language mostly in earnest to describe other genres from the object's era: Moseley, Keys to Play, 10.
Example 1 is transcribed from Mozart, Klaviersonaten, 1:40.
Marx, “Form in Music,” 64, 72. Other examples of analysis in this direction are too numerous to mention here in the particular.
On the opus concept, see Sisman, “Six of One.” Other work on cyclic integration includes Webster, Haydn's “Farewell” Symphony; Sisman, “Haydn's Solar Poetics”; and Dunsby, “Multi-piece in Brahms.”
It is unclear whether the object intended this pun.
Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 135.
A term invented by the object, and one that we quite like despite the difficulty of pronouncing it and its similarity to an ugly twentieth-century word for “race mixing.”
Locke, Essay for the Understanding, vii. Also discussed in Chartier, Order of Books, 12.
Ibid., viii. We leave it to the reader to assess whether Locke's prediction was correct. The practice he describes is currently called “proof-texting.”
Similarly, in his essay “Notes on Dilettantism” (1797), Goethe described a practice in which the dilettante “jumps over the steps, stops at certain steps which he regards as the end, and from which he thinks himself justified in judging of the whole; this prevents his perfectibility”: Goethe, “Notes on Dilettantism,” 77. Given the essay's general focus on dilettantes' creative production, it is likely that Goethe is addressing the activities not of a reader but of a writer—one who neglects parts of a process that he deems orderly and logical. His scorn for any desultory approach is nevertheless apparent.
Fleming, Exemplarity and Mediocrity, 91. The question of the balance between ethics and pleasure in a performer's decisions is a minefield. J. O. Urmson speaks of the duties of a performer to herself, to the composer, and to her audience, only briefly mentioning amateurs as a class of performer for whom the obligations are “somewhat relaxed” and “more license is justified”: Urmson, “Ethics of Musical Performance,” 163–64. Given that a great deal of music reading in the object's day was accomplished by nonprofessional amateurs and dilettantes, their ethical duties and performance practices (and again ours when playing their music) are worth deeper consideration.
Wittmann, “Was There a Reading Revolution,” 291.
Wittmann himself hints at this interpretation of Goethe's reception: ibid., 297.
See Williams, Social Life of Books, 69.
On literacy rates, see Hunter, Before Novels, 72. See also Jones, introduction to Women in Literature, 3.
Quoted in Warner, Letters of the Republic, 73–74.