- Musical historicism
Musical historicism signifies the use of historical materials, structures, styles, techniques, media, conceptual content, etc., whether by a single composer or those associated with a particular school, movement, or period. Musical historicism is evident to a greater or lesser degree in the music of all periods beginning with the Middle Ages and continuing through the present.
Musical historicism also denotes a theory, doctrine, or aesthetic that emphasizes the importance of music history or in which history is seen as a standard of value or determining factor (as in performance practice).
Meaning of "musical historicism"
The term "historicism" has acquired various, sometimes confusing meanings over a wide range of disciplines. The British philosopher Karl Popper, who disliked modern music and strongly preferred the works of Bach, Mozart, and Schubert, spoke of "the failure of the historicist propaganda for the modern in music." He opposed the socioscientific doctrine of historicism that discoverable laws of historical change make it possible to predict future developments. Repudiating the claim that Schoenberg was "an inevitable historical force", Popper dismissed the idea of producing art work "ahead of its time" (Gopnik 2002).
When referring to the arts, however, the term "historicism" generally denotes something distinctly different from the historicism targeted by Popper's critique. It designates "a style (as in architecture) characterized by the use of traditional forms and elements." (Merriam-Webster 2003). Historicism stands in contrast to modernism, "a self-conscious break with the past and a search for new forms of expression" (Merriam-Webster 2003). However, it should be noted that "historicism", thus defined, does not necessarily exclude such recently established traditions as atonality, whose earliest use can be dated to 1908 (the finale of Schoenberg's second string quartet). Nor does it exclude the possibility of strong historical influences in modernist works of art.
Another difficulty stems from the fact that distinguishing between the old and the new in music is not as straightforward a process as it might seem. The modernist music of Schoenberg, for example, draws abundantly on traditional elements and techniques, including the twelve tones of the chromatic scale, consonance and dissonance, variation, inversion, and retrograde, as well as traditional forms such as the concerto, suite, string quartet, string trio, symphony, and wind quintet, and sometimes is dependent on historical conceptual content (e.g., the biblical traditions undergirding Moses und Aron). Whereas the historicism of the Ancient Dances and Airs for Lute (1917–31) by Ottorino Respighi is readily apparent to the ear, since the composer drew directly on the works of 16th- and 17th-century composers, the historicism informing the Music of Changes (1951) by John Cage, based on the ancient Chinese I Ching, is deeply embedded in the compositional process (Tomkins 1976, 111–12).
The study of history and historical influence also raises fundamental questions about the nature of time. Many physicists, including Einstein, have maintained that the familiar division of time into past, present, and future is an illusion, from which it necessarily follows that "old" and "new" are terms as relative as "up" and "down" (Davies 2006, 9). Since concepts of time and history and the average lifespans of human beings living in different periods and cultures are variable, these, too, are factors that must also be considered.
These problems notwithstanding, even a superficial look at history reveals that historicism played a significant role in the creation of new music long before the stimulus afforded by the rise of musicology and the widespread publication and dissemination of modern editions and recordings of earlier music.
History of musical historicism
The historicist practice of including traditional melodies or fragments thereof in new compositions had become particularly widespread by the late medieval period. In the first complete polyphonic setting of the Mass by a single composer, the Messe de Nostre Dame (before 1365) by Guillaume de Machaut, the "Gloria in excelsis Deo" and "Credo in unum Deum" are still sung in plainsong. The Kyrie freely follows the structure of the liturgical melody it borrows in the tenor voice part. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei are also based on earlier chants. In the Credo, a plainsong melody is paraphrased in the motetus voice.
After Machaut's death in 1377, his life and music were commemorated in Armes amours / O flour des flours, a déploration in the form of a four-part double ballade with text by Eustache Deschamps and music by François Andrieu. The earliest known in a series of such musical memorials that allude to the styles of deceased composers, at the words "La mort Machaut" Andrieu deliberately imitates the sustained chordal style heard in the Gloria and Credo of Machaut's earlier Messe de Nostre Dame. This practice of alluding to the style of a deceased composer would establish a tradition that has continued for centuries (cf. Mort tu as navré by Johannes Ockeghem, composed in memory of Gilles Binchois; Nymphes des bois by Josquin des Prez, composed in memory of Ockeghem; the two apothéoses in memory of Jean-Baptiste Lully and Arcangelo Corelli composed by François Couperin; and Le Tombeau de Couperin composed by Maurice Ravel).
The legacy of medieval historicism has been considerable. For example, works incorporating a particular plainsong continued to be composed hundreds of years after the borrowed chant itself first appeared. Among the best known examples of this kind are compositions in which the familiar "Dies irae" sequence, taken from the Latin Requiem Mass, figures prominently. Written in the late Middle Ages and attributed to Thomas of Celano (d. 1256), this chant was set polyphonically by Antoine Brumel in the mid 16th century, but is best known to audiences today as a prominent inclusion in numerous 19th- and 20th-century scores, among them the finale of the Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz, the Totentanz and Dante Symphony of Franz Liszt, the Danse macabre of Camille Saint-Saëns, and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The practice of hymn-singing in the vernacular would set in motion an historical tradition that would resonate with composers for centuries to come. Among the first nations to embrace devotional singing of this kind was Germany, where Latin sequences were sung in German from around the beginning of the 14th century. The German Protestant hymn or chorale, in whose long development the names of Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach (see below) loom large, was a direct outgrowth of medieval German hymnody.
Strongly influenced by the charismatic example of St. Francis of Assisi, a type of vernacular hymn known as the laude emerged in the 13th century that set in motion a musico-historical tradition that would endure into the 19th century. Various Companie de Laudesi were eventually established to encourage devotional singing in Italian among everyday people, and the musical and theatrical performances that took place in their halls would give rise by the late 16th century (along with the liturgical drama and mystery play) to the oratorio.
The quodlibet, which traces its origins to the medieval practice of placing various preexisting textual or melodic materials in different voice parts, would also reverberate through the centuries. In late medieval examples, the borrowed materials thus juxtaposed could be both sacred (plainsong) and/or secular (e.g., trouvère tunes or folksong), sometimes producing incongruously humorous effects. This technique would engage the interest of German composers of the 15th and 16th centuries, and culminated in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the last (no. 30) of whose Goldberg Variations quotes two popular early 18th-century melodies. (See also centonization.) A 20th century example of this medieval technique is heard in the Cantate de Noël of Arthur Honegger, written for the Selzacher Passionsspiel, in a section of which four different carols are heard simultaneously.
Canon as a compositional technique has been embraced by composers of both vocal and instrumental music since the 13th century. (Canonic imitation) is evident in both the medieval motet and caccia mass, but today the best-known example of medieval canon is undoubtedly Sumer is icumen in, a rota which itself has influenced numerous composers in subsequent periods, among them Johannes Brahms, who imitated its structure in his own Canon, op. 113, no. 13, and a group of British composers (Oliver Knussen, Robert Saxton, Robin Holloway, Judith Weir, Alexander Goehr, Colin Matthews and David Bedford) who collaboratively composed a large set of Variations on "Sumer is icumen" in 1987. Closely related canonic types are the French chace and the Italian caccia, the latter being one of the earliest examples in a long history of musical works evoking the hunt.
Another important unifying device that emerged in the 13th century was the ostinato, a particular musical phrase that is "obstinately" repeated in succession. The tenor or pes[disambiguation needed ] in "Sumer is icumen in" is an ostinato, and many later examples can be found in 16th-century dance music and the ostinato motet. More recent usages of ostinato occur in the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor of Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 582); the Berceuse, op. 57 of Frédéric Chopin; and the fourth movement of the Konzert, op. 38, of Paul Hindemith.
Renaissance and early baroque
Historians refer to the transitional period between the Middle Ages and early modern world as the Renaissance. The term "Renaissance", which entered the English language before the second half of the 19th century, is taken directly from the French word meaning "rebirth", since, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, these two centuries represented "the great revival of art and letters, under the influence of classical models, which began in Italy in the fourteenth century and continued during the fifteenth and sixteenth." In this light, the Renaissance as a whole was a period in which historicism was the dominant mode of artistic creativity.
Some forms of historicist practice met with little immediate success. Nicola Vicentino, author of L'antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica (Ancient Music Adapted to Modern Practice, 1555), set about to revive the lost chromatic and enharmonic genera of Greek music theory through the invention of the arcicembalo and the arciorgano—keyboards furnished with six manuals whose octaves were subdivided into thirty-one keys, thus allowing for the performance of music composed in half-steps and microtones. (Microtonal composition, however, has been revived by numerous twentieth- and 21st-century composers, including Charles Ives, Alois Hába, Harry Partch, and Krzystof Penderecki.)
Renaissance historicism was a primary catalyst for the revolutionary stylistic changes that led, among other things, to the creation of opera. In their attempts to emulate the mythical powers of ancient music, Jacopo Peri and his 16th-century contemporaries, with little more to stimulate their imaginations than extant literary works and treatises, pictorial representations, and other indirect evidence, sought to imitate through appropriate musical means the ideas and emotions suggested by newly composed dramatic poetry based on Classical models. Peri's now fragmentary Dafne is widely regarded as the first true opera.
Considerable controversy had arisen about the best way to realize Classical musical ideals. Girolamo Mei and Vincenzo Galilei, antiquarian theorists affiliated, like Peri, with the Florentine Camerata, contended that the ancient Greeks obtained their marvelous musical effects through melody alone, and were prepared to abandon polyphony entirely in the belief that its "diverse and contrary parts" would obscure the meaning and efficacy of the texts chosen to be set. Although he never took such a radical course in his own music, Claudio Monteverdi, on the authority of Plato's Republic, still believed that words should be "the mistress of the harmony and not the servant." Like his earlier and later contemporaries, the subject matter of his three surviving operatic masterpieces — L'Orfeo, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, and L'incoronazione di Poppea — is drawn from Classical mythology and history.
The literary Italian madrigal of the 14th century freely served as a model for Renaissance authors, whose creative efforts, in turn, would inspire their composer contemporaries, including Jacob Arcadelt, Philippe Verdelot, and Adrian Willaert. The 16th-century revival of the madrigal, first in Italy and later in England, owed little or nothing to Trecento musical styles. Frequently provided with an amatory text and written in five or six imitative voice parts, by the early 17th century the madrigal had developed into an extremely sophisticated type, particularly in the hands of Carlo Gesualdo, Claudio Monteverdi, William Byrd and Thomas Morley. Monteverdi's late madrigals increasingly take on the character of monody, a style resulting from deliberate attempts by the Florentine Camerata to rediscover the music of the ancient Greeks. Although the madrigal subsequently fell out of fashion, it was revived by Arthur Sullivan, Edward German, and, in a modern orchestral context, by Bernard Rands.
At the beginning of the 17th century composers were still using traditional bass and harmonic patterns and dance types originating as early as the late 15th century as the basis of new music. The romanesca, which inspired numerous dance variations and vocal improvisations, attracted composers as late as Claudio Monteverdi, and Salomone Rossi. The harmonic pattern of the folia, a dance probably of 15th-century Portuguese origin, continued to hold the interest of composers not only in the 17th and 18th centuries, among them Marin Marais, Archangelo Corelli, and Johann Sebastian Bach, but in the nineteenth, twentieth, and early 21st centuries as well, including Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Carl Nielsen, and David Solomons. Other renaissance variation and dance types that continued to be used by post-renaissance composers include the canzona and canzonet (e.g., those in the Années de pèlerinage of Franz Liszt); chaconne or passacaglia (e.g., the finale of Brahms's Fourth Symphony and act 4, scene 5 of the opera Wozzeck by Alban Berg); pavane (Pavane pour une infante défunte by Maurice Ravel); and moresca or Morris dance.
An important 16th-century ancestor (along with the canzona) of the fugue, the ricercare occupied an important place in the keyboard works of Girolamo Cavazzoni, Claudio Merulo, and Antonio Frescobaldi. It would reach its zenith in J. S. Bach's Musikalisches Opfer (1747), and would be revived in the 20th century by Bohuslav Martinů, Antonio Casella, and Igor Stravinsky (Cantata, 1951–52, based on a medieval text).
The intimate relationship between music and dance that existed in Greek drama was remembered and renewed during the Renaissance and early Baroque with the development of the ballet. Although little had survived of the music of Classical drama, courtly festivities featuring music, dance, costume, and stagecraft grew increasingly elaborate in the 15th and 16th centuries, and by the 17th century the French court, under the patronage of the "Sun King" Louis XIV, ushered in the first great age of ballet (see also Ballet Comique de la Reine, ballet de cour, balletto a cavallo, boutade, carrousel, danse equestre, intermezzo, mascarade, trionfo). Jean-Baptiste Lully created music for a variety of new courtly dance types that would become highly stylized and find their way into the suite, sonata, and symphony of later centuries (e.g., the minuet). Lully also introduced the ballet into French opera, in which subject matter drawn from ancient myth, legend, and history was predominant (see also opéra ballet). In England, the masque fulfilled a similar courtly function. Composers such as Henry Purcell (Dido and Aeneas), Christoph Willibald Gluck (Orphée et Eurydice), and Ludwig van Beethoven (The Creatures of Prometheus) variously sustained this classically inspired tradition, which has endured into modern times in such works as Job: A Masque for Dancing by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Bacchus et Ariane by Albert Roussel, Apollon musagète by Igor Stravinsky, and Harmonie der Welt by Paul Hindemith. (Many modern ballets have also been based on preexisting scores inspired by Classical themes, e.g., the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune of Claude Debussy was transformed into a one-act ballet by Sergei Diaghilev.)
In the field of sacred music, the Mass continued to provide a variety of opportunities for composers to create new works while respecting ties to centuries-old musical traditions. The items of the Gregorian plainsong mass could be set polyphonically and performed in accordance with established liturgical cycles. All the movements of a cantus firmus mass could be based on a single Gregorian melody (or even a preexisting secular tune), which was usually heard in the tenor. In some masses, the borrowed melody was distributed among the various voice parts, freely varied, or paraphrased with great imaginative skill, as in the Missa Pange lingua (c. 1520) of Josquin des Prez, based on a 13th-century hymn attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas. Tenor melodies could also be "carved out" of the vowels of a name or short text using the solmization syllables derived from the 11th century Guidonian hexachord, or the hexachord itself might serve in the same capacity, as in the Missa Ut re mi fa sol la of Palestrina. Relatively few masses used a newly invented cantus firmus, whereas one of the most frequent types, the parody mass, was composed of various parts and sections from preexisting polyphonic works.
Eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries
In subsequent centuries, the historicist practice of borrowing clearly identifiable preexisting musical materials retained its importance. Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries incorporated traditional chorale melodies into numerous of their major works in such genres as the cantata, chorale prelude, chorale fantasia, chorale fugue, chorale motet, chorale variations, oratorio, and Passion. Like composers before them, Johannes Brahms and Max Reger composed variations on themes taken from earlier composers (e.g., Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24, and Variations on a Theme by Haydn, op. 56a; and Reger's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Bach, op. 81, and Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart, op. 132). Stravinsky derived much of the musical material for his Pulcinella from the work of various eighteenth composers.
Creating new music that closely follows the style of an earlier composer or period has provided a creative outlet for both major and minor masters. Mozart, whose music was richly informed by his contact with the antiquarian music circle of Baron Gottfried van Swieten, exhibited a particular gift for the baroque style in such works as his Suite in C Major (sometimes subtitled "in the style of Handel"), KV 399 (385i), which includes an ouverture, allemande, and courante. (A fragmentary sarabande and Eine kleine Gigue, K. 574 also document his skill as an historicist composer.) In a letter to his father of 7 February 1778, he proudly states, "As you know, I can more or less adopt or imitate any kind and any style of composition" (Solomon 1995, 119).
A more eclectic approach to historicism in which multiple historical style influences are evident was adopted by Louis Spohr in his Symphony No. 6 in G Major, op. 116 ("Historical") "in the Style and Taste of Four Different Periods": 1. Bach-Handel'sche Periode, 1720, Largo - Grave; 2. Haydn-Mozart'sche Periode, 1780, Larghetto; 3. Beethoven'sche Periode, 1810, Scherzo; and 4. Allerneueste Periode ["very latest Period"], 1840, Allegro vivace. Though not characteristic of his later style, Sergei Prokofiev paid tribute not only to the "classicism" of Haydn but also to the baroque gavotte in his Symphony No. 1 in D Major, op. 25 ("Classical").
The fusion of historical and emergent styles, forms, techniques, and content in a given work is encountered with great frequency in the music of most periods. The fugue, for example, whose origins can be traced to the imitative counterpoint of the late Middle Ages and which reached full maturity in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, figures prominently in the musical styles of a number of important composers in the 19th century and beyond, including Beethoven, Mendelssohn (whose early works were modelled on symphonies of C. P. E. Bach), Reger (whose works for solo cello, viola or violin closely imitate Bachian forms), Shostakovich, and Hindemith.
A closely related instrumental genre that first appeared in the late Renaissance, the toccata achieved particular prominence in the keyboard works of Buxtehude and J.S. Bach and has since been revived by such distinguished composers as Schumann, Debussy, and Prokofiev.
Other romantic and early 20th century composers among the many who demonstrated either explicit or implicit historicist affinities are Barber, Bartók, Britten, Marius Casadesus, Chávez, Ferdinand David, Fauré, François-Joseph Fétis, Grieg, d'Indy, Ives, Kreisler, Paderewski, Pfitzner, Manuel Ponce, Poulenc, Respighi, Satie, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, and Wagner.
Historicism in contemporary music
Paralleling the work of contemporary architects, designers, authors, and other artists who have openly revisited the past, a growing number of late-twentieth and 21st-century composers have adopted the historicist approach to composition, employing to a greater or lesser extent materials, structures, styles, techniques, media, and conceptual content associated with previous eras. In contemporary art music, the entire gamut of historical style periods has served as a creative resource.
Given that tonality itself is deeply rooted in pre-modernist historical traditions, tonal types of minimalism, post-minimalism, and contemporary world music may all be subsumed in varying degrees under the rubric of historicism.
Interest in musical historicism has been spurred by the emergence of such international organizations as the Delian Society, dedicated to the revitalization of tonal art music, and Vox Saeculorum, whose composer members have a specialized interest in baroque idioms (Colburn 2007).
Some contemporary historicist composers, similar to the 18th-century literary figures Thomas Chatterton, James MacPherson (the Ossian poems), and Horace Walpole (The Castle of Otranto), have written under a pseudepigraphic ascription, attributing their work to other composers, either real or imaginary. These include Winfried Michel, author of the impressive "Haydn Forgeries" (Beckerman 1994; Lindskoog 1996) and Roman Turovsky-Savchuk, whose original lute and viola da gamba compositions in the baroque style were sufficiently convincing to be mistaken for works by masters of the composer's own mythopoeic invention (Colburn 2007), and led to accusations of "trivializing musicology" (Smith 2002).
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