MyAesthetics

The Preface in Early 17th-Century Music Prints

When around 1600 composers stepped onto the scene of writing about music, in their printed scores we encounter composers’ prefaces as a new para-textual element. Paradigmatic in this respect were prefaces such as Emilio de’Cavalieri’s on the Rappresentazione di anima e di corpo (1600) and those of Giulio Caccini on Le Nuove Musiche (1602 and 1614); the composers here legitimated or authorized their printed work or the (new) style of composing or singing; or else they were seeking to exercise control over the work’s reception.
Becoming quickly established, this textual genre opened further perspectives for an aesthetics-centered discussion of ongoing musical practices. The emergence of composers as commentators on their own works not only expanded the circle of actors in the field of musical writing; rather, the status of composers also was also altered—they now began to express themselves in writing about their own work, as authors.
In their contents, the first prefaces of this sort were closely connected to the central changes in the history of composition that took place around 1600: the appearance of the solo song with chordal accompaniment, the so-called stile nuovo. The intensified turn of this style to affective  performative expression revealed the incapacity of printed music to depict such expression in musical notation, independently of the performance. The prefaces here offered an ideal medium for supplementing, in written form, central information on the performance and reception of the work. At the same time, the broad absence of a vocabulary for describing musical configuration and (ideal) effects made possible an animated experimentation in the field of writing about music..
This project will focus on prefaces tied to the innovations in compositional history surrounding the stile nuovo. I will inquire into a) strategies for verbalizing musical problems within the terms set by the medium of print; b) the conceptualization of the prefaces’ authors and readers and the status of printed music in relation to its actual musical performance; c) the specific textual elements involved in emotional expression and impact; and, connected with this, d) the development of a vocabulary for musical-aesthetic experience and evaluation in this period.