Home > Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 > Masterworks and Context

Masterworks and Context

It is one of the paradoxes of musicological research that we generally have become acquainted with a period, a repertoire, or a style through recognized masterworks that are tacitly or expressly assumed to be representative. Yet a ‘masterpiece’, by definition, is unrepresentative, unusual, and beyond the scope of ordinary musical activity. A more thorough and realistic knowledge of music history must come from a broader and deeper acquaintance with its constituent elements than is provided by a limited quantity of exceptional composers and works. Such an expansion of the range of our historical research has the advantage not only of enhancing our understanding of a given topic, but also of supplying the basis for comparison among those composers and works that have faded into obscurity and the few composers and ‘masterpieces’ that have survived to become the primary focus of our attention today. Only in relation to lesser efforts can we fully comprehend the qualitiues that raise the ‘masterpiece’ above the common level. Only by comparison can we learn to what degree the master composer has rooted his creation in contemporary currents, or conversely, to what extent original ideas and techniques are responsible for its special features. Similarly, it is only by means of broader investigations that we can detect what specific historical influence the masterwork has had upon contemporaries and younger colleagues, and thereby arrive at judgements about the historical significance of the master composer.

[Excerpted from The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance by Jeffrey Kurtzman. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp 102-103.]

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.