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Edited by Elaine Keillor.

Ottawa, Canadian Musical Heritage Society, c1983.
(Canadian Musical Heritage, Volume One.) Distributed by Canadian Musical Heritage Society, 36 Elgin St., Ottawa, ON, KIP 5K5.
246pp, paper, $30.00.
ISBN 0-919833-01-X.

Reviewed by Robert E. Wheeler.

Volume 12 Number 5
1984 September

This worthwhile volume includes piano music written up to the last decade of the nineteenth century. By current standards, much of this music may seem trivial and dated, but it is only fair to remember that the piano music of this period was dependent on the developments in related areas such as the manufacturing and availability of adequate instruments, the economic constraints of music publishing, and the skill of the average musician. The majority of the scores reproduced are geared to the adventurous amateur, providing agreeable diversion in a salon setting. The technical demands, with few exceptions, are moderate, the musical idiom clearly based on established European models. Reflecting social dictates, dances predominate: polkas, gallops, mazurkas, waltzes, youthfully ebullient and delightful to perform. Certain innovative devices employed by popular European artists, such as Sigis-mond Thalberg in the 1840s, were emulated by the French-born Sabatier and Ernest Gagnon, the latter a versatile composer who displayed the influence of Field and Chopin. Another musician, similar to the incomparable Liszt in his virtuoso command of the keyboard, was Salomon Mazurette (1847-1910) who toured extensively in Europe and North America. His audaciously programmatic variations on "Home, Sweet Home" is only slightly superior to Francis Kotzwara's noisy "The Battle of Prague," which in 1790 was a phenomenal success. Storm imitations, aided by sweeping chromatic scales in the bass, were the rage. Even celebrated composers adopted these puerile gimmicks in order to keep wolves and creditors from the door. James Hewitt, who immigrated from England to New York in 1791, also consolidated his reputation with his highly evocative "Battle of Trenton."

Program music, with its immediate popular appeal, was encouraged by publishers intent upon remaining solvent. Needless to say, the illustrative principle in music is of long standing. One thinks of the madrigals of Jannequin, Marenzio, the charming "Ordres" of Couperin, or the onomatopoeic keyboard pieces of Rameau, such as "La poule" or "Les tricotets." Vivaldi's concertos abound in picturesque imagery, as does Telemann's description of frogs and crows in his F major suite for four horns, two oboes and strings, not to mention Strauss's bleating sheep in Don Quixote and the exciting music of Berlioz, Liszt, and others. Nostalgic sentiment also had its devotees. Pietism, or "the cult of feeling," enjoyed a wide following, for whom beautiful music consisted of symmetrical tunes swathed in facile, stylized figuration. Such listeners and performers disdained contrapuntal complexities and wallowed in pieces that enabled them to luxuriate in a nocturnal melancholy and a vague religious yearning.

On the whole, music of the nineteenth century was shaped by a romantic subjectivity that soon led to absurd extremes. A few composers, like George W. Strathy (included in this volume) continued to display the genteel and urbane manner of Mendelssohns "Songs Without Words." Others, notably Romain-Octave Pelletier, sought to improve musical tastes and wrote pieces with more intellectual content, including music for the organ. Perhaps the most outstanding composer of this era was Calixa Lavalle'e, a personal favourite.

Any good social history of music shows how the creative spirit is conditioned by changing tastes and the whims of fashion. The Canadian Musical Heritage Society is to be commended for placing music within a clearly defined cultural context. Many will welcome the preservation of piano selections that may continue to provide pleasure. There is a spring-like freshness about much of this music that evokes a less jaundiced age. Future volumes should be warmly received.

Robert E. Wheeler, Gananoque, ON.
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