Catherine Jones, Literature and Music in the Atlantic World, 1767-1867. Edinburgh Studies in Transatlantic Literatures. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. Pp. 278. £70. ISBN 9780748684618 (hb), 9780748684625 (web-ready PDF).
It's possible to indicate here only a fraction of the riches contained in this impressive and attractive book. It represents prodigious reading in social and cultural history and politics, as well as music and literature, crossing over between America and Europe. Among its attractions are the illustrations, well chosen for the ration of two per chapter. Frontispieces and title-pages from original publications feature, among them William Billings's New-England Psalm-Singer (Boston, 1770: Figures I.1 and I.2) and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (Figure 4.2, its date printed as 'Year 85 of The States - 1860-61') together with topical cartoons and ballads.
Given the book's extensive range of references, the lack of a bibliography seems regrettable and can be problematic. The endnotes total over 1,000. No list is given of bibliographical abbreviations. Unless one retains the information, where such abbreviations as PTJ for papers of Thomas Jefferson occur at a distance from their original citation, tracking down the details necessitates searching through the notes, perhaps supplemented by an index search, to find the abbreviation's first use. Presumably the apparatus reflects the design of the series. Hordes of politicians, society hosts and hostesses, writers and musicians are summoned throughout the text: within a single paragraph triggered by an account of Madame de Staël's acquaintance with Jefferson we meet de Staël herself, with her 'fervent defence of liberty in opposition to Napoleon' (68), followed by Francis Jeffrey and Sir James Mackintosh apropos favourable reviews of her work in the British press, together with the publisher John Murray, who reprinted it in 1813 - and Napoleon, whose troops pulped it in 1810; then Washington Irving as editor of the Analectic Magazine (which reprinted Jeffrey's and Mackintosh's reviews), followed by the Prussian Ambassador Baron von Humboldt, at whose house Irving 'had met the exiled de Staël' (69), and finally the American naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry, subject of a biographical memoir by Irving in 1813. (Jones sees Irving's views on friendship among nations as developed from 'de Staël's art of analysing "the spirit of nations … " by applying her theory and practice to the American condition' (69).) With so many figures populating the narrative, I would have welcomed a short biographical footnote on first mention, or an appendix list of names with biographical notes to instruct or remind us: information of this kind tends to come only at a later point in the text.
The book forms a complement to Fubini's Music and Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe: A Source Book (Eng. transl. ed. B. Blackburn: see my review in French Studies, l (1996), 29). The balance in Jones's study is more equally divided between quoted extracts and commentary on the quoted extracts. The Introduction is characteristic of her method. It opens with the sale of Jefferson's personal library, containing some 13 books on music. A network of connections and reflections sparked by his musical interests is then (re)constructed, drawing on sources including eighteenth-century treatises (Geminiani on the art of playing the violin) and historical and critical writings on music (Burney's General History of Music and Present State of Music volumes) alongside recent musicological studies, as well as early American sources and modern studies of transatlantic literature and politics. Five substantial chapters follow, some bearing evocative titles such as 'Magic Numbers and Persuasive Sound' (Chapter 1) and 'The Life in Music' (Chapter 3), while others are rather more revealing of their content, as Chapters 2 ('Cosmopolitanism and the Nation') and 4 ('Chants Democratic and Native American', foregrounding 'slave songs'); Chapter 5 reaches to the heights of 'The Musical Sublime' in foregrounding the aesthetics of music with special reference to the much discussed concept of musical sublimity (Mendelssohn and J.S. Bach, St Matthew Passion figure prominently).
Familiar landmarks of music history are viewed from less familiar angles. Thus Weber's Freischütz (herald of nineteenth-century Romantic German opera) appears in a case-study of Irving's involvement in Livius's English translation of the libretto (Chapter 2). Famous eighteenth-century operatic quarrels are evoked in their American dimension: Jones notes in her Introduction that '[Benjamin] Franklin's diplomatic mission to France coincided with the War of the Gluckists and Piccinnists'), although Franklin 'refused to take sides' (25). And Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with its celebrated choral setting of Schiller's 'Ode to Joy' figures in Chapter 4 in the context of American Transcendentalism. Notable writers on music (Burney in the late eighteenth century and E.T.A. Hoffmann in the early nineteenth, for example) appear in the context of their American resonances. In throwing light on the links between a fledgling States and Europe on the one hand, and on America's own musical tradition on the other, the book constitutes a model of interdisciplinary study.
Susan Wollenberg, University of Oxford, Faculty of Music
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