In the eighteenth century polyphony—from simply being a term denoting a musical technique—became an evaluative-descriptive concept, following this path in association with the idea of civilization. Retracing Burney’s steps as a music historian and a music critic, the article shows how the Musical Doctor adopted a specific kind of narrative developed by Scottish conjectural historians that saw history as unfolding through several specific stages, progressively abandoning simplicity for the complexities of civilization. This seemingly linear narrative is complicated both by showing how making every music fit into this linear scheme was not easy, and by bringing forth the arguments developed especially by Scottish literati in order to explain why their native musical tradition could be considered equal or superior to Western art-music. The discourse, with Rousseauian echoes, that allowed the association between simplicity and positive values that were to be opposed to the excesses and depravity of civilized life, was articulated through the intellectual tools developed during the debate about luxury that raged through the eighteenth century. Nestled in the luxury debate, the non-literate music tradition that in non-Western locations had been considered as an instance of ‘barbarism’ now stood for a noble ‘simplicity’, whose value consequently reversed making artlessness a possible element of sublime beauty. The contradictions in Burney’s attitude towards non-Western musics and national European musics—on the one hand tirelessly collecting information about music-making from any corner of the world and on the other hand promoting only those values that made multi-part music the emblem of musical civilization—will serve to explain the interplay between ideas related to polyphony, civilization, and national musics in the eighteenth century.

Writing about Polyphony, Talking about Civilization: Charles Burney's Musical 'Corns and Acorns'

Semi M
2022

Abstract

In the eighteenth century polyphony—from simply being a term denoting a musical technique—became an evaluative-descriptive concept, following this path in association with the idea of civilization. Retracing Burney’s steps as a music historian and a music critic, the article shows how the Musical Doctor adopted a specific kind of narrative developed by Scottish conjectural historians that saw history as unfolding through several specific stages, progressively abandoning simplicity for the complexities of civilization. This seemingly linear narrative is complicated both by showing how making every music fit into this linear scheme was not easy, and by bringing forth the arguments developed especially by Scottish literati in order to explain why their native musical tradition could be considered equal or superior to Western art-music. The discourse, with Rousseauian echoes, that allowed the association between simplicity and positive values that were to be opposed to the excesses and depravity of civilized life, was articulated through the intellectual tools developed during the debate about luxury that raged through the eighteenth century. Nestled in the luxury debate, the non-literate music tradition that in non-Western locations had been considered as an instance of ‘barbarism’ now stood for a noble ‘simplicity’, whose value consequently reversed making artlessness a possible element of sublime beauty. The contradictions in Burney’s attitude towards non-Western musics and national European musics—on the one hand tirelessly collecting information about music-making from any corner of the world and on the other hand promoting only those values that made multi-part music the emblem of musical civilization—will serve to explain the interplay between ideas related to polyphony, civilization, and national musics in the eighteenth century.
2022
Semi M
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11585/840076
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