Vesuvian Organology in Charles Burney’s General History of Music

TitoloVesuvian Organology in Charles Burney’s General History of Music
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsBlažeković, Z
EditorEichmann, R, Jianjun, F, Koch, L-C
Book TitleKlänge der Vergangenheit. Die Interpretation von musikarchäologischen Artefakten im Kontext = Sound from the past. The interpretation of musical artifacts in an archaeological context
Series TitleStudien zur Musikarchäologie 8; Orient-Archäologie 27

In April 1773 Charles Burney advertised his forthcoming General history of music, from the earliest ages to the present period, emphasizing that the book will be illustrated “with original drawings of ancient and modern instruments, engraved by the best artists”. When all four volumes were published between 1776 and 1789, only the first—discussing music of antiquity—included engraved plates with some thirty ancient instruments. The three plates were produced by the English painter and draughtsman Charles Grignion, Jr. (1752/54–1804) and the French engraver Pierre Maleuvre (1740–1803). Instruments were copied mostly from archaeological monuments that Burney could have examined during his trip to Naples and Rome in 1770. Eight instruments originated from the wall paintings excavated in Herculaneum, which he encountered at the royal museum in Portici, and his engravers copied later from the volume Le pitture antiche d’Ercolano e contorni (1760), published in the series Le antichità di Ercolano esposte. In the copying process, images were altered in several ways; the scene was either reduced to the detail with musicians or the instrument was represented in isolation. Influenced by the concerns with scientific accuracy which the ideas of Enlightenment brought to the fore and also his own thinking about problems with iconographic evidence, Burney made a decision to extract instruments from their original visual context either in order to obliterate the artistic mistakes on the original representation when he decided that an instrument was depicted in an unconvincing playing position, or because the instrument on the original image was not used in the actual performance and the whole composition was irrelevant for demonstrating the playing technique. Although Burney was concerned with the presentation of an accurate historical account of music history, neither in the main text of the volume nor in descriptions of included images did he mention when the reproduced artworks were made, and by extension there is no precise dating of the represented instruments. He did not consider regional differences of instruments or their transformations over long periods of time. Hence his general survey of Mediterranean music history during ancient times is documented with organological iconography originating almost exclusively from south-Italian sources dated to the first and second centuries AD. Although he was aware of writings by Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), he did not implement his ideas about dating Greek, Greco-Roman, and Roman art in his narrative of music history. From tables in Burney’s volume, images of ancient instruments were later copied both in music historical literature (Jean-Benjamin de La Borde, Essai sur la musique ancienne et modern, 1780) and in general reference works (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3rd to 6th eds.; Abraham Rees’s Cyclopædia, or, Universal dictionary of arts, science, and literature, 1819). [Zdravko Blažeković]



© 2007-2012 MOISA: Società internazionale per lo studio della musica greca e romana e della sua eredità culturale.

Sito disegnato da Geoff Piersol a aggiornato da Stefan Hagel