Volume 1, August 2004
A Critical Review

by Shanon P. Zusman

Studies in Italian Sacred and Instrumental Music in the 17th Century. By Stephen Bonta. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2003. [xii, 338 pp. ISBN 0-86078-878-4 $99.95 (cloth).]

1. Introduction

[1.1] The early history of stringed bass instruments — which includes the earliest incarnations of the violoncello, bass viol, and double bass — and their musical repertories have received significant attention in the past twenty-five years. Among the most important and oft-cited research is the scholarship of Stephen Bonta. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find a current study on this topic without reference to one of Bonta's articles.1 The publishers of the Variorum Collected Studies Series have, moreover, acknowledged the significance of Bonta's research by devoting their latest volume in the series to his musicological studies.

[1.2] This collection includes sixteen of Bonta's essays, ranging from his first publication in the Journal of the American Musicological Society (1967) to his most recent article from the symposium Barocco Padano (2002). 2 The volume, which includes a brief preface from the author and an index, is divided into four categories: Liturgical Practice and Sacred Music, The Violoncello and Other Stringed Instruments, Notation and Style and General. Curiously, the essays under each category are not organized in chronological order; perhaps it would have benefited the reader to follow Bonta's theories in a more chronological order, as it is his tendency to build on his previous scholarship. In the present compilation, the Ashgate editors do not use a continuous pagination. Instead, in order to avoid confusion for future citations, Bonta's articles maintain their original pagination, as originally published. As a different source of confusion, however, Ashgate has failed to furnish an accurate Table of Contents, as it lists many of the original citations in incomplete form. For instance, volume numbers for articles from Early Music, Galpin Society Journal and Newsletter of the Catgut Acoustical Society have been omitted, publishers for two studies which appear in books have been neglected and the title of one of the books is even misspelled. 3

[1.3] Six of Bonta's sixteen articles merit particular attention by organologists and performers of stringed bass instruments. These articles (Chapters IV-IX) are grouped under "The Violoncello and Other Stringed Instruments" category. Upon close inspection, though, one finds that Chapters VI: "Catline Strings Revisited" and VII: "Corelli's Heritage: The Early Bass Violin in Italy" are, to a great extent, re-workings of Bonta's earlier research, reprinted here as Chapters IV: "From Violone to Violoncello: A Question of Strings?," V: "Terminology for the Bass Violin in Seventeenth-Century Italy" and IX: "Further Thoughts on the History of Strings." Chapter VIII, "The Making of Gut Strings in 18th-Century Paris" is an enlightening commentary and translation of three entries from Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond D'Alembert's Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonne de sciences, des arts et des métiers. 4 In the following discussion, both strengths and weaknesses in Bonta's three pioneering essays concerning the early history of the bass violin will be pointed out, and I will suggest some areas which require further investigation.

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