on November 23, 2001
This is the first volume of the Norton Anthology of Western Music Third Edition). It covers Music of the Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods, while the second volume deals with Music from the Classical, Romantic Contemporary and Modern Periods. The book offers a selection of scores (86 in total) from several composers and it spans over a period of more than two millennia (earliest score from 408 B.C., latest from 1752 A.D.). The scores that are included are representative of most composers that made an impact through these two millennia (at least according to the editors): Leonin, Perotin, Machaut, Landini, Dunstable, Duffay, Ockeghem, Des Prez, Willaert, Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Dowland, Byrd, Palestrina, Luis de Victoria, Orlando di Lasso, Caccini, Peri, Gabrielli, Schutz, Froberger, Frescobaldi, Scarlati, Purcell, Buxtehude, Lully, Couperin, Corelli, Vivaldi, Rameau, J.S. Bach and G. F. Handel. In this volume, 60 eponymous composers (and several anonymous) are included. The only noticeable absence on a first reading of the index is perhaps that of Boccherini. However, given the restrictions of space that are inherent to any written medium, the Anthology still manages to remain quite comprehensive. On the other hand, very few, if any, comments or analyses of the scores are offered for each of the pieces (always following the music). Pieces that involve vocals (i.e. excerpts from operas, cantatas, masses) are supplemented with an English translation, besides the original text. The scores themselves are 'full' scores and not piano reductions. Naturally, this causes some scores that involve richer orchestration (i.e. the excerpt from Bach's B Minor Mass "Et expecto resurrectionem") to be printed in small fonts, which in turn may take its toll in the readability of the music. However, since most pieces of the period involve smaller orchestras, the problem is not as much of a deal as it is with volume two. Additionally, if one always remembers the restrictions of space that accompany any written medium, it is clear that it is a decision to be made- it's either small fonts or fewer scores.
Two notes of warning: first, the book, much like volume two, is not accompanied by any music. It contains simply the printed scores. A good choice for supplementing the two volume set, is Hannig's Concise History of Western Music with its 4 CD set. Although the CD set does not contain all music of the two volumes, it does contain a good portion of it and has a user friendly, easy to understand cross-reference system with the two volumes. Second note of warning: as any anthology, this one, too, is merely a representative sample. It is not a 'Greatest Hits' collection-for example you won't find Pachelbel's "Canon in D", Vivaldi's "Four Seasons", Bach's Brandemberg Concertos or his Passions or Handel's "Messiah" in it. Only one complete score of a larger scale piece is included, that of Bach's cantata "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (BWV 140). Otherwise, the anthology consists of excerpts of larger pieces (whole movements or introductions for example), and shorter complete pieces (i.e. Bach's Praeludium et Fuga in A minor, BWV 543), that from the editors perspective present a more or less complete landscape of Music up to where Vol. 2 picks up from (Late Baroque/Early Classical). Naturally, omissions are inevitable, especially when one looks for balance. The four stars (and not five) are mainly because of the choice of scores at some points, at the choice (or omission) of composers at others, and, mainly, for the lack of more comprehensive commentaries and analyses of the pieces.