Guide des Genres de la Musique Occidentale

Eugène de Montalembert and Claude Abromont

Paris, Fayard-Lemoine, 2010


          In a previous issue of Musicology Today (No.5, FUSIONS), we have presented the recent publishing of Guide des formes de la musique occidentale signed by Claude Abromont and Eugène de Montalembert. The two French authors are also the writers of another dictionary edited almost simultaneously at the same publishing house, Fayard-Lemoine, this time a lot ampler, taking into account the subject - Guide des genres de la musique occidentale. Even though they are represented by two distinct volumes, the two guides share a natural connection, similar to how musical genre relates to form. Sonic architecture and abstract structure, musical form cannot exist in the absence of genre, which, as a typology with a broad spectrum is associated with a certain language of well-defined stylistical features. These are thus two theoretical contributions that complete each other and fulfill an informative function which surpasses that of a simple dictionary, although in both cases the presentation of concepts respects the alphabetical order, typical for dictionaries. Eugène de Montalembert and Claude Abromont deliberately chose the title of Guide for both their publications, since these represent a model towards the examined notions rather than an explicative presentation of musical forms and genres.
          In Guide des genres de la musique occidentale the authors demonstrate an almost encyclopedic inclination in broaching every notion. The clear, fluent, detailed discourse in Guide des formes de la musique occidentale is also found in the theoretical contribution dedicated to musical genres. Every musical problem benefits from a thorough description, a connection to the historical context in which it appeared and its evolution throughout time and of course, useful practical references selected from important works in the Western repertoire.
          The number of cited works is indeed impressive, each genre having its own examples (we’re talking about over 300 genres) and this constitutes probably one of the volume’s advantages, whose theoretical relevance is coherently and naturally combined with its practical one.
          Throughout the 1200 pages, 331 musical genres are broached, some of these, such as the genres of concert, symphony, sonata, opera or ballet, being given special attention due to the complexity and multitude of manifestations throughout history. To offer just a single example from these broader genres, symphony is defined, its origins are traced, its typology and sub-types are described (symphonie concertante, sinfonietta, programmatic symphony or extended symphony), the authors continuing the presentation with a detailed incursion in the history of the genre, both chronologically and geographically (the development of the symphony in Germany, Austria, France), in relation to certain composing figures, representative for this genre (such as Haydn, Beethoven or Hector Berlioz) or stylistically. The reader thus has at his or her disposal more research perspectives on the subject, which sketch at the end a complex image on every musical genre, especially since every subchapter contains practical and relevant examples of significant musical works. The same approach is found throughout the entire volume, depending, of course, on the complexity of each concept, although, for example, in the case of quartet (analyzed in the broader frame of chamber music genres) we were surprised to notice a less thorough examination than that dedicated to the genre of concert or symphony.
          From A to Z, a multitude of musical genres are explored, from instrumental to vocal, dancing, religious or epoch-specific ones. We thus encounter medieval genres such as organum or sequential, genres found only in the twentieth century, such as electronic music or improvisation, but also less known genres, but no less exciting (for instance, dice games used as musical composition or charivari) or references to the way an important aesthetical category such as the comic is found throughout history in musical genres. Each notion is analyzed from different perspectives, according to its evolution, the versions it embodied, the instrumental or vocal necessities it involved and the practical guises in which it is found.
          Similar to the previous guide of Western musical forms, the present one addresses a large portion of the audience, since professionals, mere music lovers or readers interested in deepening their knowledge of musical structures can find useful, interesting and well-documented pieces of information.
          Eugéne de Montalembert is professor of musical analysis, music history, paleography, counterpoint and ethnomusicology at the Dijon Music Conservatory and together with Claude Abromont, professor of analysis and musical methodology at the Superior Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris, collaborated in 2001 to the volume Guide of Musical Theory, also published at the Fayard – Lemoine. Claude Abromont is also the author of a Music Audition Guide (Petit précis du commentaire d’écoute) edited in 2008 by Panama and re-edited last year by Fayard.

Ioana Marghita
(English Version by Simina Neagu)