Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2014. Pp. xii + 228. Hb, $65.00.
The present decade may well be remembered as a golden age of scholarship on the Jesuits. Not only is the number of high-quality studies of the Society continually increasing, but many of these studies are published with excellent production values that will add to their appeal in years to come. The present volume, the latest addition to the series “Early Modern Catholicism and Visual Arts,” continues this trend, with a richly illustrated and attractively produced result. Almost two thirds of it is devoted to the pre-suppression Society’s musical undertakings in Italy, and especially in Naples, with the latter part of the volume looking at North America.
Emanuele Colombo provides a close look at the libretti of oratorios produced by the Society and reminds us of the enduring tension in the relationship of Baroque Jesuits to music. Anthony R. DelDonna’s first essay puts the Collegi dei Nobili of Naples and Milan on center stage, even while pointing out the decline of musical performances in these venues in the eighteenth century—part of what was a Europe-wide trend in the Society’s schools. In Paologiovanni Maione’s examination of what he calls “sacred itineraries,” we are treated to a lengthy and revealing excerpt from the singer Bonifacio Percorone’s memoirs that details the political and social context in which musical appointments were made in eighteenth-century Naples. In this essay, as in many others in this collection, manuscript sources and rare archival materials have been marshalled to provide a closer look at Jesuit musical undertakings.
Auslia Magaudda and Danilo Costantini mine the Gazzetta di Napoli, a late-Baroque periodical, for data on Jesuit-staged musical performances throughout southern Italy that was otherwise lost during the suppression, and use the newspaper to document events such as earthquakes that impacted music venues. Andrea Perrucci was a theorist of theatrical production as well as a producer of musical performances, and Francesco Cotticelli develops the links between Perrucci’s Jesuit education and his complex relationship to both the drive for innovative performance and the perceived need for censorship. In Francesca Seller’s and Antonio Caroccia’s essay, archival sources have been employed to provide a much more nuanced account of the production of oratorios and theatrical spectacles; among the nuggets unearthed are hints of how “Turkish” music was employed in this era to supplement performances in a region not far distant from Ottoman territory. Nicolò Ceva, who will be a new name even to many who study the music of the period, emerges in Anthony R. DelDonna’s second essay in this collection as a prolific composer who provided a Jesuit Marian congregation in Naples with an oratorio in 1705.
The transition between the volume’s initial focus on early modern Italy and its later examination of a much broader range of Jesuit musical activities in North America cannot be made entirely seamless, but the addition of the latter essays gives the reader an opportunity to reflect on the continuities and contrasts in the Society’s understanding of its broader mission and on the recurring interest in musical production among the Jesuits themselves. Kenneth Stilwell’s essay on a seventeenth-century adaptation of a French “Noël” for Huron use draws on the study of comparative rhetorical traditions and an examination of different belief systems, tracing the survival of the resulting song into the eighteenth century. The emergence of a music culture in the fledging Georgetown College of the early nineteenth century is reconstructed in Ann Harwell Celenza’s study, which takes the reader all the way to the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Arturo Toscanini in 1930. Michael A. Zampelli, S.J., moves into emotionally freighted contemporary ground with his discussion of a 2008 revival of a Jesuit drama situated in the initial aftermath of some of the priestly sex abuse scandals. While the essay is not entirely successful in its presentation, the idea that art works exploring themes of reconciliation and intimacy, as this production did, need not be “agenda-driven vehicles for instructing (and even manipulating) Baroque audiences” is worthy of further exploration.
The diversity of environments and musical products examined here suggests the breadth of Jesuit cultural undertakings, but also raises the question of whether common elements of a Jesuit approach to music can even be satisfactorily identified. However, the depth of the research presented offers many directions in which this question might yet be taken. Both the scholar and the more general reader will appreciate the detailed bibliography and index in this volume.