A Handbook of Style in Music by George Sherman Dickinson

Da Capo


But what is style? Even its etymology involves a classic confusion; it may pertain to a pen or a column (which perhaps explains its journalistic connotations). In aesthetics it may be defined as the totality of whatever analysable features a work of art may have, and hence the totality of its criticizable features. If so, Professor Dickinson is surely very logical in defining his aim as (1) a method of thought about music, and (2) a tool of criticism. His careful dichotomy implies that critics and thinkers about music are (like choirs and places where they sing) two different things. If so, both categories will benefit from this book, which seems to me a paragon of its kind.

   However, like many another paragon, it is not very lovable. Its Platonic process of collection and division will surely divide - indeed, alienate - more readers than it collects. I doubt if music can readily or readably be rendered in such divisions as these­150 pages of note-form, organized on some 20 levels of classification from main heads down to footnotes. Heading 5 for example, “Progression in Pattern”, is considered (a) per se, (b) as percept, (c) as process; each is in turn subdivided and pursued in the same vein down through seemingly endless capillaries to a level not far from hair-splitting. Here is an entirely typical sample from the median range:


5c(6) (c) The inductive process proceeds through­

                       1 The projection of the comprehensive pattern of aesthetic pace from the

                          local fluctuations of tensity


   The trouble with taxonomy, as with taxidermy, is that its subjects tend to be either frantically elusive or else dead. It is fortunate that their treat­ment here (as Professor Joan Stambaugh's lucid introduction explains) involves not merely a termin­ology but the formulation and definition of new concepts (such as “tensity” and “aesthetic pace” in the example above). For these, and for its careful and detailed system of classified thought, the book is truly noteworthy. Music's bare bones could not be more articulate.


The Musical Times, Aug. 1970 (p. 807) © the estate of eric sams