For all that has been written about Renaissance Florence, we know relatively little about its musical life, its religious life, and the aspirations of its average citizens. This book contributes significantly to an understanding of all of these by documenting and interpreting the corporate patronage of an important Florentine musical repertory over a period of some 200 years.From the late thirteenth to the early sixteenth centuries at least
twelve lay confraternities sponsored a widespread musical activity involving a specialized network of singers and instrumentalists. The meticulous records kept by these companies reveal a wealth of
information about the musicians' conditions and patterns of activity, the central role of music in the companies' vernacular liturgy (especially as conditioned by bequests), and vital performance practice issues such as the role of instruments in vocal performance, the shift from monophonic to polyphonic practice, and the interaction of written and unwritten musical traditions. Because the companies were, in many respects, both a microcosm and characteristic manifestation of this remarkable
Renaissance city, the author also seeks to explain how mendicant spirituality, guild society, and devotional images and imagination provide the essential context for understanding the function and
significance of laudesi practice and repertoire. This book will be welcomed not only by musicologists, but by Italianists and late medieval and early modern scholars in general.
`it is refreshing to find one [book on musical patronage in Italian states ] devoted to the important centre of Florence ... Such scrupulously researched study of archives and sources certainly contributes greatly to our understanding of the musical form of laude spirituale whose historical importance has previously been scantly recognised ... the historically inclined reader will glean much from this well-written and beautifully presented account of a
microcosm of Florentine life in the Middle Ages.
`there is much praise in Wilson's study, and little to criticize ... Merchants and Music is exceptionally lucid in organization; the research, both with primary and secondary sources, is meticulous, and the writing is clean and shapely ... this is a work that will be read with profit and enjoyment by all scholars of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance ... I add my personal encomium for a book that demonstrates so admirably the continuing need for solid,
archivally based studies of the social and cultural contexts of music
Pamela F. Starr, University of Nebraska, Notes, March 1994
`Blake Wilson's book takes a broader approach to a complex subject and presents, with a wealth of documentary evidence, the results of what appears to have been a systematic and comprehensive search through the Florentine archives...Blake Wilson's important book helps to illuminate one of the most fascinating manifestations of Florence's cultural history.
Giuliano Di Bacco, Music and Letters, Vol 75, No 1, February 1994
Blake Wilson's book is a welcome and long-overdue attempt to present, in one workable-sized volume, a study that places this musical phenomenon solidly within the religious, social and economic framework that shaped it. As such it is a significant contribution to the field. The author's understanding of the problems inherent in such a study is clearly articulated in the introduction to the book. Coming more than a full century after the discovery of the
oldest extant laudario with music, and 50 years after Bartholomaeis and Monti, Blake Wilson's Music and Merchants is an important contribution to scholarship. (This review is continued below as it has more
than a 1,000 characters)
`Its value lies primarily in presenting, in a more comprehensive way than has hitherto been done, the musical and liturgical practices of the Florentine laudesi within the religious, social and economic sphere that necessarily influenced both the form and the practice of their rich musical and religious life. It is a splendid accomplishment.
Cyrilla Barr, The Catholic University of America, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 119, No. 1, 1994
`insightful book ... Wilson develops the argument for his thesis in a straightforward structure which moves from the general to the specific ... The reader is rewarded not only by Wilson's insights into the interaction of laudesi companies with their social, political, and economic setting, but also by his inclusion of documents and extensive references to primary resources.'
William R. Bowen, University of Toronto, Confraternitas, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 1994