I recently had a conversation with a very important scholar regarding the compositions of 16th century composers.
She was working towards new ways of categorizing and identifying 16th century composers. Previously, compositions were published primarily anonymously and in anthologies. With the invention of the printing press, so she claimed, composers began to publish works individually. And she claimed that each composer had a distinct style which could be easily identifiable, at least, by her.
I asked if the composers themselves described the distinct styles of one another. She said “only vaguely.” As in, composers during this time don’t really seem all that interested in naming their styles in contrast to others. This makes me think that individual expression is absolutely not apart of their world. It is apart of ours and we are forcing it upon theirs.
So, based on the readings of my other encounters with the composers of this time, I wondered whether this kind of analysis “defining distinct styles of expression” was a-historical. I didn’t want to push the issue, as the context hardly seemed to call for it.
Encounters like these convince me all the more that I need to do a doctorate in musicology to write a “history of expression in music.”