This publication is the revised and expanded edition of a study that previously appeared in French: Les ducs d’Arenberg et la musique au xviiie siècle. Histoire d’une collection musicale (2010). In turn, this was the result of Marie Cornaz’ exploration of the music collection held in the private archives of the Arenberg family at Enghien (Hainot region – Belgium). The study was translated from French into English by Anna J. Davies. Marie Cornaz is curator of the music collections at the Royal Library of Belgium and Senior Lecturer at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Cornaz’s research of this collection began in the 1990s, and resulted in bringing it to scholarly attention with the publication of two catalogues in the Revue Belge de Musicologie 58 (2004). The first outcomes of her research of thousands of works are represented in the aforementioned book.
The investigation of private music collections can provide musicians and musicologists with previously unknown or forgotten repertoire, and thus enrich our knowledge and understanding of compositions, their history, and performance. One of the major findings in more recent decades of such a private collection was the music collection (including many compositions by the Bach family) of the Berlin Sing-Akademie, which had become inaccessible as a result of the Second World War, until it was discovered in Kiev in 1999 by a small group of Bach scholars. In 2001, the collection was returned to the private ownership of the Sing-Akademie, and has been held in depot in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, where it is now available for readers to consult. Another, more recent finding, related to a composer originating from the Low Countries, was done in the library of the Conservatorio di Musica Santa Cecilia in Rome, where a previously unnoticed collection with compositions of Ghiselin Danckerts was uncovered – all compositions of which musicologists earlier thought that they were lost.
The large amount of works investigated by Cornaz asked for in-depth-study of the most outstanding of these works, as well as the question how these and others had found themselves in the family archives. The Dukes of Arenberg and Music in the Eighteenth Century explores these questions and describes the development of a music collection created by one of the most influential European noble families under the Ancien Régime. This unique collection of sources, including prints and manuscripts from all over Europe, began to expand in the last years of the seventeenth century, and grew gradually throughout the eighteenth century. The outcomes of Cornaz’ studies include the discovery and identification of previously unknown works by e.g. Italian composers such as Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Pietro Torri.
The foreword (with a family tree on page 11) introduces the reader to ‘the story of a discovery, a catalogue, and the genesis of a study’; the introduction describes the history of the Arenberg family and the history of its library and music collection. The three chapters of this publication are each devoted to the development of the family’s music collection by one of its dukes: Léopold-Philippe, fourth Duke of Arenberg (1708–1754) (Chapter I); Charles-Marie-Raymond, fifth Duke of Arenberg (1754–1778) (Chapter II); Louis-Engelbert, sixth Duke of Arenberg (1778–1820) (Chapter III). In the modest epilogue (207–2012), Cornaz pays attention to Prince Paul d’Arenberg (1788–1844), the family member with the greatest interest in music, although music was also very important to his father, Louis-Engelbert, especially after he had been blinded in an accident. Paul became a clergyman (Honorary Canon in Namur at Saint-Aubin Cathedral), and composed about thirty works, including a Missa Brevis in G, and a number of piano compositions, obviously inspired by Cramer and Clementi.
The Arenberg family acquired numerous manuscripts and prints, not only of well-known musicians, such as the Italian composers mentioned above and Lully, Händel, Pergolesi, C. Ph. E. Bach and Johann Christian Bach, but also of many composers who are nowadays less known, such as Pietro Antonio Fiocco and his family. Cornaz also discusses instruments that were supplied to the Arenberg family and may have been made by famous instrument makers, such as the Antwerp harpsichord-makers Ruckers and their colleague from Brussels, Jérôme Mahieu.
The book is beautifully produced and consists of everything a critical reader wishes to find: a fine structure, excellent prose, many full colour reproductions of highest quality, and, above all, a lot of information. This information is not only related to the music collection itself, but also to the role played by the Dukes of Arenberg as patrons of the arts, including their social networks and connections to numerous personalities, institutions, and societies, such as freemasonry. Finally, the reader finds a detailed bibliography, including sources available in the Arenberg Archives and Cultural Centre, the State Archives in Mons, and the State Archives of Belgium (Brussels), as well as an exhaustive list of publications. All in all, this is a lovely book which will easily serve as an adornment on the bookshelves of readers with an interest in western music of the eighteenth century.