E-mail to Miriam Whaples concerning
A History of Western Music
August 4, 1994
Claude Palisca prepared the third (1980), fourth (1988), fifth (1996), and sixth (2001) editions of A History of Western Music. As his papers reveal, the process of revising such large and influential textbook was complex. The content and bibliographies had to be updated to incorporate the latest research. Decisions were made about what to include and what to leave out, choices that were naturally affected by changes in the discipline and in society at large. (For example, the first edition of HWM devoted scarcely any attention to female musicians, an omission that would be unacceptable fifty years later.) Numerous professors offered critiques and suggestions, usually arising from their own experience in the classroom. The publisher, W.W. Norton, requested many of these comments, while others arrived unsolicited. Still others came in the form of published reviews. Palisca considered all opinions carefully, and he wrote a number of long and thoughtful responses; of these we have selected his reply to Miriam K. Whaples of the University of Massachusetts. This exchange took place in 1994, using the newfangled medium of electronic mail. Similar correspondence regarding earlier editions employed old-fashioned letters. Palisca also corresponded extensively with his editors at Norton, Claire Brook and Michael Ochs.
Starting with the third edition, HWM was accompanied by a collection of scores, the Norton Anthology of Western Music. From the fourth edition on, the anthology was also available in recorded form. Selecting, editing, and introducing each piece was a major task, in part because some had never been recorded. (In other cases, record companies complicated matters by refusing to license the best performances.) HWM and the printed and recorded anthologies were closely intertwined, so changes in one often necessitated changes in all three. Other revisions stemmed from trends in the textbook publishing industry. Early editions of the book consisted chiefly of continuous prose, but over the years, the number and quality of the illustrations increased, and more of the text was set off in boxed vignettes, making the book seem less intimidating to readers with short attention spans.
We are grateful to Palisca’s widow, Elizabeth Keitel (herself a former member of the music history faculty at Yale), for permission to use his unpublished correspondence in this exhibit.