Arrangement as Musical Entertainment
To understand Kambra‘s work better it is important to remember that until the invention of radio and gramophone around the turn of the twentieth century, piano arrangements fulfilled the important social and cultural function of providing aural entertainment in the domestic sphere. It is no coincidence that the dedicatees of this publication are two women: this kind of simple musical entertainment in the domestic sphere, particularly in the salons of the upper middle classes, was deemed particularly appropriate to women.
Often decried by music critics, arrangements were effectively consumer items: mass-produced, ephemeral, and generally not very carefully made. In fact, some awkwardnesses in the harmonization may support this blanket judgment. In addition, the distant provenance of the song would have added a certain fashionably exotic veneer to this arrangement: it is, in a very literal sense, a musical chinoiserie.
Nonetheless, Barrow‘s criticism is perhaps a little harsh, since Kambra in fact presents each song twice, once only the melody with an approximate transliteration of the Chinese text–the raw material, as it were–followed by the harmonized version of the song with English words fitted to the music. The arrangement is clearly geared toward flexibility–playable by "piano–forte or harpsichord," as advertised on the front page–and accessibility. It seems that Barrow would have stressed the educational side over and above the edificatory side of the transcription and would have wished for a more exclusively scholarly approach, whereas Kambra clearly tried to please two different kinds of audiences at the same time.
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Voltaire and China (Jennifer Tsien)
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