Although interdisciplinary research has long been valued by scholars, genuine opportunities for specialists from different domains to share their research with others working in similar geographical and chronological areas remain relatively scarce. In part, this conference—held on 17–18 March 2018 and organized by a historian (Tom Hamilton) and two musicologists (Edward Wickham and Alex Robinson)—represented an attempt to address this tendency. Centred on the age of the Wars of Religion (1550–1650), it aimed to provide a meeting point for historians and musicologists to exchange ideas about the links between music, politics and religion across Europe during this turbulent period. Yet there was another significant impetus for organizing such an event in March 2018: the release of the CD recording by Edward Wickham and the Choir of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge of psalm settings from Claude Le Jeune’s Dodecacorde of 1598 (Mon Dieu me plaist: Psalms by Claude Le Jeune; Resonus res10206). The opportunity to use this circumstance as the inspiration for an interdisciplinary conference devoted to musical culture in the Wars of Religion was simply too good to miss. Benefitting from the fine facilities of the Ramsden room and the picturesque surroundings of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, the conference comprised ten papers divided into five sessions that were spread across the weekend; crowning these contributions was an engaging lecture-recital that investigated the politics and polyphony of Le Jeune’s psalms, given by Edward Wickham and the choir of St Catharine’s College in the college’s beautiful 18th-century chapel on the Saturday evening. Le Jeune’s Dodecacorde surfaced at various points throughout the conference, its contents seemingly providing a unifying thread for the overall event. For example, in an insightful paper exploring why melodies from the Huguenot Psalter were sometimes transformed into high art genres, Daniel Trocmé-Latter noted that Le Jeune’s psalms were largely composed to appeal to French citizens of all creeds (not just Protestants), and that their very survival can be attributed to the intervention of Jacques Mauduit—a Catholic who did not share Le Jeune’s religious beliefs, but who nonetheless prevented guards from destroying the manuscript in the Paris siege of 1590 because of the quality of the music itself. Likewise, Melinda Latour’s fascinating examination of moral song—a genre that flourished in the aftermath of the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre (1572) and which cut across politico-religious boundaries because of its emphasis on toleration—showed that Le Jeune’s collection was one of many from this period which explicitly recognized music’s capacity to unite factions. On a broader level, such observations provided a backdrop for the question as to whether music neutralized or instead encouraged confessional divides. Tom Hamilton’s investigation into the censorship of seditious songs in late 16th-century France clearly showed that music was exploited by the Catholic League to exaggerate discord, but also that the criminal justice of the Parlement had only a limited capacity to suppress this activity. On the other hand, David van der Linden’s foray into the soundscapes of early 17th-century Montpellier revealed that music (and sound) could either unite or divide Protestants and Catholics: the removal of church bells, for example, elicited very different reactions from the local inhabitants depending on whether all or only some of them were destroyed. The issue of music’s role in shaping confessional identities was closely related to another recurring theme throughout the conference, namely that of memory (both collective and individual). Kat Hill’s examination of music in Dutch and German Anabaptist communities showed that while the earliest songs of this sect betray the experiences of their violent formative years (from the 1530s onwards), paradoxically, when they were no longer being persecuted for their beliefs, the focus shifted towards nostalgia and the memory of such suffering. In a similar vein, Emilie Murphy not only illustrated how English Catholics used music to memorialize key figures in their community (as in the setting to music of the last words of Henry Garnet, a Jesuit executed for his complicity in the Gunpowder Plot), but also revealed how some priests (like John Thewlis) wrote songs to inspire faith in their followers even while they were awaiting their own execution. As Edward Wickham underlined in the ensuing discussions, such questions of memory and identity provide an interesting complement to the musician’s literal memorization of the music itself—both the intensive rehearsal of pieces within a short timeframe, and the more gradual process of learning melodies in one’s childhood which then become ingrained in adult memory. How did the religious and political climate manifest itself in the music that was written during this tumultuous period? David Potter’s examination of art and popular music from 16th-century France considered how music responded to the theme of war, and he explained the various ways in which this could be achieved (via the choice of mode, the imitation of battle noises, or simply through the literal words of the song’s text). In turn, Margaret McGowan focused on various French royal entries and court ballets from 1572 to 1622, analysis of which revealed the lengths to which poets, artists and musicians went in order to instil concord in the minds of those attending such spectacles. Similar observations were advanced by Alex Robinson in his discussion of music in the Avignon entry of Cardinal Ottavio Acquaviva d’Aragona in 1594, while Peter Bennett’s fascinating contribution, devoted to the Te Deum ceremony and royal entries in Louis XIII’s reign, demonstrated how these events had complicated and multi-layered meanings, many of which have been misunderstood by previous scholars because of assumptions from later periods about what constitutes grandeur, royal authority and propaganda. Many thanks are due to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge for providing such a wonderful venue to explore these diverse but interrelated subjects, as well as to the speakers for their varied and stimulating contributions and to the Choir of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge for their beautiful renditions of Le Jeune’s music. In addition, the organizers would like to express their gratitude to the various funding bodies that generously supported this conference, namely the Society for the Study of French History, the Society for Renaissance Studies, Music & Letters, and the University of Cambridge (through the Trevelyan Fund from the History Faculty, and a Music Faculty Grant). The conference not only asked and answered many key questions, but also, more importantly, drew attention to the fact that scholars from different disciplines often have much to gain from their parallel appreciation of similar fields of enquiry, even if they sometimes approach problems from a slightly different angle. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
Early Music – Oxford University Press
Published: May 24, 2018
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