Performing Vice and Virtue

Last week was a lot of fun, and I have to thank Melinda LaTour for it. Ms LaTour organised a panel on Performing Vice and Virtue in Late Renaissance Europe at the Renaissance Society of America’s annual meeting in Berlin. She gave a paper on ‘Repetitions of Virtue: Music Pedagogy and Ethical Capacity in the Quatrains de Pibrac en musique’ in which she argued, among other things, that the musical repetition in strophic settings might have the function of facilitating the repeated performance of virtue. Dr Catherine Deutsch’s discussion of Annibale Guasco’s Ragionamento … a D. Lavinia sua figliuola della maniera del governarsi ella in corte focussed on hitherto overlooked passages and chapters, and argued that “repetition of proper acts” (such as performing music) became embodied as habits and virtue.

It was down to me to provide the vice, in ‘Vice and the Villotta in the Sixteenth Century’. My main example was the Primo libro de villotte del fiore (1557) by Filippo Azzaiolo, dedicated to Abbot Pandolfo Rucellai. Rucellai was a bit of a scallywag, it seems. In the early 1540s, his maternal uncle, the humanist Giovanni della Casa, himself no stranger to vices, chastised Pandolfo for gambling so excessively that he threatened his brother’s portion of the family estate. He claims that Pandolfo has stopped practicing the virtues of youth, like music, in favour of gambling and womanising. The villotta book dedicated to Pandolfo in 1557 might suggest that he was back on track to virtue. The content of the book—songs with thinly veiled sexual metaphors, and even insults to living persons—means that is not entirely clear. On the one hand, moralists condemn the villotta for its sexual content, and on the other, we know that ‘lowbrow’ genres (low stylistic register for ‘low’ content) were enjoyed by a wide audience—including humanist academicians. It might seem at odds with what a modern reader would expect of an abbot, but it seems to have been entirely in keeping with the musical habits of a young nobleman in the church. It was one way to continue to perform aristocratic masculinity.

Thanks again to Melinda LaTour for organising the session, and to Prof. Jeanice Brooks for chairing.

And a positive review for the Sexualities volume!

This is a lovely end to the year. Renaissance Studies will publish a glowing review of the volume I co-edited with Katherine McIver and Linda Carroll, Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy (Ashgate, 2014). I had such a lot of fun planning and hosting the conference. [Aside: the conference website was deliberately simple and is now very dated.] A few years later, I decided to see whether there was interest in publishing a volume. I am so grateful that Linda and Katherine agreed to work with me on that collection. I enjoyed the process very much, and learned so much from working with them—and from Erika Gaffney, our commissioning editor at Ashgate. And of course, we had great contributors, too.

‘”Farò quel che mi piacerà”: Fictional Women in Villotta Voice Resistance’

My contribution to Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy ed. Melanie L. Marshall, Linda L. Carroll and Katherine A. McIver (Ashgate, 2014) is now available to the public courtesy of UCC’s institutional repository. Please do download and read it!

‘I will do what I want’, so Toni, a young woman, informs her father about his plans for her marital future. This line from a sixteenth-century villotta by a little-known actor-musician, Alvise Castellino, confounds much of the scholarly consensus around early modern female autonomy. Popular entertainment like Castellino’s villotte bears out the findings of recent archival studies by Linda L. Carroll, and Emlyn Eisenach, that women from the lower echelons of society had significant input into their marriages. Castellino appears to have specialised in solo performances of multi-character songs, and his women characters are outspoken and challenge patriarchal norms. His 1541 collection of villotte—his only known publication, and the only collection of its type to contain so many songs with women’s speech—was dedicated to Duke Ercole II d’Este and may have had particular significance at the ducal court of Ferrara, where the duke and Duchess Renée de France were engaged in battles over her authority and speech. The comic treatment of songs in women’s voice resonates with the fraught relationship between the duke and duchess, in particular Ercole’s struggle to control René and thereby control his relationship with France.

 

Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy Published

A stack of three copies of Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy, ed. Melanie L. Marshall, Linda L. Carroll, and Katherine A. McIver. The front cover is uppermost. The cover art is Titian's Venus with the Organ Player (c.1550) from the Prado, Madrid. This painting shows a male organist at a small chamber organ. He is seated on the edge of a bed, and looking back over his right shoulder at the pudenda of the nude Venus. She is reclining on a sumptuous velvet cloth covering the bed. Her left hand caresses a small dog. She wears bracelets on each wrist, and a necklace. Her curly blonde hair is up. In the background is a painting of a fountain and a tree-lined avenue.

Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy, ed. Melanie L. Marshall, Linda L. Carroll, and Katherine A. McIver

This new book, co-edited by UCC Lecturer in Music and Marie Curie Fellow, Dr Melanie Marshall, with Linda L. Carroll and Katherine A. McIver, explores how the arts shape the erotic and the sexual. Taking medieval and early modern Italy as its focus, the authors follow a wide cross-section of subjects as they imagine, experience and strive to regulate the sensual in fields as diverse as religion, painting, literature, acting, musical performance and humour.

The result sheds light on a world very like our own: as economic, religious and political upheaval coalesced into a new European social order, the foremost artists, musicians and playwrights rubbed shoulders (and more) with cross-dressing actors, pimps, moralists and papal reformers. Sexual autonomy was sought, celebrated and veiled, subverted and sold, satirized and sentimentalized.

In a period before the emergence of formal definitions that encourage us now to perceive homosexuality and heterosexuality through a lens of difference, early-modern Italian culture makers like Titian, Giorgione, Vecchi, Boccaccio, Ruzante, Castellino, and even distinguished patrons and reformers like Pope Leo X and Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, were engaged in creating fluid and stimulating representations of human love and lust, capturing in their art the full realities of the sexual activity they themselves knew. Their realisations can inform our perspectives today on both early modern Italian art and culture and on modes of contemporary sexual expression.

Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy, edited by Melanie L. Marshall, Linda L. Carroll and Katherine A. McIver is published by Ashgate.
ISBN: 978-1-4094-6468-6. Regular price €60, website price €54. http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781409464686

Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy Coming Soon

The volume on early modern sexualities that I have co-edited with Prof. Linda L. Carroll and Prof. Katherine A. McIver has just been sent to Ashgate’s production department to be printed! I’m very excited! The essays are marvelous, of course, and it now bears a comprehensive index, courtesy of Samantha Bassler. Thank you to our contributors: Catherine Baxter, Paul Schleuse, Catherine Lawless, Anthony Cummings, Flavio Rurale, Christophe Brouard. And a special thanks to my co-editors Katherine McIver and Linda Carroll.

Gaga Out

The volume on Lady Gaga that I co-edited with Martin Iddon (Leeds), Lady Gaga and Popular Music: Performing Gender, Fashion, and Culture, is now out! Exciting stuff! And I’m already thinking about my next dip in to Gaga Studies–still not “Gagad out” yet. That will be a paper on Gaga, liveness and social media. It’s a bit of a change from writing about Gaga, cake and ice cream, and a big change from Italian Renaissance sexualities (my other big project at the moment).

Talking of cake, not long after kissing the proofs of my Gaga chapter good bye, I found that Lady Gaga had indeed sent Gaga cakes to collaborators: V Magazine, Zedd and DJ White Shadow. In my chapter, I note that many Gaga cakes that I read about online are vanilla with buttercream icing—a confection with an interesting gender history, as it was the classic bride’s cake of weddings past (think Miss Havisham, and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman). The paleness was no coincidence, as it symbolized the innocence of the virgin bride. Cutting in to the bride cake stood in for another form of penetration. Gaga’s cakes were not vanilla but dark chocolate with butterscotch truffle ganache, and the sugar work Gaga was a skull with ponytail.

Zedd’s cake:

 

Liveness and Gaga

Tomorrow I will be participating via Skype in Rethinking Liveness: Music, Performance and Media Technology at University College Cork. I’m going to be joining a round table discussion. I’ve never done this via Skype before, so it’ll be an interesting experience (and peculiarly appropriate for a conference on liveness!).

I’ve been asked to consider liveness in relation to Lady Gaga. I’ll be drawing on various performances, including her recent turn at the VMAs (below) that was somewhat overshadowed by Miley Cyrus’ assertion of her sexual womanhood at the expense of black women.  (And talking of which, Cyrus’ observation that her performance generated 306.000 tweets per minute, or something, reminds me of the liveness of Twitter, too. Gaga is known for her adept use of social media, but is it always Stefani Germanotta who does the tweeting? Or is it the Gaga assemblage? [My understanding of assemblage is courtesy of Craig Owens’ contribution to the forthcoming essay collection on Gaga that I co-edited with Martin Iddon.])

Then there’s all the staging of death and dying in Gaga videos. Anyway, I still have time to get my head around this, just….

More on ImproTech Paris-New York

Just a heads up: Han-earl Park has collected his live tweets from the ImproTech conference and gigs at freedom, machine subjectivity and pseudo-science: twitter transcript – io 0.0.1 beta++ and he will be following up with a longer post soon. There’s some consideration of historical context, politics of performance, as well as comments and questions about the techniques, performance styles on display, and on the presented papers themselves (e.g. George Lewis on imbuing machines with “integral subjectivity”). It’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for the follow up blog post.