Joy in the archives

My archive trip was great fun and, as is often the case, productive in ways that I was not anticipating. I was looking for material relating to two different patrons: Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, and Felice Orsini Colonna. I didn’t find so much on the cardinal—I think there are probably better places to look—but I came away with some wonderful material pertaining to Felice. So, that’s all good. In addition, I read several letters from sixteenth-century musicians. The letters were catalogued in the inventory, so not really a discovery, but I don’t think anyone has published on them yet. Anyway, I have plenty of work to do, and I am already working out when I can return.

In a previous blogpost, I wondered how Felice Orsini Colonna had learned to run a household and to perform her identity as a Roman noblewoman. Not long after that post, I heard from a fellow scholar that Cardinal Sforza had entrusted Felice to the care of Giovanna d’Aragona—Felice’s future mother-in-law. So, in my recent visit to the archives, I decided to look for useful tidbits of information in the daily letters Felice wrote to her mother-in-law when they lived in separate cities. They had shared interests, and I imagined their letters must have been full of information about this or that writer, or musician. In fact, the letters I read (not all of them; I couldn’t see everything I wanted to see in a fortnight) were entirely taken up with relating the health of Felice’s children, and asking after her mother-in-law’s own health. Of course, this could have been in part down to their correspondence not being private (thanks, Valeria De Lucca!), as much as it could be related to the relationship between the women, or between grandmother and grandchildren, and to the very real and understandable concerns over health given the standard of medical care (not to mention the cultural importance given to male heirs).

I did eventually find the kind of information I sought, but in a different place: in Felice’s letters to Cesare Gallo, her husband’s secretary. In those letters, she thanks Gallo for sonnets that he sent her; she sometimes mentions artists, and on one occasion a musician. I didn’t get through all of this correspondence either, but I made a good start.

The other reason this trip was so joyful was that I brought my daughter and my mother with me. Introducing my daughter to real Italian food and gelato was a pleasure. Some researchers who are parents are able to travel for weeks without their young family. I could not bring myself to do it, even though I knew our daughter would thrive with her dad, as he’s more than capable, and I knew that I really wanted—needed, even—to do this work. I couldn’t have done any of that work without my mother coming to provide childcare, and I’m very grateful for that. So, thank you, Mum, for your labour, and thanks to my daughter for being a fun travelling companion.

Thanks, also, to other parents for blogging about how to fly with a car seat. In case it helps someone else: I used bungee cords to attach the FAA/TÜV-approved car seat to a lightweight, collapsible hand trolley. I packed our clothes into one large suitcase with good wheels, and had our carry-on items in a small rucksack. When my daughter was too tired to walk during the travel, I wore her in a buckle carrier. It was manageable. More than that, it was liberating, even, to find that I could balance work and family that worked for us.

The staff of the archive were enormously helpful, informative, and welcoming. I am so glad to have met them.

Now I’m back home, and the new semester is starting in two weeks. I have a lot of material to sift through in my research time, and I’ve plenty of writing to do. It’s good to have found my archive feet again.

Nifty Tool for Setting Writing Targets & Strategy

This past week, I discovered an online ‘flexible planning tool for writers & students’: Pacemaker. I’ve created a plan that (if I stick to it) should mean I can finish a draft of a monograph chapter by the end of August while still taking a couple of weeks of holiday. I took the basic ‘Rising to the Challenge’ strategy and then tweaked it to suit the time I have available (not as much as I’d like, given the quality of work I’d like to produce). I’m only a few days in, and I’ve found it really motivating so far. I’m exceeding my writing targets (I do expect to slow down, alas), and I’ve discovered that I know more than I thought I did about the topic and this relatively new material. So, that’s a nice confidence boost.

I’m also preparing to head in to the archives next week and I’m feeling a bit nervous. My spoken language skills feel very rusty. I know they will return given a little time. The staff of this particular library are among the friendliest, most helpful people I’ve ever met, so it will all be OK. If I was better prepared for the practical side of things (it’s a long time since I’ve experienced temperatures above 22C, let alone above 30C), I’d probably be less nervous. I do have positive feelings about this trip too. I’m excited. It turns out that I really, really enjoy sitting in a quiet library to read and figure out other people’s account books and letters.


‘Return’ is the theme of the summer for me (not in the equivocal sense!). I’ve worked out how to turn my doctoral dissertation into a book, and I seem to have the stomach for writing it now, too, so I’m returning to some familiar material and of course taking quite a new angle. I’m heading to Italy to do some archival research—back to Italy, back into archives after what feels like a long break. I’ve also been revisiting one of the primary sources I began to look at during my Marie Curie fellowship. (One of the chapters I’d planned to include in a monograph on music & eroticism in 16th-century Rome that I think will fit better in the villotta book.) I’m racing to have my introduction, sample chapter and book proposal ready to send off by the time teaching resumes in early September. Gulp.

UCC Excellence Scholarships for Masters and PhD Students

If you’re applying to the UCC MA in Music and Cultural History, or for a PhD at UCC, you should also apply for an Excellence Scholarship. The scholarships cover EU tuition fees and are tenable for the duration of the student’s chosen postgraduate course.

Applicants must have at least Second Class Honours (Grade 1) or equivalent in their first or subsequent degree and must have already applied for their chosen postgraduate course. A referee’s report will be required as part of the application process.

The scholarship deadline for MA applicants is 10 April, 2016. PhD applicants can apply until 17 April, 2016.

For scholarship information and application forms, see:

The one-year MA in Music and Cultural History is a progressive alternative to conventional postgraduate courses in musicology, and it draws on the diverse expertise of internationally renowned scholars to combine the very best of traditional and contemporary scholarly practice.

During the course you will be presented with the opportunity to acquire and develop core musicological skills, including research techniques, the critical editing of music, and the close reading and analysis of musical texts. You will also engage with some of the most exciting developments in recent music scholarship, including:

explorations of politics,
gender and sexuality in music
race and ethnicity in music
(dis)ability in music
the interaction of music with other media
musical globalisation
the manifold issues in today’s popular music and culture, and
the new links being formed between musicology and other disciplines such as film studies, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, and philosophy.

In 2016-17, the taught modules will include sound studies, multidisciplinary debates in ethnomusicology and musicology, performance studies, the body in creative arts practice, music and popular culture, and music and cinema.

Read the rest.

Purity in Early Music

Following the Women, Music, Power conference, I received an email from Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, a freelance arts journalist who contributes regularly to the New York Times. She saw an interesting story in my work on purity and early music vocal practice in the disconnect between the way early music singers describe singing and the sound they make, and the way critics describe early music voices. She took the idea and ran with it, interviewing numerous singers and directors, as well as me, and the result is a rich and critical investigation. ‘Early-Music Ensembles: Praised as Pure, but Seeking More’ is a really thoughtful exploration of purity as the main adjective to describe women singers of early music. The article is published online already (link above), and will be in the print version of the New York Times on Saturday, 23 Jan. 2016.

As da Fonseca-Wollheim notes, ‘The lexicon of praise for female singers of early music can be narrow, with purity a recurrent concept’. I hope that this lexicon will now become richer.

Women, Music, Power

The joyful celebration of Suzanne Cusick that was Ellie Hisama’s Women, Music, Power conference was quite the best conference I’ve ever attended. Stimulating papers, humorous anecdotes, lively company, and a jazzercise workout.

It was quite a conference! My daughter (almost three years old) now thinks that every conference involves jazzercise!

Congratulations to Ellie, Emily Wilbourne, and the professional team of graduate conference assistants.

Purity and Whiteness in Early Music

It is pretty standard still to hear early music singing voices described as pure or clear. Purity is a selling point (see, for example, The Pure Voice of Emma Kirkby [1998/99]). In this article, I explore the use of the discourse of purity to adjudicate belonging in British early music practices–to claim some voices and reject others. Critics employ purity logic to police the boundaries of early music singing. Donald Grieg has already explored the relationship between class, gender, institutional belonging and valued ensemble singing skills; I add the dimension of race and whiteness. I argue that the style of singing developed and embodied by Dame Emma Kirkby was embraced as pure and rhetorically aligned with familiar vocal sounds from Anglican worship as part of the conservative turn of the late 1970s.

Melanie L. Marshall, ‘Voce Bianca: Purity and Whiteness in British Early Music Vocality,’ Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 19 (2015), 36–44.
Available on Project Music (subscription required)

My thanks to Emily Wilbourne for inviting me to contribute to this special issue of Women and Music dedicated to Suzanne Cusick.

Prof. Ellie Hisama and Prof. Wilbourne will launch the special journal issue at a symposium in December, Women Music, Power: A Celebration of Suzanne G. Cusick’s Work.

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.