It’s been very busy in Planet Melanie Marshall these last few weeks. In addition to various papers I’ve been working on, I recently received reader reports back on two essay collections I’m co-editing, and I’m delighted to say the commissioning editors for both books want to move to the next stage. The collection that arose from my conference on Sexualities, Textualities, Art and Music in Early Modern Italy is going through another editorial pass just now. Not every speaker was able to participate in the essay collection—many had promised their papers elsewhere—so myself, Linda Carroll and Katherine McIver had the enormous pleasure of finding additional contributors. (The other collection, critical essays on a popular music topic, is at a much earlier stage.)

With thanks to my former boss and his wife, Robert and Sally Sawyer, I did make time to catch an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini, which was a fantastic accompaniment to a book I’ve been reading, William Caferro’s Contesting the Renaissance (2011).



In a nutshell, Burckhardt floated the idea that the Renaissance saw the rise of the idea of the individual; people began to consider themselves as individuals independent from their status, rank, occupation, and so on. (That really is an oversimplification, but you can read an early English translation of Burckhardt to fill in the details.) More specifically, Burckhardt considered men to have understood themselves as individuals, which is reflected in Caferro’s chapters ‘Individualism: Who Was the Renaissance Man?’ and ‘Gender: Who Was the Renaissance Woman?’. Men have gender too, of course (although Caferro rarely mentions that, as you might guess from the chapter titles), but Burckhardt did away with having to think too much about men as men and women as women by blithely (and erroneously) declaring that Renaissance Italy had been a time of equality between the sexes. He could just consider people to be people and it was just coincidence that most of his examples were male. In the years since Burckhardt, scholars have revised their ideas of the Renaissance considerably, and although there’s still a tendency to forget that men are gendered too (and particularly to forget that privileged men’s experiences were not universal), people now tend to agree that men still saw themselves as members of a group. This was really borne out by the exhibition; in some cases, it seemed as if the paintings had been selected and hung to draw attention to group identity. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I’m fairly sure the wall of one room had a row of portraits of young men, all facing the same direction, all wearing red. (No, they were not cardinals.) I think they may have all been Florentine men. Anyway, this similarity in clothing (sometimes regulated) highlighted group identity over individuality.

One of the things that is occupying me just now is the very idea of Renaissance. If women didn’t have a Renaissance—in fact, if more than 50% of the population didn’t have a Renaissance in the Renaissance, given that so many features of the Renaissance apparently require literacy—then can the concept, even broadly understood, be said to be the main characteristic of a c200-year period?

This week sees the Renaissance Society of America annual conference, meeting this year in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, it clashes almost exactly with the IASPM/EMP Pop Conference here in New York. I’ll be doing a little of both and will endeavour to report back next week.

Suggestive Song Facilitated Care of the Self

Palazzo Barbaran Da Porto

Palazzo Barbaran Da Porto by David Nicholls (netNicholls).


In ‘Music and Care of the Self’ last month I wondered whether certain accounts from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey could indicate something of how music was seen to interact with ideas of selfhood and subjectivity. In the stories I selected, it seemed the accused’s response to music was considered to reveal something about their nature: in Mary Raby’s case, frequenting music houses indicated a predilection for sin, while John Swift walked away from inappropriate music-making as an act of self-defence. And I was curious about the potential relationship between these stories and the collection and performance of suggestive strophic songs in sixteenth-century Italian academies.

The strophic song genres I was thinking of are the villotta alla padoana (quasi-peasant song in the Paduan manner) and the canzone villanesche alla napolitana (peasant-like song in Neapolitan style). They’re often written in dialect, although the language can be toned down for publication. The names villotta and villanesca are thought to derive from the Venetian and Italian words for peasant, and for a long time the songs were thought to be songs of the people (the folk, in that German, 19th-century invention). It seems to be a bit more complicated than that–yet to be teased out–but the songs we know of from the middle of the 16th century were printed and often dedicated to minor nobility. They were owned by academies (and others).

One publication that still fascinates me is Filippo Azzaiolo’s first book of villotte from 1557. Azzaiolo dedicated the book anonymously to Pandolfo Rucellai, the nephew of Giovanni della Casa, and the cover of the book bears the device of the Accademia dei Costanti of Vicenza. The Costanti (the Constant Ones) met for about 10 years starting in 1556. Few records have survived, but it seems to have been an opportunity for men from elite Vicentine families to get together to hear and discuss lectures, poetry, literature, and to make music. It was rather like the Accademia Filarmonica of Verona, which was founded in 1543 and is still going today. Montano Barbaran was a member (that’s his palazzo in the picture—the facade is by Andrea Palladio, the famous Vicentine architect); he employed a musician in his household, owned a number of musical instruments, and appears also to have enjoyed Vicentine dialect poetry.

Azzaiolo’s songs draw on an extensive erotic lexicon—there were thousands of Italian words with double meanings—that means they are open to quite subversive readings.  There’s a song asking a girl called ‘Tasty’ (Saporita) to bring her ‘fresh fig’ to her lover, and comparing her to the famously beautiful Princess of Salerno—a compliment for Saporita, and an insult to the Princess of Salerno; other songs allude to erotic acts that were then illegal or considered immoral. And some songs seem entirely innocent. Azzaiolo published three collections of villotte, all with similar content. This first book and the third book open with dedications that make reference to the power of music to spur people to action, or provide respite for afflicted souls. This kind of expression of the importance of music is usually associated with highbrow genres rather than with the lowly strophic song. So, it seems that, if only for Italian academicians (not just in Vicenza but also in Verona, Venice, Siena, Florence, Rome, Naples…), even suggestive song was considered to have potential benefits for the soul.

Justifications of music as a way of caring for the self were nothing new, and were not exclusive to musicians. For example, Baldassare Castiglione’s popular Book of the Courtier contained similar pronouncements in the debate over whether the courtier should play music. (There is a proper time and place for music, and the courtier mustn’t do it too much lest he neglect his duties.) Gioseffo Zarlino, a composer and organist based in San Marco, Venice and author of several music treatises, devoted several chapters to the importance and significance of music study. He says that it is key to combine practical and theoretical study of music, and he also urges temperance—like someone who drinks too much, someone who plays music too much makes a fool of themselves, and overindulges their senses. Zarlino says that music and gymnastics should be studied together so that a certain balance is kept. He is keen to distinguish music from the bodily discipline of gymnastics, and make it instead some other kind of training—I want to say intellectual, but perhaps he saw it more in spiritual terms. (The body-mind-soul division comes later.) In any case, he says that music and gymnastics should be studied together so that a certain balance is kept. Even Zarlino doesn’t really distinguish between kinds of music; he makes a passing comment about indecent/dishonest music, but that comes together with his thoughts on avoiding sensual excess, so it might suggest an occasional lascivious song is ok. It’s worth thinking about Zarlino’s audience, here, too. Zarlino is concerned to establish music as something to do in leisure time, which might suggest he’s not really aiming his thoughts at professional musicians, but at dilettante musicians.

Putting this together with the stories of Mary Raby and John Swift, it seems that there is a time and a place for everything. Music can be an important way to care for the self, providing it doesn’t become an intoxicating over-indulgence. You want to play or listen to music in the right place and hobnob with the right people (develop genteel contacts rather than cutpurse contacts–so avoid Mary Raby’s music house). But music can also function as a way to demonstrate that you know how to respond. This is perhaps especially true of suggestive song. It’s not always a life or death matter as it was for John Swift, but when a young man is sitting around with fellow academicians of an evening, he needs to be able to laugh the right amount at the right things. Academies provided an opportunity to develop a social network, and to foster social cohesion. They do that by providing people with opportunities to demonstrate that they know the social codes, and when it’s ok to bend or break them, and when it’s important to follow them. That kind of training could be important when an acquaintance starts singing dirty songs under a lady’s window.

If you’re interested where this is heading, you may wish to have a look at the summary of my paper for the Oldenburg selfhood conference.


Thoughts on the Oldenburg ‘Selfhood’ Conference

The Stormtrooper is making a portrait or is it a self portrait?

Prof. Dr. Dagmar Freist’s stimulating three-day conference on self-fashioning/self-cultivation, Praktiken der Selbst-Bildung im Spannungsfeld von ständischer Ordnung und gesellschaftlicher Dynamik, brought together researchers at different stages of their careers from all over the world and working in and across many disciplines. It was very exciting to be exposed to diverse ways of working, new theories of artifacts, material culture, and new research questions. Although there were diverse takes on subjectivity, Bourdieu and Foucault came up a lot. Some people drew freely from both; others stuck principally to one or the other. I think I am right in saying the Foucauldians tended to find Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and the way society functions to be rather too prescriptive. I have read and enjoyed both Bourdieu and Foucault; this may suggest that I am an unprincipled opportunist. In any case, it is clear I need to think more about points of agreement, disagreement, and any potential for reconciliation.

I am not going to attempt to summarise the German papers, since my German is not as good as I would like (although it’s certainly better than it was 3 days ago!), and I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. So, here are my brief summaries from memory of a few of the papers given in English.

Mikael Alm (Uppsala) is looking at a corpus of papers written in the 1770s in response to an essay competition for a new national dress for Sweden. They show fascinating divisions of society—some into four estates (noble, clergy, burgers, peasants), others into a combination of classes and estates. One essay was more-or-less entirely concerned with political class, basically dividing people into the rulers and the ruled. For me, what was interesting is where women would fit in to the proposed social orders. The clergy presumably excluded women at that time, and it made me wonder about the other groups—especially since one of the classes were government bureaucrats (again, a group traditionally excluding women). Apparently women were a problem for these ways of thinking. Did they have the same status as their husbands? Their fathers? Or did they stand outside the social order altogether?

The final day, Saturday, was the day set aside for studies of arts and materiality. The keynote address (Prof. Dr. Hans Peter Hahn) was on the function of things in society, I think principally informed by anthropology.

Dr. Ulinke Rublack (Cambridge) gave an excellent paper on an early modern rival to Imelda Marcos: ‘Leather as Matter of Distinction in Hans Fugger’s Material World’. She suggested an alternative title could be ‘How the Oxford Shoe Got Its Holes’. The Fugger family may be familiar to early music lovers as the sometime patrons/clients of Orlandus Lassus, Andrea Gabrieli, Philippe de Monte and others. I had thought they were a banking family, but apparently they were traders. Hans was not the head of the family, or of the family business, and his role in the business has been overlooked historically. It seems his main function was to build and maintain an extensive network. He had well over 200 regular correspondents with whom he exchanged gifts. He needed to look the part, which meant he had to keep his footwear in good condition. It needed to be fashionable and durable yet comfortable—familiar challenges to many of us today. Each pair of shoes was made to order, and sometimes when they arrived they didn’t fit and had to be adjusted–the leather stretched more, perhaps, or a few careful slashes added. But the point is that Hans Fugger attended to every detail of his appearance.

Prof. Beverly Lemire (Alberta) is engaged in fascinating research on the global trade in printed cotton and the response (I’m tempted to say ‘typically insular response’) to the arrival in Britain of these beautiful fabrics. In ‘Fashioning Early Modern Socieies: Indian Cottons, Material Politics and Consumer Innovation in Tokugawa Japan and Early Modern England’ Lemire described how English fabric-related guilds (woollen guilds, weavers) tried competing with the new cotton fabrics but printing on wool is not a successful endeavour so their final response was to lobby for a ban from British shores, and to oppose it in the most violent way imaginable. Women wearing this cotton in public could literally have the cotton ripped from them, and the women were often beaten; some protestors threw sulphuric acid at women wearing printed cotton; and there is one tragic account of a women wearing printed cotton being set on fire while walking across a square; she burned to death. It seems incredible now, but actually women’s bodies are still sites of political argument and control—sometimes related to clothing, as in the ‘keep your face uncovered/ban the burqa’ arguments which restrict every woman’s right to wear what she wants, as in the cover-your-hair/wear-a-burqa-or-you-don’t-leave-the-house policies of conservative Islamist governments (under the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were beaten if they didn’t wear a burqa, and even beaten for pursuing an education), and sometimes related to women’s right-to-choose, as in the new law coming into force in Virginia this week which will force all women wanting to have an abortion to have a transvaginal ultrasound; they are not asked to consent to this procedure. (In a transvaginal ultrasound, the doctor or ultrasound technician inserts a thick-ish probe into the woman’s vagina and moves it around to get a picture of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. It’s an uncomfortable experience even when consent is given and the procedure is medically-necessary. Since Virginia’s law will apply even if the woman does not want an ultrasound, it is effectively state-sanctioned rape of women. The party sponsoring these medically-unnecessary laws claims to be in favour of small governments that stay out of people’s way. In reality, they are getting in to women’s bodies.)

The thing that really struck me about Rublack and Lemire’s papers is just how far material goods traveled and how international trade was. People may conveniently forget about, say, the Atlantic slave trade (European-made goods to Africa, slaves from Africa to the Americas, sugar, chocolate, cotton and other luxuries from the Americas to Europe), or colonialism, and instead think of the international trade in consumer goods (by which I mean sugar, chocolate etc—not enslaved people) as a recent thing, but it’s not at all.

A second point I’ve been pondering (and I asked about a few times!) is the sound of clothing and shoes. We can often guess the gender of a person from the sound of their walk because of the gendered shoe and clothing practices of our times. Women are more likely to wear heels than men, and women are more likely to wear jangly jewelry than men. (In my teenage years when I had a few prized ‘Goth’ clothes, one of my favourite items was a skirt with bells on. And now, one of my suit jackets has beaded cuffs that make a clicky noise when I rest my forearms on a desk. Noisiness was something I hadn’t considered when I bought the jacket.) So, did the sound of clothing and footwear differ according to gender or perhaps status? Dr Rublack had come across a letter or note in which servants were required to wear soft-soled shoes indoors because they were not to be heard as they went about their work. And one conference delegate mentioned to me that a clergyman had complained of the noise of wooden shoes (worn by lower-classes) on the cobbles outside the chapel. That would be an interesting topic to look at in the future, perhaps. Maybe I should put some thought into the soundscape of certain streets in early modern Rome.

Image credit: Photo titled ‘The Stormtrooper is Making a Portrait, Or Is It a Self-Portrait’ by Kristina Alexanderson (kalexanderson) on Flickr.

Update: Virginia’s Governor did not make it compulsory to have a TV ultrasound before abortion.

Practices of Self-Fashioning

I am attending a really stimulating conference at the Carl von Ossietzky Universität, Oldenburg (Konferenzen und Workshops). It’s a tough schedule (PDF), and I’m really jet lagged, but the discussions are lively nonetheless. (I really wish my German was, well, existent.) When I’m less exhausted I’ll post more, but for now the paper that sticks in my mind (possibly because it was the only one I feel I properly understood because it was in English) is Dr Babette Hellemans’. Dr Hellemans, a professor at Groningen, presented an outline of a research project in development, one that looks at education in the 12th-century, just before the rise of universities particularly in relation to the (bio)diversity of knowledge—what were all the ways people could know things back then? Were there more ways-to-know than there were after institutionalisation in universities? Who had access to knowledge and how? Those kinds of questions. Fascinating work.

Music and Care of the Self

Old Bailey

I’m working on a paper for a conference next month on subjectivation, subjectification—how one becomes a subject. I was struck by Foucault’s passing remark in ‘The Subject and Power’ that to look at an idea, one can start by looking at its opposite—to look at sanity, one might study madness, and so on. (This is exactly what Foucault did.) I began to wonder about looking at unmusicality. What would that entail? Perhaps looking at records of music students, instrumental or vocal pupils, who are apparently unteachable (of which I am yet to find any evidence—it seems only good reports have survived), or perhaps examining other kinds of unmusical sounds. So, I began with trying to find instances of noise making. Following Jacques Attali and Peter Bailey, I’m treating noise as a broad category—that is, not defining it solely as white noise, background noise, or as culturally unintelligible sounds, but also as ‘music-out-of-place’ (Bailey’s phrase), music that is happening in the wrong place at the wrong time, and sounds that are out of place. Legal records seemed like a good place to start, since that’s where one might expect to find not only complaints about sound-out-of-place (breach of the peace and that kind of thing) but also because in court defendants are often required to give an account of themselves, and the court judges the truth of that account. If defendants won’t account for their behavior, or if the court thinks the explanation is faulty, then the court gives an account which is considered to be the truth. (Obviously there’s much more going on, but this is just a blog post!) I came across some interesting incidents in the Old Bailey Online, including some which I think illustrate that the understanding of some kind of relationship between music or noise and ideas of selfhood.

Certain types of music-making are recounted by witnesses or descriptions as preludes to a crime. In one case, music covered the noise of another crime: William Linch, an Irishman, and three friends took turns at singing ballads loudly at the street door so that the noise would cover the sound of the others picking the lock of a trunk. But more significant, I think, is the mention of bawdy song and musicke houses as a first step toward a life of crime, or as an incriminating detail about someone’s behavior.

Mary Raby, alias Rogers, alias Jackson, alias Brown appears in numerous criminal records in the late 1690s, sometimes described as a common strumpet, or a lewd woman, but most often her name is connected with theft (grand larceny). Mary was executed, on 3rd November, 1703, for a robbery that she claimed she did not commit. At the gallows, condemned prisoners were given a final opportunity to confess their sins, to speak the truth about themselves to God before the watching public. Mary was given several opportunities to speak since the Newgate Ordinary was concerned that she hadn’t yet owned up to her part in the robbery, and eventually she gave a relatively full account of her self in relation to other sins. Mary “owned that she had been a very great Sinner indeed, One that was guilty of Sabbath-breaking, Swearing, Drinking, Lewdness, Buying, Receiving, and Disposing of Stoln Goods, Harbouring of ill People.” When pressed further to confess to the robbery for which she would hang, Mary said, “often she had been abused, by being accus’d, and thought guilty of Facts which she had not done, because she had the Name (and that not undeservedly) of being an Ill-liver.” Mary even ventured to explain how she started down this path: on her own admission, “her frequenting Musick-houses, and such like Places, was the beginning of her ruin”. Mary offers this detail as an explanation of how she fell into criminal behavior; its function in this narrative is to tell a truth about her self.

Something similar can be seen in the account of a murder trial of January 1681. A gentleman called John Swift went to supper with Charles Jones and another gentleman in the Savoy, London. Swift and Jones quarreled over Jones’ “Singing a Baudy Song under a Ladies Window, which [he] did aggravate with many base words”. Evidently they got into some kind of fight, and Jones was restrained by another, unnamed gentleman. Swift, “desiring to avoid farther mischif” left for home, but Jones got away from the man holding him and followed Swift. The latter, “standing upon his defence had the ill hap to wound him under the right Pap [breast], of which wound in a short time he dyed.” The jury “found that what was done, was for self Preservation, and thereupon returned [a verdict of] Se Defendendo”, self defence. It seems to me that Swift began to defend himself long before he drew his sword. In fact, he began to defend himself when he walked away from the bawdy singing. The act of singing under a lady’s window is dishonorable for many reasons: it insults the lady—the term indicates a woman of good character and perhaps some social standing—and, if there was one, the man of the house. Swift did not want to implicate himself in this act and walked away, thus defending himself from accusations of impropriety or of insulting someone’s honor. Music-out-of-place serves to illustrate truth about selfhood: the man who did the singing is clearly antisocial and insulting, and thus it is more believable that he should initiate a physical attack on his departing friend. Swift, in walking away, showed himself to be made of more honorable stuff. By not participating in music-out-of-place, Swift reveals truths about himself: good judgement, and self-control. Not only is this evidence of his good character and lack of ill-will, but it also suggests there is little need for the court to discipline him, since the narrative shows he has the ability to discipline himself.

In late seventeenth-century English courts, bawdy singing reveals an individual’s lack of self-control, lack of self-discipline, and, if not criminal behavior in itself, does suggest a propensity to criminality. It’s a kind of gateway to moral decay. Of course, these are the values set out by courts prosecuting crimes that are much more serious than making music in the wrong time and place; it is quite possible that there was a right time and place for bawdy song (as there seems to have been in sixteenth-century Italy, but that’s material for a future post). The one thing these accounts share is that in each case music has not been used to care for the self, to improve the self and strengthen virtue, but rather to corrupt the self.


Photo of the Old Bailey by Joe Dunckley on Flickr.

New Project and Big Questions

So, I have officially started work on Sex in the Early Modern City: Music and Eroticism in Rome, my Marie Curie fellowship project. I’m going to be working on this for the next three years, and it’s a completely brand new project. Exciting times! A new research project, a new website, a new blog, a new role, in new-to-me institutions and soon in a new-to-me city too.

For the next few years, I will be developing and answering questions that, in hindsight, I have been avoiding exploring or tentatively exploring for years–begun in my doctoral research, bobbing below the surface in my first publication (far below the surface, as they are not actually addressed in the article; it was a short piece and I was, frankly, too chicken to take them on, although they cropped up in private discussions while I was writing the piece), growing in my teaching (especially in my courses on Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern Music, 1500-1800 and the interdisciplinary doctoral master class I developed on Body, Gender, Sexuality, and coming more to the fore in the book I am co-editing with Linda Carroll and Katherine McIver. These are questions like: was there such a thing as sexuality in the 16th and 17th century? If so, how did it work? If sexuality is constitutive of subjectivity, as Judith Butler argues it is for the present, then was it constitutive of early modern subjectivity? (And what does that look like, anyway?) What was the role of music in shaping sexuality (if/in whatever form(s) it existed) and subjectivity (if/in whatever form(s) it existed)? And my faculty sponsor at UCLA, Olivia Bloechl, pointed out my proposed work poses another one: how does music relate to the sexuality of a specific patron? The relationship of music to life is one of the central questions of music biography, although it is more often posed in relation to the composer rather than to the patron, performer or audience of a piece of music. So, it’s not exactly a new question, but it’s not one I had thought about in quite that way before.

There is a lot of work on the history of sexuality, and a good deal of it addresses 16th- and 17th-century Italy. Guido Ruggiero’s recent work on Machiavelli and his discussion of sexual consensus realities I find intriguing; that’s on my list. I recently joined the H-Hist-Sex discussion group and came across an upcoming book which will be high on my reading list when it’s published next month, Sex Before Sexuality: A Premodern History by Barry Reay and Kim Phillips. This will all help me engage with whether there was such a thing as sexuality in the past and if so, how did it work. Foucault thought sexuality as an institution was really a 19th and 20th century thing, but that has been called into question. Laura Macy’s article (which I love and use in some of my courses), “Speaking of Sex: Metaphor and Performance in the Italian Madrigal,” Journal of Musicology, 14/1 (1996): 1-34, is a great one for music students as it demonstrates that there certainly was a discourse around sex. (There’s plenty of work on the historical medical, juridical, and theological discourses of sex, as well as a thriving body of scholarship looking at sex in early modern literature, art and music.) One distinction often drawn is between acts and identities. Some people want to say there is a historical specificity to homosexuality (you know, those gays you get these days, well, they didn’t really exist back then; there were just same sex acts, and that’s different from homosexuality as a defining point of identity) and sometimes the same people then claim that heterosexuality, and perhaps especially the institution of heterosexual marriage is virtually unchanged (you know, it’s always been like that). There’s more at stake in that debate than how one represents history.

As for the relationship of music to a person’s life, Suzanne Cusick’s magnificent book Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court has a particularly wonderful chapter on Caccini’s Primo libro and subjectivity which shows one way to clear that disciplinary thorn bush. My UCC colleague Chris Morris recommended Martha Feldman’s Opera and Sovreignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth Century Italy, and Olivia suggested Judith Tick’s Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer’s Search for American Music. Also, it could be that music patronage was a way to deal with the public image as anything else, and in fact there was a public dimension to sex at the time: people didn’t have the same levels of privacy we expect now, and communities could be involved in attempting to regulate an individual’s sexual activity. So, perhaps that’s another possible avenue to consider.

I’m only just beginning to fully appreciate the relationship between self-fashioning and the birth of the modern subject. I’m looking forward to building my reading list for this; a quick scan of the UCLA library catalogue shows there’s no shortage of material. In terms of musicology, Susan McClary’s Modal Subjectivities: Self-fashioning in the Italian Madrigal is directly relevant. The subjectivities seemed quite modern and familiar to me and I wondered when I read it whether that is because they just were (early modern, after all, suggests a high degree of continuity)–well, that is the core of McClary’s argument, that the madrigal was grappling with modern subjectivity in the years before Descartes–or whether there were other subjectivities there that are less familiar and therefore harder to recognise somehow. Although on reflection, normally the unfamiliar stands out. But still, I need to think about that a lot more…..