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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 November 2019


While there have been growing calls for historians to listen to the past, there are also significant barriers to integrating music in particular into broader historical practice. This article reflects on both the gains and difficulties of this integration, moving from an interrogation of the category of music to three case studies. These concern musical terms, compositional practices and cultures from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, revisiting some key debates in musicology: first, the highly charged language of sweetness deployed in the fifteenth century; second, connections discerned in nineteenth-century music history between medieval polyphony and contemporary attitudes towards time and authority; and, third, debate over the anti-Jewish implications of Handel's music, which we approach through his Dixit Dominus and a history of psalm interpretation stretching back to late antiquity. Through these case studies, we suggest the contribution of music to necessarily interdisciplinary fields including the study of temporality and emotions, but also explore how a historical hermeneutic with a long pedigree – ‘diversity of times’ (diversitas temporum) – might help to reframe arguments about musical interpretation. The article concludes by arguing that the very difficulty and slipperiness of music as a source can encourage properly reflective historical practice.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Historical Society 2019 

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Gladstone Prize Winner


1 A number of general works now address these trends, including Charles Burnett, Michael Fend and Penelope Gouk (eds.), The Second Sense: Studies in Hearing and Musical Judgement from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century (1991); Erlmann, Veit (ed.), Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening, and Modernity (Oxford, 2004)Google Scholar; Smith, Mark M. (ed.), Hearing History: A Reader (Athens, GA, 2004)Google Scholar; Fulcher, Jane F. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the New Cultural History of Music (New York, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pinch, Trevor J. and Bijsterveld, Karin (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (New York, 2012)Google Scholar; Bull, Michael and Back, Les (eds.), The Auditory Culture Reader, 2nd rev. edn (Oxford, 2015)Google Scholar. Important individual studies include Corbin, Alain, Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the Nineteenth-Century French Countryside (New York, 1998)Google Scholar; Thompson, Emily Ann, The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900–1933 (Cambridge, MA, 2002)Google Scholar; Sterne, Jonathan, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham, NC, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Erlmann, Veit, Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality (New York, 2010)Google Scholar; Dillon, Emma, The Sense of Sound: Musical Meaning in France, 1260–1330 (New York, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 For a recent reflection, see Williamson, Beth, ‘Sensory Experience in Medieval Devotion: Sound and Vision, Invisibility and Silence’, Speculum, 88 (2013), 143CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 In sound studies, transduction describes the transformations of sound, and of its meanings, as it moves between media and different ‘energetic substrate[s] (from electrical to mechanical, for example)’. Helmreich, Stefan, ‘Transduction’, in Keywords in Sound (Durham, NC, 2015), ed. Novak, David and Sakakeeny, Matt, 222Google Scholar.

4 For a survey of integrative moves within musicology, see Fulcher, Jane F., ‘Introduction: Defining the New Cultural History of Music, Its Origins, Methodologies, and Lines of Inquiry’, in The Oxford Handbook of the New Cultural History of Music, ed. Fulcher, Jane F. (New York, 2011), 114CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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7 Lines 16265–72, translation from Bent, ‘Musical Stanzas’. Note, however, the English style or manner might also be translated as the ‘countenance of angels/Angles’ as in Colton, Angel Song, 204.

8 For technical debates, see Fallows, Henry V and the Earliest English Carols, 72–83.

9 Elders, Willem, ‘Guillaume Dufay's Concept of Faux-Bourdon’, Revue Belge de Musicologie/Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Muziekwetenschap, 43 (1989), 179, 183CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Wright, Craig M., ‘Performance Practices at the Cathedral of Cambrai 1475–1550’, Musical Quarterly, 64 (1978), 295328CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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11 On varieties of elaborate music and debates over its worth, see Hascher-Burger, Ulrike, Gesungene Innigkeit. Studien zu einer Musikhandschrift der Devotio moderna (Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Ms. 16 H 34, olim B i 13) (Leiden, 2002), 185205Google Scholar; Cullington and Strohm, ‘That Liberal and Virtuous Art’, 13–14; Wegman, Rob C., The Crisis of Music in Early Modern Europe, 1470–1530 (New York, 2005), esp. 4951CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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13 See Carruthers, Mary, ‘Sweetness’, Speculum, 81 (2006), 9991013CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ohly, Friedrich, Süsse Nägel der Passion. Ein Beitrag zur theologischen Semantik (Baden-Baden, 1989)Google Scholar.

14 Carlier, Tractatus, 23.

15 Ginzburg, Carlo, ‘The Letter Kills: On Some of the Implications of 2 Corinthians 3:6’, History and Theory, 49 (2010), 71–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Compare Curruthers, Mary, ‘Varietas: A Word of Many Colours’, Poetica (2009), 45–9Google Scholar.

16 Augustine, , De Doctrina Christiana, ed. Green, Roger P. H. (Oxford, 1995), III.3578Google Scholar.

17 Schreiner, Klaus, ‘Diversitas temporum” – Zeiterfahrung und Epochengliederung im späten Mittelalter’, in Epochenschwelle und Epochenbewusstsein, ed. Herzog, Reinhart and Koselleck, Reinhart (Munich, 1987), 381428Google Scholar.

18 See Fabre, Isabelle, La Doctrine du chant du cœur de Jean Gerson: édition critique, traduction et commentaire du ‘Tractatus de canticis’ et du ‘Canticordum au pélerin’ (Geneva, 2005)Google Scholar.

19 For the following, see Irwin, Joyce L., ‘The Mystical Music of Jean Gerson’, Early Music History, 1 (1981), 194–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 Tractatus secundis de canticis (Second Treatise on Songs), section 23, reproduced in Fabre, La Doctrine, 309–476, here 383.

21 Ibid., 395–6. Also, see Irwin, ‘Mystical Music’, 199.

22 Compare Burstyn, Shai, ‘In Quest of the Period Ear’, Early Music, 25 (1997), 692701CrossRefGoogle Scholar; in relation to sound, Missfelder, Jan, ‘Period Ear: Perspektiven einer Klanggeschichte der Neuzeit’, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 38 (2012), 2147CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 For fuller attempts to situate music in a fifteenth-century context, see Kirkman, Andrew, The Cultural Life of the Early Polyphonic Mass (Cambridge, 2010)Google Scholar.

24 Even the ‘technical language’ of thirds and sixths must be modified by historicisations of temperament. See, for example, Covey-Crump, Rogers, ‘Pythagoras at the Forge: Tuning in Early Music,’ in Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music, ed. Knighton, Tess and Fallows, David (1992), 317–26Google Scholar.

25 See, for example, E. T. A. Hoffmann's depiction of the sweet-voiced youth ‘Third’ in his Ritter Gluck (1809/14), Sämtliche Werke in sechs Bänden, ed. Hartmut Steinecke et al. (Frankfurt, 1993), vol. 2.1, 24. See Stanyon, Miranda“Rastrierte Blätter, aber mit keiner Note beschrieben”: The Musical Sublime and Aporias of Inscription in Hoffmann's Ritter Gluck’, German Quarterly, 83 (2010), 412–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Tomlinson, Gary, ‘Musicology, Anthropology, History’, in The Cultural Study of Music. A Critical Introduction, ed. Clayton, Martin, Herbert, Trevor and Middleton, Richard (New York and London, 2003), 3940Google Scholar. On performance, see Abbate, Carolyn, ‘Music – Drastic or Gnostic?’, Critical Inquiry, 30 (2004), 505–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 On listening environments, see Dillon, Sense of Sound, 6–7. For recent studies engaging with acoustics and historical space, see Howard, Deborah and Moretti, Laura, Sound and Space in Renaissance Venice: Architecture, Music, Acoustics (New Haven, 2009)Google Scholar; Pentcheva, Bissera V. and Abel, Jonathan S., ‘Icons of Sound: Auralizing the Lost Voice of Hagia Sophia’, Speculum, 92 (2017), 336–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also the Edinburgh College of Art project ‘Space, Place, Sound and Memory’, (accessed 19 April 2019).

28 This is an attempt to navigate between historicist ‘authenticity’ and fatalistic diagnoses of history's impossibility. On this debate in relation to ‘historically informed’ performance, see Taruskin, Richard, Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance (Oxford, 1995)Google Scholar; Kivy, Peter, Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance (Ithaca, 1995)Google Scholar; Butt, John, Playing with History: The Historical Approach to Musical Performance (Cambridge, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Ambros, August Wilhelm, Geschichte der Musik (Leipzig, 1868), III, 8Google Scholar. Compare Kirkman, Cultural Life, 9–20.

30 Ambros, Geschichte der Musik, III, 8.

31 Planchart, Alejandro Enrique, Guillaume Du Fay: The Life and Works (2 vols., Cambridge, 2018), I, 143–4, II, 407–8Google Scholar. Fallows, David, The Songs of Guillaume Dufay: Critical Commentary to the Revision of Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae, ser. 1, vol. VI (Neuhausen–Stuttgart, 1995)Google Scholar. For a score, see Besseler, Heinrich and Fallows, David (eds.), Guillaume Dufay, Opera Omnia, vol. 6 (Neuhausen, 1995), 1518Google Scholar.

32 Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Mus. ms. 3224.

33 Translation adapted from Holford-Strevens, Leofranc, ‘Du Fay the Poet? Problems in the Texts of His Motets’, Early Music History, 16 (1997), 151–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 Ibid., 150–7.

35 For improvisation on cantus coronatus, see Warren, Charles W., ‘Punctus Organi and Cantus Coronatus in the Music of Dufay,’ in Dufay Quincentenary Conference, ed. Atlas, Allan W. (Brooklyn, 1976), 128–43Google Scholar. For wider revision and debate, see Brothers, Timothy, Chromatic Beauty in the Late Medieval Chanson: An Interpretation of Manuscript Accidentals (Cambridge, 1997), esp. 3–5, 76, 84CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McGee, Timothy J., The Sound of Medieval Song: Ornamentation and Vocal Style (Oxford, 1998), 104–10Google Scholar; Blackburn, Bonnie J., ‘The Dispute about Harmony c. 1500 and the Creation of a New Style’, in Théorie et analyse musicales 1450–1650/Music Theory and Analysis 1450–1650, ed. Ceulemans, Anne Emmanuelle and Blackburn, Bonnie J. (Louvain-la-Neuve, 2001)Google Scholar. Some theorists associated the fermata mark with a cardinal's hat, suggesting again the mark's signalling of authority. See, for example, Anonymous, Tractatus et compendium cantus figurati (mss London British Libr., Add. 34200; Regensburg, Proskesche Musikbibl., 98 th. 4o), ed. Jill M. Palmer (Stuttgart, 1990), 64.

36 Planchart, Guillaume Du Fay, II, 603–10.

37 See Summa Theologiae 1.1.10,, 1.14.13; Compendium Theologiae, ch. 133. For further discussion, see Champion, Fullness of Time, 71–2.

38 A speculative extension of this argument could be made to Iuvenis qui puellam. Charles Warren has argued that the fermata originally had a referential function: the dot signifies the notated note; the arc signified the improvisatory material elaborated around it (on debates surrounding this interpretation, see n. 37 above). The fermata, then, could be seen as embodying visually the same temporal schemas which are heard in the music: the fermata is a diagram of diachronic improvisation around points of authoritative and rich harmonic stasis. Warren, ‘Punctus Organi and Cantus Coronatus’, 132, 135–6.

39 Bowie, Andrew, Music, Philosophy, and Modernity (Cambridge, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, advocates approaching music as way of thinking, rather than simply an object (and problem) for verbal thought.

40 The classic discussion is Auerbach, Eric, ‘Figura’, in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature (Manchester, 1984), 1176Google Scholar.

41 See Gourges, Michel, À la droite de Dieu. Résurrection de Jésus et actualisation du Psaume 110:1 dans le Nouveau Testament (Paris, 1978)Google Scholar; Roth, Ulli, Die Grundparadigmen christlicher Schriftauslegung – im Spiegel der Auslegungsgeschichte von Psalm 110 (Münster, 2010)Google Scholar; Nordheim, Miriam von, Geboren von der Morgenröte? Psalm 110 in Tradition, Redaktion und Rezeption (Neukirchen–Vluyn, 2008)Google Scholar.

42 Boulding, Maria and Ramsey, Boniface (eds.), The Works of Saint Augustine. A Translation for the 21st Century, vol. III.19: Expositions of the Psalms 99–120 (Hyde Park, NY, 2003), 263Google Scholar.

43 Ibid., 266, 264.

44 Ibid., 272.

45 All translations in the Vetus Latina database use torrens. Modern translations often use ‘brook’ instead of ‘torrent’ here – ‘brook’ originally denoting a strongly rushing stream.

46 Augustine, Psalms 99–120, 284. See also Augustine's commentary on Psalm 123/124: ‘As long as this world flows on, with its succession of births and deaths, it is a torrent, and from it arise persecutions. Our head drank from it first, he of whom it is said in another psalm, He drank from the torrent beside the way.’ Jerome (c. 340–420) had earlier related drinking from the torrent to Christ's passion. ‘Commentarioli in Psalmum CVIIII’, in S. Hieronymi Presbyteri Opera 1.1 [CCSL 72] (Turnhout, 1959), 232; ‘Tractatus de Psalmo CVIIII’, in S. Hieronymi Presbyteri Opera 2 [CCSL 78] (Turnhout, 1958), 227–30. Hereafter Jerome, Tractatus. See also Marrow, James H., Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance (Kortrijk, 1979), 104Google Scholar; Berliner, Rudolf, ‘Die Cedronbrücke als Station des Passionsweges Christi’, in Rudolph Berliner (1886–1967): ‘The Freedom of Medieval Art’ und andere Studien zum christlichen Bild, ed. Suckale, Robert (Berlin, 2003), 24Google Scholar.

47 Blezzard, Judith, Ryle, Stephen and Alexander, Jonathan, ‘New Perspectives on the Feast of the Crown of Thorns’, Journal of the Plainsong and Mediaeval Music Society, 10 (1987), 2353CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Cambrai Mediathèque Municipale, Ms. 38, f. 428v; Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms lat. 15182, f. 291r, f. 293r.

49 Marrow, Passion Iconography; Berliner, ‘Die Cedronbrücke’.

50 ‘Expositio in Psalmum CIX’, in Magni Aurelii Cassiodori Senatoris Opera 2.2 [CCSL 98] (Turnhout, 1958), 1012.

51 Fasciculus Mirre, Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, Ms. Lett. 357, f. 113v, cited in Marrow, Passion Iconography, 106–7.

52 Ibid., 106. To Marrow's example – Bob Jones University Gallery, Greenville (inv. no. P64.336) – should be added Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tourcoing (inv. no. D335, dated 1630), and an example in a private collection (1639). The scene also appears in a betrayal image. See Härting, Ursula, Frans Francken der Jüngere (1581–1642): Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog (Freren, 1989), 281–2Google Scholar.

53 On such crowds, see Lipton, Sara, Dark Mirror: Jews, Vision, and Witness in Medieval Christian Art, 1000–1500 (New York, 2014)Google Scholar.

54 Jerome, Tractatus, 229.

55 Except at measures 23–25 for the tenors, for tessitura reasons; the first entry is a leap of a fourth.

56 John Eliot Gardiner, sleeve notes to Gardiner, Choir, Monteverdi and Soloists, English Baroque, Live at Milton Court: Handel, Bach, Scarlatti (Monteverdi Productions, 2014), 7Google Scholar.

57 Geier, Martin, D. Martini Geieri opera omnia etc. (Amsterdam: Rembertus Goethals, 1696), I, cols. 1740–2Google Scholar.

58 Thomasius, Joseph Maria, Psalterium cum canticis versibus prisco more distinctum argumentis et orationibus vetustis etc. (Rome: Joseph Vannaccius, 1697), 488–90Google Scholar.

59 Patrick, Symon, The Book of Psalms Paraphras'd; with Arguments to Each Psalm (London: J.H., 2 1691), 546Google Scholar.

60 See Graham Dixon, ‘Handel's Vesper Music: Towards a Liturgical Reconstruction’, Musical Times, 126 (1985), 393, 395–7; idem, ‘Handel's Music for the Carmelites: A Study in Liturgy and Some Observations on Performance’, Early Music, 15 (1987), 16–30. Other occasions are possible, but less likely. Handel certainly directed music for the Feast on 15 July 1707. See recently Riepe, Juliane, Händel vor dem Fernrohr. Die Italienreise (Beeskow, 2013), 207n, 236, 237n, 447Google Scholar. Donald Burrows observes that the context of Dixit’s first performance has ‘generated strong disagreements, rival performances and recordings, and bizarre situations that would make good material for an extended comedy film’. Burrows, , ‘What We Know – and What We Don't Know – about Handel's Career in Rome’, in Georg Friedrich Händel in Rom: Beiträge der Internationalen Tagung am Deutschen Historischen Institut in Rom, 17–20 Oktober 2007, ed. Ehrmann-Herfort, Sabine and Schnettger, Matthias (Kassel, 2010), 103Google Scholar. The work's composition history is also debated. Intriguingly, John H. Roberts has recently (and persuasively) argued that Handel probably completed a version of Dixit Dominus in Venice, but ‘later revised it in Rome, discarding the original last two sections [including De torrente] in favor of new versions’. Roberts, , ‘“Souvenirs de Florence”: Additions to the Handel Canon’, Handel Jahrbuch, 57 (2011), 205–7Google Scholar.

61 Idem, ‘Handel's Music for the Carmelites’, 18. On Protestants in Handel's Rome and interconfessional relations, see Ehrmann-Herfort, Sabine and Schnettger, Matthias (eds.), Georg Friedrich Händel in Rom: Beiträge der Internationalen Tagung am Deutschen Historischen Institut in Rom, 17–20 Oktober 2007 (Kassel, 2010)Google Scholar.

62 See Riepe, Händel vor dem Fernrohr, 143.

63 Brown, Howard Mayer, ‘Emulation, Competition, and Homage: Imitation and Theories of Imitation in the Renaissance’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 35 (1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Relationships between Handel's Dixit and other settings are debated. See Marx, Hans Joachim, ‘Händels lateinsiche Kirchenmusik und ihr gattungsgeschichtlicher Kontext’, Göttinger Händel Beiträge, 5 (1993), esp. 118–19, 142Google Scholar; Riepe, Händel vor dem Fernrohr, 160–1.

64 Wehner, Ralf, ‘Mendelssohn and the Performance of Handel's Vocal Works’, in Mendelssohn in Performance, ed. Reichwald, Siegwart (Bloomington, 2008), 165Google Scholar. Published soon after Handel's death, John Mainwaring's Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel (1760) already claimed that Handel had left Italian audiences ‘thunderstruck with the grandeur and sublimity of his stile’ and eminent musicians ‘puzzled how to execute’ his secular music's ‘amazing fulness, force, and energy’ (53, 56, 62).

65 On musicians for the Carmelite Feasts, see Riepe, Händel vor dem Fernrohr, 237–8.

66 Detailed grapplings with music and anti-Jewish traditions include Roberts, John H., ‘False Messiah’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 63 (2010), 4597CrossRefGoogle Scholar; HaCohen, Ruth, The Music Libel against the Jews (New Haven, 2012)Google Scholar; Marissen, Michael, Tainted Glory in Handel's ‘Messiah’ (New Haven, 2014)Google Scholar.