August 2018

This is the second in a short series of posts about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.

Friday morning dawned slightly overcast, which was a bit of a relief, as it was very warm!  There were fewer things on the schedule that morning that I wanted to see, so I decided to explore Maynooth a bit. I went for a wander up the main street, and took some time to explore the ruins of the castle.  It was built in the early 13th century by the Fitzmaurices and besieged during the Revolt of Silken Thomas in 1534.  


One paper that I did want to see was on ‘Tune indications in 16th century Dutch songbooks’, by Clara Strijbosch.  This was an absolutely fascinating paper looking at songs in the vernacular.  Clara sketched the rise of the tune indication in 16th century Dutch songs, looking at where the technique came from and why did people did it.  She identified sixteen 16th century booklets containing songs with tune indications.  She suggested that the practice originated in the religious song books, while the first vernacular songs with tune indications are from Devotio Moderna women’s houses, begining c1539.   These were songs to secular tunes.

Sometimes the printed songbooks included the melody, but also a tune indication, then several sets of lyrics to each tune.  They were organised by tune.  These printed books give us a huge amount of tune names, albeit sometimes without the music.   Some of the secular song books were very popular, for example, there is one complete copy and two fragments of the Antwerp songbook. The full copy has two tune indications with more than 200 songs, while one fragment has no tune indications and the other contains two tune indications for all 13 songs in it.  During the period of war with Spain and religious discord, from 1540 to almost 1590, there are almost no songbooks.  Clara argued that this was simply not the right time to publish secular song books.   There was one exception: the Beggars Songbook (1581-90).  This book contained political songs, of which only 6 have no tune indications. 

By 1590, there was a sort of peace, the city of Antwerp had fallen and many of its printers had left for Amsterdam.  This was marked by appearance of a series of secular song books, all with variations on the title of The Amsterdam Amorous Songbook.  The first version has tune indications for 70% of the songs, while by the time of the 3rd edition the figure had risen to 95%.  Clara acknowledged that print had a much larger audience, however, not everyone was there when someone was singing,  so tune indications only work with well known songs.

Alba amicorum, on the other hand, are handwritten poetry books written during the period when nothing was printed.  10% of the books have songs in them and they were all put together by women of the lower and middle nobility.  They contain 500 Dutch song texts and 300 French, without notation, but they often contain tune indications.    Some of these tunes were English, for example, ‘Sweet Robert’ comes from an English jig, while ‘Fortune my Foe’ is one of the most popular.

Clara also mentioned the Dutch song database which contains more than 20,000 Dutch songs though not all are from the Renaissance. I was fascinated by this, and although I’ve only managed a quick glance at it so far, I must allocate a longer stretch to investigate it, especially as there was so much cultural exchange between England and the Netherlands during the sixteenth century.  It was really interesting to hear about Dutch ballads, and, again, I was struck by the similarities between Dutch and English ballads, just as I was when working with Massimo Rospocher on the links between English and Italian ballads.

I took an extended lunch break to explore the college grounds.  Behind Logic House, where the conference was being held, there are some beautiful gardens.

After my lunch break, I made a point of going to one session that I knew very little about – medieval trouvère song.  The first paper was given by Joseph Mason on ‘Invention in Trouvère Song’.  He noted that contemporary sources describe how a singer might make, play, or find a song.  This act of ‘finding a song’ assumes that the song pre-exists the composition, thus challenging the modern notion of composition.  The Latin term inventio is the equivalent of the French trouver – to find.  Inventio was part of rhetorical teaching and had a close relationship with memory in the five pillars of rhetoric, helping the scholar to store information and access the memory.  In trouvère song, the composer was said to have ‘found’ the bits of the song in their memory.  Once the poet had found the things they needed from their memory and gathered them together, they needed to arrange them and add style using various methods of amplification.  Joseph gave examples of songs in which affective embellishments were added to the melody in order to slow the melody down.  This had the effect of amplifying the tune and making it easier to remember.

The next paper, ‘“Per vers o per chanso”: language, gender and performance in the Troubador tornada’, was given by Anne Levitsky.  She showed how Alain de Lille  sought to reinforce the gender binary system, trying to uphold the male as the most perfect example of the human being. Alexandros Maria Hatzikiriakos then talked about ‘Song and voice identity in Vitsentzos Kornaros’ Erotokritos’, suggesting that it was a significant example of the hybrid culture of the Cretan Renaissance.  The story is taken from Paris et Vienne, which circulated Europe in many languages, but it is a more elaborate retelling of the story, not a translation.  Music and song play key role in shaping the identity of the protagonists and tell us about the soundscape of Crete.

As there were only 3 papers on the medieval song panel, I was able to scurry down the corridor to hear Karl Kugle on ‘Sounds of power, powers of sound’.  He talked about the motets in the Chantilly codex.  One motet crossed the whole of Europe through the Royal and court chapels, church councils, monastic settings, papal councils.  He speculated that it perhaps had links to England as it’s in a metre that was more commonly used in England than on the continent and the repeated notes in the tune were a common feature of English motets. He suggested that the motet carved a trajectory through the musical space of the hexachord system in order to exert social control.



After the coffee break, I went to a workshop: ‘Space place sound and memory – immersive experiences of the past’.  James Cook and Kenny McAlpine described how they are using game technology to recreate performances from the past in the spaces where they took place. They wanted us to think about several questions:

  • What can the technology teach us about the past?  Our sources are limited and that on-screen versions of the past create a parallel world. It is tempting to be flippant and suggest that technology can teach us little about the past. But the past we inhabit is subject to constant reinvention and often we know little. The technology can allow us to experience something of presence, but it is based on imaginative leaps, grounded in detailed scholarship.
  • Can it help us to understand or enhance performance practice? The technology has been used in medical and astronaut training so logic suggests yes, as it will allow musicians to try out performances in the best reconstructions of the appropriate space.  It has the potential to give us an unparalleled insight into particular performance contexts – the ‘aura’ of the past. Musicians could have a richer understanding based on experience not just scholarship.
  • Can it bring in new audiences for early music? It’s a bit specialist but should move us beyond the current audience, because people like to try new things. Thankfully there is no smell! The question is whether we can convert new technology users into an audience who will attend concerts longer term. The danger, of course, is that the audio might just be a soundtrack.
  • Can it bring new people in to museums and cultural sites? There has been a resurgent interest in heritage in recent years, so they hope to capitalise on this.  The team can imagine all sorts of uses, for example, demonstrating change over time. Nevertheless, the general public might be unfamiliar with a scholarly interpretation of the music and therefore its appeal could be limited.
  • Where might we go in follow on projects?   The varied audience to their public lectures demonstrates that  there is novelty value which they can build on.  In a more scholarly environment, the technology has a significant value in teaching practice because we can test approaches in a lab-type environment exploring different acoustics, instrumentations, voices etc. It even has the potential to solve some scholarly disputes.
  • How does it fit in to trends in medieval and Renaissance music scholarship? One of the interesting points that the team made was that big drama series set in the medieval and Renaissance periods, for example, have had more freedom to present whatever music they like because most people know so little about it compared to, say, the 1960s, where the television audience would be quick to spot something that they thought was wrong. This has led to the suggestion that there are multiple parallel interpretations rather than accusations of anachronisms.   The current trend is for the intersection of creative and scholarly practice.  


They pointed out that musical instruments are usually displayed as objects, completely divorced from their function, which, in itself, is about sociability.  Reflecting on this later, I wonder how, or even if, wearing a virtual reality headset and interacting with avatars really reflects the sociability of music-making and audience participation, but still… They rightly commented that performance is an experience for the players and the audience.   Even a recording removes the sense of participation.  They gave the example of a mass cycle is envisaged in a particular surrounding with, for instance, acoustic and lighting properties which you simply don’t get from a recording or even a concert hall.  Their project is trying to address this.  Nevertheless, they have faced some problems, because in video games, audio is usually an afterthought – it’s all about the visuals.  Their approach focussed on a virtual auditorium that gives a sensory experience.  


Using Lidar surveys, they have been able to create the chapel at Linlithgow Palace a model of the chapel as it is now and the sound for that space. They then began to reconstruct the chapel as it was, with some excerpts of the Mass Proper using acoustics based on the space as it probably was, with roof, altar, curtains, statues etc. After a description of these technical processes involved in modelling the and its acoustics, Adam Whittaker, the workshop’s respondent, tried the VR headset, with the audience being able to see what he was looking at. After giving us his response to the project, Adam opened the floor for the plenary discussion and invited us to try the VR headset ourselves.

The workshop was the final session of the day, and before the conference dinner we had the pleasure of another concert, this time given by Schola Gregoriana Maynooth with Uilleann piper Michael Vignoles and organist Raymond O’Donnell as their special guests.  It was an absolutely glorious evening.  The ladies of Schola Gregoriana Maynooth sang some of the Hildegard of Bingen chants that I studied as an undegraduate.  I’d never heard them sung live before.  I’m fond of the Uillean pipes, and Vignoles’ performance of Easter Snow was gorgeous.  If you’re interested, there’s a lovely little clip of Liam O’Flynn discussing the pipes and piping tradition on YouTube, and Easter Snow appears at about 3.20.

I skipped the conference dinner.  In fact, if I’m honest, when I booked the conference itself, my flights and my accommodation, I decided that I couldn’t really afford to attend the dinner as well. So after the concert I went into Maynooth and had a lovely meal with a new acquaintance, Eleanor Hedger, sitting outside one of the restaurants on the main street, listening to the duo singing in the square and discussing our research.  It was a beautiful, warm evening.



My daughter has been through a lot this year.  In May, she underwent over 10 hours of spinal surgery at Alder Hey Hospital to correct the curves in her spine caused by severe scoliosis.  She missed weeks of school and with that, her friends. She has spent a lot of her recovery time with her rabbits, Milky and Mocha; watching TED Talks on YouTube; and drawing animals.

Yesterday, she discovered that  2000, there were only 2000 mountain pygmy possums left in the world. In recent years, that number has severely declined – the last count revealed only 30 adults.  These mouse-sized, nocturnal marsupials live in only a few, remote alpine regions of Australia, their habitat having been almost completely destroyed, while feral cats and climate change have also had a significant detrimental impact on their numbers.


She was desperately upset, but she decided to channel her emotions into doing something productive: she did a beautiful drawing of a mountain pygmy possum and set up an Instagram account, think_endangered, to publish her drawings of endangered creatures.  If you have an Instagram account, please consider following her.  She needs our help to raise awareness of these creatures before it is too late.  For more information about mountain pygmy possums and what can be done to help them, visit the Paddy Pallin Foundation.  If anyone knows of any more recent developments or current plans to help this creature, please let me know.

Mountain Pygmy Possum Copyright Anne Hyde 2018

I just wanted to write a quick post to congratulate my home-schooled tutoring pupil on her GCSE results.  I taught her for two of her subjects: she got a B for iGCSE history and a 9 for  iGCSE English Language.

This is the first in a short series of posts about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.

The Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, known as MedRen, was a slightly scary undertaking for me. I’ve only been to one music conference before, where I presented a paper on ballads and the public sphere in Tudor England during the final year of my PhD. I only lasted half a day before I was poached by the Voices and Books Network! So 3 and a half days of wall to wall musicology was a bit intimidating, not least because there was so much on the schedule that I knew almost nothing about.

I left Liverpool early in the morning, and arrived in Maynooth about 11am. The first paper that I caught was given by Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita on ‘Women, oral tradition, and morality: the iconography of the sixteenth-century Spanish dance’. She described how women appear in foreground of pictures by Hoefnagel for an atlas by Georg Braun, even though they don’t appear in other sources.  The musical scenes are concentrated in  Andalucia, and focus on women dancing and playing instruments, especially percussion instruments.  The text, however, does not refer to the musical illustrations.   There has been speculation that they are perhaps playing music in the Muslim fashion, as this was the last Muslim community in Spain.  Morisco music was banned in 1556, and furthermore, music was seen as unladylike by Vives. The women in the images hold the rosary, as if they have to demonstrate their faith.  She noted that dance and music was part of an oral tradition so difficult to establish what it was like in the 16the century, but she suggested that the Spanish dance referred to by travelers might have been done in the Morisco fashion, not least because on some of the copies (which were all hand coloured) the skin of the musicians is darker.  

The next paper was given by Lynsey Callaghan: ‘How was music theory read in fifteenth century England? The evidence of ‘‘þe Proporcions“’.  Lynsey provided evidence from 3 different, mainly mathematical, manuscripts which included the same musical treatise. The treatise was not directly connected to sound, but had implications for it, because the mathematical ratios it included were used to to decide what was a consonant interval.  It includes a passing reference to sonorous music and the voice.  She noted the treatise’s pedagogical tone meant that it assumed a teaching role, especially through it use of Latin to name the ratios.  This was necessary because there was no vernacular equivalent for these Latin terms, but they were thoroughly explained.  Finally, she pointed out that the three manuscripts offer evidence of three different ways in which the text was consumed.

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The final paper in this first session was given by Katie Bank on ‘Voices in Dialogue in Martin Peerson’s Private Musicke (1620)’.  She described dialogue function as cultural predication, an inherent part of early modern thought processes.  Sometimes the dialogue itself is fiction – an ambiguity between fact and drama – but at the time this was seen as part of its effectiveness.   Katie described four different ways in which a song could be dialogic, but she acknowledged that dialogic songs were usually written for two accompanied human voices, in textual and musical conversation.  Peerson, however, was not clear on whether he meant ‘dialogue’  figuratively or the songs for more than one voice.  She also pointed out that even though the singers did not have costume for characterisation like drama, decisions made by performers at the point of performance affected the way the songs were heard.  This was something that I wholeheartedly agree with, as it chimes in with my work on the ballads in circulation during the Pilgrimage of Grace.  Songs are so much more than just the words and music!

After lunch, I attended two paired papers on music in Reformation Germany.  The first paper, ‘Canonisation in Lutheran Repertoire in public and private education: the case of Lüneburg‘, was given by Christine Roth.  She described Lutheran culture as based on a common canon of music. Musical education was designed to bolster this, choosing a canon of important or exemplary music that was considered suitable for teaching.  This canon aimed at acquainting children with the exemplary works whether they were Lutheran works or pre-Reformation.  It was linked to Lutheran notion of history and what should be remembered – the memory of portent events which were divine acts.

Hein Sauer then gave a paper on ’16th Century Music Manuscripts in Neustadt an der Orla’. The Reformation in Neustadt was influenced by Augustinian monks, but the town became Lutheran in 1528.  Neustadt needed a lot of music, as music for every Sunday was obligatory.  This led to the purchase of more than 200 prints and the creation of nine manuscripts.   Having examined two, it appeared that most of the repertoire in them could be found elsewhere.  In many case the prints were available first, but Hein argued that most of the manuscript versions are closer to performance practice in Neustadt.  They give evidence of social practice, for example, a psalm which was altered for the wedding of one of the scribes.  The manuscripts included a good mix of older canonised examples and newer music for festivals.

The next pair of papers, which had no direct relationship to each other, nevertheless both looked at otherness, one from the perspective of Lutheran hymnody, and the other from Catholic dance.  Antonio Chemotti’ s paper was entitled ‘Hymn culture and enemies of the church in sixteenth-century Silesia’.  He suggested that hymns were used to strengthen identity and that we can use the lyrics to identify who the hymns were ‘attacking’ through the beliefs they express.  One of the church’s enemies was the expanding Ottoman Empire, generally referred to in polemic as ‘the Turk’.  Collections of hymns against the Turks were printed in 1566, the year of Sulieman the Magnificent’s campaign against the Habsburg Empire in Hungary.  Antonio gave an example of a psalm paraphrase which asked God for help, being given new meaning as if that help were specifically needed against the Turk.  This occurred because, as I have argued in Singing the News, contrafacta carried the original meaning of the songs with them.  The way Triller choses his melodies carried many meanings, creating links between old secular texts and new sacred meanings.  Triller also wanted the new texts to be used at the same liturgical time as the old one was – thus creating an even stronger link than the Lutherans had.  Antonio also argued that Triller’s was a compromise hymn book, demonstrating that the Catholics and Lutherans got along well against the Salesians. the Silesian hymn book doesn’t attack the pope like Lutheran ones do – attempt not to offend the Catholics as they are trying to disassociate themselves from the religious dissidents.

Moritz Kelber’s paper on ‘(De-)constructing the enemy in early modern music and dance’ looked at music and the war against the Turks.  This war was one of the most important political issues in German speaking lands in the 15th and 16th centuries, even in areas where there was no direct military threat.  This was especially true of the siege of Vienna, an event which shocked public discourse.  German music was part of the construction of an omnipresent anti-Turkish literature, although most 16th century sources use the word Turk for a variety of ethnic groups.  Churches were made to ring their largest bells at noon to remind their people to pray against the Turks.  Similarly, in the 16th century, the black legend against the Spanish began to infect the German-speaking lands, and they used similar polemic to demonise the Catholic Spaniards. There were many pamphlets against the Turks, many containing songs.  Some of these have music so seem to be aimed a musically-literate audience.  Dance used exotic costumes and instruments to assimilate foreign cultures in a very special way.   For example, Maximilian’s court was fascinated with foreign dances and masquerades, where courtiers mixed with professional Morris dancers, both encountering and interacting with the ‘other’.


In the evening after dinner, we were treated to a concert of 5 voice polyphonic motets by the Boston group, Sourcework, who sing not from printed editions, but from original notation. It was very impressive, and I have to say that conferences with inbuilt concerts rather than keynotes might just be the way forward!

Back in June, I was invited to lead the final session of Lancaster University’s Premodern Reading Group (Twitter @lancasterpremod) in a celebration of my first book, Singing the News.  We had a fantastic poster: PremodernRG_22ndJune18. We had grapes.  We even had cake (although the mind boggles over what the university English Department kitchen is doing with a cleaver like that…!  Still, we put it to good use.)

davI described how my book was conceived with two main, interconnecting aims. The first was to address the disconnect between ballads as texts and ballads as songs, since I
firmly believe that ballads are songs, intended to be sung and heard. Hence the 3 hours of recordings that accompany the bookThe second was to show that in the sixteenth century, ballads could play a significant role in the transmission of news.

A characteristic of news ballads, central to my research, was their fluid mobility between different media, including verbal, visual, and written means of communication. These songs were part of a complex media system which was dominated by a high level of intermediality. The circulation of news through ballads and printed songs, simultaneously oral and written media, often employing music and images, epitomize this dynamic process. These songs had an inherent sociability, as they were learned by ear and passed from one person to another.  This allowed the discussion of news, especially potentially seditious news, in a time when there were significant limitations on free speech.

Next, I talked about one of the case studies in the book.  I chose to look at the series of ballads which were written about the fall of Henry VIII’s chief minister and architect of the English Reformation, Thomas Cromwell. These ballads debated matters at the heart of Henry’s religious policy. What did it mean to be a Protestant or a papist? What were acceptable beliefs for an Englishman to hold? These were confused matters, because although the Pope no longer had authority over the English church, that church was not actually Protestant. It could be difficult to know what you were supposed to believe. This was precisely the sort of discussion that Henry’s regime sought to curb, especially as it fell against a background of increased religious anxiety. The Cromwell flyting was published at a time when the regime felt vulnerable. Henry’s marital and dynastic difficulties, coupled with his moves to change the country’s religion, caused embarrassing public displays of criticism.

After discussing some of the issues in the flyting, we sang the first of the Cromwell ballads, Troll on Away, with me taking the verses and the rest of the group joining in on the chorus.  So it was less of a reading group than a scratch choir!  But it was, as always, great fun and very thought provoking.

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Charles a la ChasseI’ve been asked to run the history department’s residential summer school for Edge Hill University this year.  The topic that I’ve chosen is the Civil War, but with a long view that encompasses 100 years of history.  I’ve spent quite a while trying to come up with a blend of activities which will give students a flavour of university education in the limited time available.  Obviously, there have to be lectures, so I’ve got 4 of those – one for each session on Reformation, ‘British’ monarchy, Rich and Poor and Charles I.  But the other activities are more difficult to work out, especially given the emphasis on independent reading and research that characterises the university system.  There is an independent research project that they have to complete, but there simply isn’t enough time in two days to expect students to complete the sort of background reading that we normally would.  Instead, I’m going to give them a book chapter on the first day, by way of introduction to the major themes, and give them a list of relevant articles and books that they can find in the library.  Then I’m going to concentrate on primary source analysis and tasks to get them thinking about the issues raised in the lectures.

So, for example, I have included a set of role plays on what Protestants and Catholics believe, what makes them similar and different and how the nature of those religious debates changes over time. Another thinking activity is to design a castle, which should get them thinking about the ways that warfare changed in the early modern period.  I’ve even pushed the boat out by asking them to write a ballad on a given theme, in order to get them thinking about how and why these particular issues mattered to people at ground level, not just in terms of the monarchy.

In terms of using sources, one of the activities is pretty standard university fare – I’m going to ask them to do an in-depth analysis of An Agreement of the People, identifying the issues that it raises and whose attitudes and beliefs it reflects.  But I’m particularly pleased with an activity which takes a section of a journal article and compares it to the evidence that was used to write it, so that the students can see how the author developed their idea.  If that works as well as I hope, there might be more on that in a later post.

Their independent research project will be based around Charles I’s trial, planning speeches to make the case either for the prosecution or defence.  I’m looking forward to it, especially as it’s the first time in many years that I’ve developed a course from scratch.  Even though it only lasts two days, it’s 12 hours of teaching time, so it will be a novelty teaching full days!



The final post in a short series based on my recent trip to the EDPOP conference in Utrecht.  Although this one isn’t about EDPOP itself, it’s about Amsterdam.


It seemed a long way to go, not to see anything.  As I wasn’t going to be able to fly back to the UK at a reasonable hour until the following day, I decided to give myself a full day in Amsterdam.  I walked from the station to the museum quarter, enjoying the surroundings, and then I treated myself to breakfast, in the shape of a delicious waffle.  Next, I  headed in to the Rijksmuseum, which was the top recommendation of the conference delegates when I asked around for ‘things to do in Amsterdam’.

I spent several hours looking at the collections, scouring the paintings for the street singers in the background.  In the Seven Works of Mercy by the Master of Alkmaar, Christ stands among the residents of the Dutch city and watches how they treat those who are in need of help. The notice points out that it gives a good indication of urban Dutch life around 1500, and there, in the background of the very first panel, are some street musicians.  Even more impressive was Peter Baltens’ A Flemish Kermis with a Performance of the Farce ‘Een cluyte van Plaeyerwater.


It was also interesting to see how many musicians were painted as warnings against vice!


And the earthenware violin was utterly fascinating.  Sometimes considered to be the masterpiece of Delft, it is purely decorative.

Given that I’m planning to look further into the links between ballads and memorialisation of the dead, I was interested in all the memorial paintings and sculptures too.  For example, this painting by Aertgen van Leyden of The Raising of Lazarus was painted to commemorate the couple kneeling in the wings, while the Memorial Tablet by the Master of Spes Nostra commemorate the four canons.




I’ve commented before that I don’t know a lot about art, but Van Gogh has always interested me (you can probably blame Don McLean), so as well as looking at the three Van Goghs in the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum itself was a must-see.  One of my favourite paintings is on show there – his Kingfisher by the Waterside.

The presence of planters full of dwarf sunflowers outside the ticket booths wasn’t lost on me either.