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’.

Sourcework

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!

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Since my children returned to school the push has been on to complete the final stages of my book manuscript.  It’s due to go to the publisher at the end of September, so I’ve been doing all the tedious things that come with completion.  Things like making sure all the images that I am using were sorted out.  Unfortunately, I my application for a grant to pay for several broadside images was declined, so I’ve had to think very carefully about what I was going to use as illustrations.  I couldn’t afford to self-fund as many broadside images as I would have used if I’d been given a grant, because as well as the cost of paying for high quality digital images, there is the payment of permissions to consider.  So I’ve settled on two high quality images of broadsides from the British Library, one of which illustrates my first major case study about the production of broadside ballads and the other is the first English broadside ballad to appear with music. On the plus side, the fact that there won’t be so many bought-in images means that I can concentrate on scores. I’ve always wanted to include as many musical examples as possible, so I’ve been able to use those extra images to provide settings of several more ballads, including a couple of conjectural settings.  These show that some of the broadsides which look like ballads but don’t include a tune direction could easily have been sung.

There are other tedious things that I’ve been doing.  I’ve had to check that all the entries in the footnotes and bibliography are consistent; that spellings which aren’t uniform in the period are nevertheless uniform in the book text; that the spacing between paragraphs and quotations is correct; and even things as simple as renaminng image files with their figure numbers.

Then I reached a bit of a dead end.  I could continue to tinker with the text, because it’s there and it’s easy to do.  But I’m not convinced that it’s getting any better!  I can’t send it off to the publisher yet, because I’m waiting for a friend to read through the whole text and get back to me with any howlers, typos, repetition, ugly prose, confusing bits – all the sorts of things that when you’ve been working on the same text for several years, you can no longer see!  So I’ve put it to one side and I’m looking at a couple of other things, and there will be more on those later.

With apologies for the length of the delay between posts (brought about by a computer faliure), here is the second piece about Elizabeth Parr and William Elderton:

William Elderton’s A proper new balad in praise of my Ladie Marques (London, 1569; STC (2nd ed.) / 7562) is unique among the surviving early ballad epitaphs in that it specifies the tune to which it was to be sung: ‘The Lusty Gallant’. With its implications of joyfulness and chivalry, ‘The Lusty Gallant’ may seem inappropriate for a verse epitaph, yet as you can see the words of A proper new balad fit the tune perfectly and the melody is in a minor mode – the Aeolian.

A proper new Balad in praise of my Ladie Marques whose Death is bewailed to the Tune of New lusty gallant-p1al7bfl541esn1sdtgt1it91qj8

Actually, it’s debateable whether the initial upbeat on the first verse is necessary. Originally, I put it in because it matched the bouncy crotchet-quaver rhythm of the rest of the line. The lyrics work equally well, however, with no upbeat, because it emphasises the first syllable of ‘Ladies’ by placing it on the stronger beat of the bar.  It also matches the three-quaver rhythm of the second line. I’ve played around with both and I’m undecided.

I left Facebook, for a variety of reasons, last autumn and I haven’t really missed it.  But I have just rediscovered my MySpace page.  I had completely forgotten that I’d had it, if I’m honest.  I’ve just spent a while playing with it, but the reason that I wanted to mention it here is that, for some long time, I’ve wanted to be able to share with you some of the ballads that I’ve been learning about and I haven’t been able to because WordPress, in it’s free form at least, doesn’t support that type of content.  MySpace, on the other hand, does.  At the moment, my page still only contains a few of the songs that I recorded at Shamrock Studios in 2000 with my folk band, Triptych, but I hope that in the future I might be able to post some of the home recordings of ballads that I’ve made over the last few years.

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This week is the first week of my children’s Easter holiday, so I am juggling childcare with work. Cramming little bits of work into wherever it will fit isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t allow for extended research or writing, for example. But there are little things that I can do. I went through a conference paper in the bath this afternoon, without the paper notes I will use on Friday. At least now I know exactly where I need to rely on my notes more heavily and where I can afford to abandon them altogether! On Sunday afternoon I recorded a few more ballads. I’m considering an introduction and conclusion to a short piece I’m writing on the historiography of ballads and the news. In the end it will be part of my chapter on ballads as a form of news media. There is a significant majority of historians who agree that ballads could provide news as well as entertainment before the development of newspapers, but little detail on what actually constituted ‘news’ in the sixteenth century. That’s a question I’ve been trying to answer myself in the last few weeks, but one interesting theory came from a rather unexpected source. Discussing the issue of what makes something ‘news’ with my two elder children during a car journey over the weekend (and they raised it, not me!), my elder son pointed out that news DID include opinion or editorial commentary, because if we were all clones, we wouldn’t need any news because we would all think the same way about everything. Only if we were all clones who thought the same way, could news be objective. Profound, I thought, especially coming from a primary school pupil.

Last week I tried to cram in as much writing as I could because I knew I would have less time for it in the next few weeks, but the pattern was broken by a trip into Manchester to record a short video interview about my PhD for the department website. When one of my colleagues had asked me a few questions about my work, I then got to ask the questions of another friend. I found that considerably more difficult. I can talk endlessly about my work, but semi-improvised questioning was really hard.

On Friday, I go to my first music conference: Music, Circulation and the Public Sphere. It’s perfect for my research and it will be interesting, if rather nerve-wracking to talk to an audience of musicians rather than historians. I’m very much looking forward to it, as I’m hoping that I’ll get some feedback to help me answer some of the questions I raised in a previous post on Musical Musings. I’m going to talk about ballads and news, how they provoked debate among their audience, before raising some questions about the development of popular and sacred music in the Renaissance period.

Last week, during my panel meeting, one of my supervisors pointed out that my use of the phrase ‘based on the tonic, sub-dominant and dominant chords’ to describe a seventeenth-century tune was anachronistic, but conceded that finding terms to describe Renaissance music was difficult. We arranged to discuss it further next week, but in the meantime I’ve been wrestling with technical details and grand plans, trying to work out how best to describe my musical examples.

If I’m honest, despite the fact that I used to teach music, modes have always scared me. At the sight of anything modal, my brain goes into panic mode and simply says ‘I can’t do this’.  Teaching to GCSE level really only involved acknowledging that modes existed, that they were a feature of medieval and to a lesser extent, Renaissance music (and thereby hangs another blog post – why musicians and historians can’t talk to one another because we can’t talk about the same time periods!), and then moving on. You played some examples to show that they sounded a bit different and as long as students could recognise that a piece was modal, that was as much as information as you needed to impart. But working on the ballads has required a much more detailed knowledge of this, for me, thorny area. Not only do I need to be able to tell which scale any tune uses (relatively straightforward when you have a list in front of you and a husband to make sure you haven’t gone completely loopy), I suddenly need to know the exact meanings of terms I’ve been using loosely for years. There are philosophical debates to be had (well, actually, I’ve had them, several times over, with my long-suffering husband and equally long-suffering Fiend) about whether church music influenced popular music; how much influence popular music had on the church; what roles both popular and church music had in the move from modes to major and minor scales; whether what we find easy to learn in the twenty-first century is the same as what the sixteenth-century man or woman would have found easy to pick up by ear; and whether it matters if I use terms that hadn’t been invented in the sixteenth century to describe the melodies.

There is no immediately obvious set of terminology to use about the tonality of sixteenth-century popular music. It does not fit into the patterns of the eight Gregorian church modes, nor is it major or minor; but popular music, as it now appears to us, is mainly in the major or minor modes (Ionian, Dorian, Aeolian) or a mixture of them. These are the modes most closely linked to modern major/minor scales because of the patterns of tones and semitones that they contain. As such, they are the easiest modes for the untrained/amateur musician to sing. Are we being anachronistic to assume that we know what the sixteenth century man on the street would have found difficult to sing? If they were more used to doing things by ear, then maybe they picked up things that we might find more difficult without too much of a problem. But then, logically, the evidence that we have is that most of the popular song melodies of the period were written in the Ionian, Dorian and Aeolian modes, suggesting that they found those modes easier too; otherwise there should be just as much popular music to be found in all the other modes. My Fiend pointed out that there are reasons why we find certain musical intervals pleasing and others unpleasant – that’s why the augmented fourth is thought to be so nasty and yet any A-level music student studying Baroque harmony will know that its inversion, the diminished fifth, is used regularly and is fine. Music is heard by vibration, so there could be physiological reasons why some things are more pleasant than others.  He reminded me that the human brain likes patterns.  A quick google search for ‘brain, music, pattern’ brings up an article which points out that brain scan results all show similar responses to music. I’m fairly certain this would be corroborated if I went to Jstor and ran the same search. If we consider for a moment twentieth-century serial music, such as that by Schoenberg, the main problem of acceptance that it faces is that, for many, it has no easily discernible tune. A musician may be able to appreciate the construction, but the non-specialist strains to hear a melody, and finding none, finds the music unacceptable. The brain longs for a pattern to latch on to. Perhaps the pattern in the Ionian, Dorian and Aeolian modes is just easier to find than that in the Hypophrygian.

Of course, there is no way of knowing that what we now accept to be the tunes for sixteenth century ballads or even late medieval carols are actually how the tunes were sung at the time, because of the vagaries of notation, oral transmission and the fact that some do not appear extant in notation until the seventeenth century. The bits that were more difficult to sing could have been smoothed out in the process of the tunes being handed on from one set of ears to another. But again, this backs up the argument that tunes based on other scales were less easy to sing because the less familiar and simple intervals were more difficult to remember.

Anyway, the use of terms such as tonic/dominant/subdominant is anachronistic in that it implies a type of chordal harmony that did not exist in the sixteenth century. But it is the most accessible set of terms to a modern, non-specialist audience. Furthermore, if the tune is built on the arpeggios of those very chords, sometimes following the cadential patterns of major/minor harmony that we would recognise today, it does describe the music rather perfectly, at least to my mind. It may also play into the argument that, as music headed towards major and minor keys over the next century or so, the ballads were ahead of the game in mainly using major/minor tonalities. It is equally anachronistic to talk about things in the Aeolian mode, but talking about ‘the Dorian mode with the flattened sixth throughout’ is complicated and confusing.

There is the possibility of using solmization, which designates each pitch with a syllable, but it is based on aural rather than visual recognition, being used to recognise intervals. It is also more confusing for the non-musical audience. Apparently the standard form of plainsong harmony in the middle ages and early renaissance was on ‘fa’. One harmony line (the burden) was almost always sung a third or a fifth below the melody and the other (the treble), a fourth above – it was known as the fa-burden and avoids that horror of A-level Bach harmony students, the consecutive fifth. Technically, the fa-burden was a series of parallel first inversions of the triad on the melody note. But that is beside the point.

There is a balancing act to be done here between using language incorrectly, which I don’t want to do because it annoys me when other people use technical musical terms without the slightest understanding of what they mean (and because I just don’t like being wrong!), and using such technical language that the general reader can’t follow it. There is even an issue of what is popular and what is art music… In these paragraphs I’m assuming anything to be popular if it wasn’t written by a trained composer, but what about tunes that were written by trained musicians that were taken up by a wider audience…? What a lot of cans of worms.

I have a grand theory about music based on the use of the vernacular but I don’t think it’s all that new – I don’t see how it can be. Nevertheless, all the musicologists I’ve read seem to insist that over the long term, court and church composers influenced popular music into the change to major/minor keys, while popular music held on for many years to its out-dated modal tunes. This makes no sense to me since the vast majority of the ballad tunes were Ionian, Dorian or Aeolian, the most similar modes to the modern major and minor scales. Some of the ballad tunes, as I’ve said, seem to be squarely in a major key because not only are they based on a major scale, they have a cadential pattern which follows the standard modern patterns associated with a major key. Which is not to say that they have harmony, it’s just to point out that were you to harmonise it with chords I, II, IV, V and VI, there are standard chord progressions that would fit.

My theory is that as the sixteenth century English church embraced the vernacular, it also embraced the culture of the people. We know that across Europe, the Protestant church utilised popular melodies to enable the singing of vernacular hymns. Up until the Reformation, the church liturgy (and indeed, much official discussion in print and manuscript) was conducted in Latin. The population as a whole took no part in singing in church because church music was Latin polyphony sung by trained choirs, where it existed at all. The shift to congregational singing in the vernacular had to draw upon the only tradition of communal singing that existed – that of ballads, carols and folk songs. It is well known that Protestant reformers privileged the words over the music for theological reasons so that the meaning of God’s word was clear, but what else could you do if you wanted untrained voices to join in? The church modes were theoretical constructs developed for trained church choirs, not for the farm labourer or tanner. The simpler the melody, the easier it was for everyone to join in with metrical psalms. Perhaps you could continue to produce tunes in modes such as the Hypophrygian, but all the evidence of the extant popular tunes suggests that your congregation would have found that something of a challenge to learn by ear and reproduce. Therefore, over time, the church was forced to take on board the music of the people, not just in the use of tunes drawn from traditional, demotic sources but also by adopting the musical keys which the untrained ear had already privileged because its patterns were more pleasing to the brain. Although I’d be the last person to deny that church and court music influenced the ballads, at the moment I believe it to have been a two-way street, with the ballad music being somewhat ahead of the game in looking towards the major and minor keys before they had even been invented!

DSCF3139  This week has been half term, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing with my children.  We’ve been on a couple of walks, one round Tarn Hows in the Lake District and one from Wrea Green on the Fylde, close to where I grew up.  But this has also been the week of my winter panel meeting and a seminar at the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

The panel meeting went well.  My supervisors commented on how much my writing has improved; it is now clear and precise, which is good to hear.  We discussed the commonwealth chapter I submitted, talked about the choice of technical language for describing my musical examples and then conversation turned to the submission process.  We discussed possible examiners and I told them that I plan to submit in September.   The meeting was over in 40 minutes.

That afternoon I took part in the Print and Materiality Seminar Series at the John Rylands Library, talking about ‘William Elerton and the Ghost of the Lady Marques’.  The topic was chosen to fit in with the seminar series’ focus on the supernatural, but it was a particularly nice subject because it allowed me to sing one of my ballads.  The other paper of the afternoon was given by my Manchester PhD candidate colleague, Sarah Fox.  Her fascinating paper was entitled ‘”Let the superstitious wife, Neer the child’s heart lay a knife”: Superstition and the domestic object in eighteenth-century England’, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her.

I’m looking forward to getting properly stuck in to my final chapter on ballads and the news over the next few weeks.  I’ve started doing the secondary reading for it already and I’ve even made some little notes on halved index cards for paragraph topics.  I decided that on this occasion I really needed to plan the chapter before I wrote it, which is not how I usually work.  The chapter will look at the role of sixteenth century ballads in spreading news, a role that has been contested recently.  I need to look into the differences between ‘news’, ‘newspapers’ and ‘journalism’.  I’m going to investigate the role of newspapers in later periods to see how the ballad compares, as well as looking at the evidence provided by State Papers.  I’m very much looking forward to it, after the trouble I had with the commonwealth chapter.  It’s not going to be easy, but I think it should be much more fun!