On 24 February, the first of our four Workshops in Cultural History took place in the Sala de Musicología in the Institució Milà i Fontanals-CSIC. The 2016 series of workshops, as in 2014, forms part of the research project ‘Urban musics and musical practices in sixteenth-century Europe’ funded by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Foundation (URBAN MUSIC CIG-2012, no. 321876). About 25 people attended from various university departments, conservatories and research centres. As in 2014, the approach to the presentations and discussions was interdisicplinary, with urban historians, cultural historians, music historians, historians of religion, and art and architectural historians present and contributing to the debate.
It turned out to be a most stimulating session, with contributions relating both to written travel accounts and material objects that were taken on travels or related to travellers. Mariángeles Pérez Semper gave the ‘key note’ for the workshop with an excellent overview of the nature of relatos de viaje from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, and a very useful bibliographical summary, which can be made available on request through this Blog. She raised important issues relating to the travel account as a literary genre, and also pointed out that literary (or fictional) journeys could also be of interest to the historian, referring to the Quijote as, in effect, a travel book. She reminded us that travel writing is quintessentially subjective, that is, those who write such accounts will have carried their own cultural ‘baggage’ (their experience, knowledge, objectives, tastes…) with them along with their actual, physical baggage: the chests, trunks, cases and their contents so brilliantly described a little later in the workshop by Carmen Abad.
In most instances, it was the travellers’ personal choice as to what items, descriptions, events, incidents, anecdotes, etc. were included in their account, though on occasion these might relate to or be influenced by a particular diplomatic brief, for example. The keynote also raised the very intriguing concept of the inner journey experienced by those who, like foreign princesses, often young in age, had to take when they married and became queen of a foreign country with its own cultural practices and expectations. With examples drawn from the writings of Francesco Guiccardini, Andrea Navagero, Henry Cock, Jehan L’Hermite, Thomas Platter (sixteenth century), Bartolomé Joly and Miguel de Cervantes (seventeenth century), and Étienne de Silhouette, Roberto Caino, Joseph Marshall, Philip Thicknesse, Henry Swinburne, Joseph Townsend, Arthur Young and Antonio Ponz (eighteenth century), Dr Pérez Samper brought to the fore some of the topoi that recurred in their accounts of the city of Barcelona (aspects of urban topography—its wonderful gardens, its cathedral, streets, local eating habits and tastes, and the theatre of Santa Creu) and the often quite different reactions to these found in the various accounts.
Although specific references to music—and even to sound in general—are relatively few and far between, this is also true of the other sensory experiences of smell, touch, and even taste (although food does feature quite often and in some detail). The implications of the relatively ‘silent’ nature of travel accounts are many: the lack of a vocabulary in which to describe sound events (as well as in most cases a lack of musical expertise and knowledge of the appropriate terminology); the ephemeral nature of sound together with the complex of associations–emotional, political, religious, etc.—evoked or signalled by it; an underlying assumption that music was such an integral part of every aspect of life that it was taken for granted that readers would, in effect, mentally add the corresponding sound track (raising questions about the idealized, sometimes purely imaginary view of the traveller), and thus possibly some indication that, at least in some instances and at least at some levels, soundworlds were more often shared than might appear to have been the case; and, it has to be said, even if goes against the grain with music historians, a simple lack of musical interest on the part of traveller.
The tendency to describe ‘otherness’ rather than ‘similarity’ in travel writings was a concept taken further in Lluis Bertrán’s contribution on differing readings of cultural life in the eighteenth-century accounts and the different dynamic between those who were visitors from outside Catalunya—who picked out the exotic, the ‘otherness’—and those who were local residents or familiar with the socio-cultural context—who tended to refer to everyday sounds and musics. He also commented on the different perspectives of inside and outside the city. Eliana Cabrera made a stimulating contribution on the musical discourse of travellers to the New World, which resulted in an excellent disucssion on the cultural value and significance of small bells (cascabeles), and Roser Salicru i Lluch, using earlier medieval texts as a starting-point, raised the complex and highly important issue of cultural translation: for example, how would, indeed how could, a European traveller to Mongolia in the mid-thirteenth century describe the musical instruments he encountered there but in the terms of the European (and very substantially different) instruments with which he was familiar? The sesión ended with a fascinating insight into the ideas and selection process behind the recent exhibition ‘Viatgers a l’Edatb Mitjana’ at the Museu Episcopal de Vic.
Many thanks to all the participants and those present who contributed to the debate: it was a fascinating morning.
TK 28 February 2016