Workshops on Cultural History 2016 – II. The sound experience of the Holy Week

By Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita


From left o right: Sergi Zauner, Tess Knighton, and Eduardo Carrero

A few days after Holy Week, an interdisciplinary workshop focused on the soundscape of this liturgical period was celebrated at the Institució Milà i Fontanals. This event brought together contributions by five scholars researching different periods and from a variety of perspectives, such as art history, musicology, modern history, and ethnomusicology.

The workshop was chaired by Tess Knighton, the organiser of the cycle, who introduced the subject through particular excerpts from different documents relating to ceremonies held in cities such as Valladolid and Toledo. The art historian Eduardo Carrero (UAB) acted as the keynote speaker and began his presentation (‘Percibir la Semana Santa antes y después de Trento. Un juego de contrastes’) by talking about the difficulties found when delimiting both what chronology and what source material should be used in order to study the pre-Tridentine and the post-Tridentine periods. For this reason, he structured his talk by establishing a set of contrasting concepts, such as image-vacuum, light-darkness, open-closed, melancholy-joy, sound-silence, and learned-popular.

This inspiring lecture was responded to by the musicologist Sergi Zauner (Universität des Saarlandes), who focused on the concept of ‘gradation of sounds’ at the Office of Tenebrae, considering elements such as tempo, duration, intensity, pitch, and modes of performance–referring to plainchant, fabordón, counterpoint and polyphony as degrees of complexity; thus replacing the traditional binary plainchant-polyphony. He used fascinating sermons as source material and a methodology involving approaching musical practice through ceremony.

Jaume Ayats

Jaume Ayats

After a lively discussion, the second part of the workshop continued with three brief interventions by the historian Joaquim M. Puigvert (UdG), the musicologist Luis Antonio González Marín (IMF-CSIC), and the ethnomusicologist Jaume Ayats (UAB/Museu de la Música). Joaquim M. Puigvert commented on rural ceremonies in parish churches. The slow changes of these pre-industrial societies can be studied through pastoral visitations and books of customs. Luis Antonio González’s paper concentrated on Saragossa, establishing links between past and present. He showed processes of borrowing and change, and listed the instruments and vocal repertories used by confraternities today. Finally, Jaume Ayats, director of Barcelona Museum of Music, provided an anthropological perspective through cases from Corsica and the Pyrenees. He explained how the concept of cultural identity might be one of the main reasons for the persistence of para-liturgical traditions and festivities such as those celebrated in Holy Week.

This enriching workshop–the second one of the cycle–will be followed by two others on festivities and urban entertainments (27 April), and art and the representation of power (25 May), respectively.



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