The third of this year’s workshops on cultural history took place in the Sala de Musicología of the Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC) on 27 April. The keynote talk was given by archivist Mercè Gras Casanovas whose research into the cultural life of Barcelona convents (particularly those of the Discalced Carmelites in Catalunya) in the early modern era is revealing all kinds of fascinating and important material. Recent investigation into the cultural activities of female convents in Spain is beginning to bring our knowledge about nuns’ music-making into line with the more prolific research—and publication of that research—into the situation in Italian convents, and similar patterns are beginning to emerge for the city of Barcelona as for Milan or Venice. Such research, however, is not easy, and it is largely thanks to Mercè’s position as archivist, and to her generosity in sharing her findings with colleagues, that these advances are being made and consolidated.
Ascensión Mazuela, whose research forms part of the ‘Urban musics and musical practices’ project, is similarly unearthing important material as her response to Mercè’s wide-ranging keynote on music-making within the walls of the convent showed. All kinds of musical activity took place inside convents for the recreation of the nuns themselves, and in various different spaces—upper and lower choirs, cloisters, individual cells—as well as for others who heard them sing and play in the locutori or parlor, and on the occasion of the professing of nuns in the convent church. However, it is also clear that their presence at urban religious feasts—occasionally in processions, but more often performing from the gates and walls of the convents—was an essential aspect of the sacralization of the city on these occasions, their voices consistently being compared to those of angels as they sang from high up, both so that in performance their voices could be heard and symbolically as being placed in an intercessory position between earth and heaven.
The performative aspect of urban feasts was the subject of Alberto Martín’s intervention, based on his work as an archivist in Zamora, and his recent research for a brilliant doctoral thesis on urban music-making in that city in the early modern period. The historical soundscape of the city, he suggested, has to be built on a consideration of three main aspects: space, performance and memory. His brief discussion of the sources—so often partial in both senses of the word—was particularly useful. Jordi Raventós based his discussion on the festivities of Carnival, and the expression of social differentiation through physical manifestation in the form of bodily acts, that might include wearing a masque, singing verses of different kinds, dancing in public or private, or throwing eggs filled with coloured water. Through such uses of the body to express bodily excess and the overturning or infringement of social norms, Carnival opened up spaces for interaction between different members of urban society.
Finally, Gaston Gilabert offered a fascinating insight into some of the many ways in which music contributed to early modern theatre, basing his discussion in part on Ignacio Camargo’s Discurso theológico sobre los theatros y comedias de este siglo (1689). He is also involved in a major research project at the Universitat de Barcelona for the cataloguing of rubrics for musical intervention in Golden Age plays in order to extrapolate information on audience expectations as regards the visibility and invisibility of musicians (contributing to their ‘magical’ quality) and the dramatic contexts in which musical performance of one kind or another was heard and received. Overall, it was a session packed full of information that led to debate of various issues relating to the use of fragmentary or incomplete source materials and the overriding importance of taking the performance aspect into consideration when analyzing urban festivities and recreations.
TK 12 May 2016