About us

Marie Curie Research Project (2012-2016)
Urban musics and musical practices in sixteenth-century Europe

Principal Investigator: Dr Tess Knighton
Research assistant: Dr Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita

CSIC, Institución Milá y Fontanals, Barcelona

This project aims to open up new perspectives on urban musical culture through the study and analysis of the cosmopolitan and fluid society of sixteenth-century Barcelona. Francesco Guiccardini, the Italian historian and statesman who travelled to Barcelona in 1512, observed that it was superior to Florence in being ‘a city for everyone’, even if it lacked something of Florence’s grandeur. Guiccardini’s description of the urban topography of Barcelona could equally have applied to its musical life, with its contribution to social networks and civic ceremonial. While the music historiographical tradition has focussed almost exclusively on official music-making through study of the major administrative and ecclesiastical institutions of the city, other aspects of musical activity have largely been ignored. Yet the city’s exceptionally rich archival material, in particular, notarial and inquisitorial records, have the potential to shed much light on unofficial musical activity and the ways in which diverse musics not only created a complex soundworld, but also enabled interaction and integration between different sectors of society in the streets and houses of the city. An interdisciplinary approach, embracing current trends in cultural, literary, art and social historical research, will shed the spotlight on those who have not hitherto featured in the musical narrative of Barcelona – women, children, different ethnic communities, blind beggars and those on the fringes of society – as well as on musical practices that fell outside official spheres of patronage. Analysis of musical literacy and praxis will result in a more rounded view of musical experience in Barcelona over the long sixteenth century (1470-1620) and afford insight into music’s role in creating a cohesive society with a sense of its own structure and identity – a role of clear relevance to today’s social concerns.


Summary of the CIG-2012 no. 321876
URBANMUSICS project (first 24 months)

The project ‘Urban musics and musical practices in sixteenth-century Europe’ [URBANMUSICS] has already made considerable strides towards establishing new perspectives and possibilities for the cultural mapping of European urban music history. Over the past two years, several new avenues of research and intellectual activity have been opened up with the aim of placing a major city of the Iberian Peninsula (taking Barcelona as a case study to be compared with other European cities) and its musical production and activity in a broader European perspective. The fundamental task in terms of new research has been to ask questions about the urban musical sound world not previously taken into consideration by Spanish music historians: what was the daily musical experience of the citizens of Barcelona? What musics did they encounter in their homes, the streets and squares through which they passed and where they worked, in the churches, convents and confraternities of the city with which every citizen, to greater or lesser extent, was involved? In what ways did they experience music and what was the general level of musical literacy and knowledge? How did they respond to the musics they encountered and what significance did music have in their lives? Finally, in what ways and at what levels did music of various kinds shape social rituals and give meaning to city life?

In order to address these questions in the case of Barcelona, new archival research has needed to be undertaken, since existing research for this period has focussed almost exclusively on the major ecclesiastical institutions such as the cathedral, giving a very partial and unbalanced view of the musical life of the city. It was decided to look, on the one hand, at other institutions, such as the convents and monasteries of the city with whom the vast majority of citizens were linked, at the very least to make their funeral arrangements, and whose musical activities filtered through the cloister through family ties and through involvement in city ceremonial. Convents, in particular, provide a useful window on the female musical experience, and have been much studied, particularly in Italy and Germany, for their importance as centres of cultural patronage and, specifically, musical activity. Very little has been researched as regards convent music for the Iberian Peninsula making it a major gap in the musical life of the city, but, even more significantly, providing a potential point of comparison with other European cities, given the presence and importance of the religious orders in urban life throughout the continent. The records of another kind of social institution, the Inquisition, afford a glimpse into two major areas of daily urban existence that are not easily recoverable from other types of documentation: the role of music in the daily life of individuals as recounted through depositions, and the emotional impact of music through its use in public ceremonies, such as the auto da fe. The relaciones of the acts of faith, though held only occasionally in Barcelona during the period, afford a glimpse into the way music was used for cathartic emotional and spiritual impact.

The public and private merge in the notarial process of the drawing up of wills; the vast majority of citizens made a will, including women who are otherwise largely invisible as agents in urban history. The wishes of testators almost invariably included a liturgico-musical element as an expression of their belief in the need for pious acts and mediated religious ceremonies for their souls to pass as rapidly as possible through purgatory to the celestial destiny they hoped would await them. Wills thus reflect familiarity with certain musical practices and, through the foundation of Requiem and other masses and anniversaries, a density of musical patronage and activity that has largely passed unobserved in studies of urban musical life. Linked to the making of wills is the inventorying of the properties and possessions of individual citizens and their distribution through legacies and auctions. Post-mortem inventories provide information not only on physical cultural artefacts such as music books, musical inventories and musical paintings (including where they were kept and their state of use or repair), but on their value and circulation in urban society. Inventories are a major source for urban musical experience, and have been and are being used in many other European countries (Germany, Italy and France, for example) for this purpose. Finally, documentation regarding confraternities sheds new light on musical experience of the members of these social groups and their projection into the ceremonial of the city as a whole. Many citizens were members of one or more confraternities, and their involvement in the ritual of death as well as the celebrations of the major feast days in the annual urban calendar is once again key to the understanding of the musical dynamic of urban society. Once again, this kind of source material has been used as a way to understand the musical experience of citizens in other European urban centres, notably in Italian and Netherlandish cities of the early modern period. Thus, research in the notarial, diocesan, convent, cathedral and city archives has been carried out in order to be able to gain a clearer view of music as practice, ritual and social signifier and to be able to make useful and well supported comparisons with other European cities where this kind of research has been or is being undertaken.

In order to establish and foster contact and discussion with scholars working in urban cultural and musical history in other European countries and to begin to understand how a Mediterranean city such as Barcelona might have interacted and connected with other cities in the early modern period, various international projects or events have been organized with the aim of comparing and contrasting the findings of those scholars, in terms of source material, methodology and content. A seminar organized as part of the URBANMUSICS project at the Museu d’Història de Barcelona in June 2014 with the title ‘Música i política. La cort de Carles III i l’atracció de Barcelona a Europa, 1705-1713’ experimented with the idea of taking a single event of pan-European political importance (the Spanish War of Succession) and looking at the impact the political and dynastic alliances on musical development in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Austria. In this way, new perspectives were opened up as regards the transmission of musical repertory and the employment of musicians, the ramifications for the major cities involved and how such musical patronage varied in scope, dynamic and longevity in terms of cultural legacy. The case of Barcelona was seen to be very different to that of Naples or Vienna, for example, where traditions were not only boosted by the turn of political events during a few key years, but were also given new energy and focus to form the basis of musical developments for many decades to come. The main focus of activity for the URBANMUSICS project on the integration of Spanish urban musical culture into the European historical mainstream over the past two years has been to establish and develop contacts with other scholars of various historical disciplines working in different research centres and university departments in order to put together a proposal for an international workshop. This was achieved through contact with other relevant research projects in Spain and elsewhere and also by attendance at a number of international conferences, for example, the conference on urban soundscapes University of Bangor, April 2014), that on listening to early modern Catholicism (Boston, USA, July 2014) and that on musical inventories (Bern, September 2014). The proposal, with the title ‘Hearing the city: Musical Experience as Portal to Urban Soundscapes’ was accepted as one of the highly-competitive ICREA Conference Awards 2014, with an award of €20,000, and will take place in September 2015. Over thirty scholars from all over Europe will gather together to discuss their work and to pool ideas about how this research might be brought together with the latest technological developments so that musical experience today might be enriched by the study of urban sound worlds of the past.

The ICREA International Workshop is one way in which the URBANMUSICS project has opened up new activity to establish interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary points of contact and the potential for the exchange of ideas that go beyond the conceptual limitations, mode of expression and readership of a particular discipline. The writing of cultural history and meaning in the urban context cannot hope to present a rounded view without exchange and interaction between historians from different disciplines. It has quite often been the case that cultural historians have engaged with the visual, the olfactory, and, most recently, the emotional without exploring, except in the most general terms, the aural, perhaps drawing back from that sensory area as being one that requires specialist musical knowledge or training. Music historians, on the other hand, are very often unaware of the kinds of sources used by more general historians to find information on daily life and social structures and tend to prioritise textual analysis over a more contextualized social historical approach. The project has thus sought to bring together historians of all kinds to find shared lines of inquiry and modes of discourse that will prove fruitful to all concerned in the writing and communication of urban history. Two main interdisciplinary activities were organized during the first phase of the URBANMUSICS project: first, a series of seven lectures by major cultural and music historians entitled ‘El món del oïent. Música i cultura a la Barcelona dels segles XVI-XVII’ at the Museu d’Història de Barcelona between November 2013 and January 2014; and four Cultural History Workshops at the Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC) between May and November 2014 (on the Inquisition, foundations, convents and confraternities. The first of these activities will result in a published volume of essays, while the second has already led to very useful exchanges of ideas and invitations to participate in other projects.


Interim results of the URBANMUSICS project:

Papers and seminars given

Tess Knighton

‘Las músicas de una ciudad: el caso de Barcelona a mediados del siglo XVI’, VI Jornadas d’Estudiants de Musicolgia i Joves Musicòlegs: Comunitats sonores: punts de diàleg, Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya, 18-20 April 2013.

‘Music and Misogyny in Medieval Catalonia’, lecture for the Departament de Humanitats, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, 4 June 2013.

‘Música callejera: pasado y presente’, Research Seminar, Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya, 3 December 2013.

‘La experiencia musical cotidiana de las mujeres de la Barcelona del siglo XVI: su expresión a través de los testamentos’, Seminario del Master Música y mujeres del Departamento de Música, Universitat de Barcelona, 10 April 2014.

‘Singing for the Soul: The Requiem Mass and Other Music for the Dead in the Chapels, Churches and Streets of Sixteenth-Century Barcelona’, Plenary Lecture, International Conference Early Modern Soundscapes, University of Bangor, 24-25 April 2014.

‘Aural History in an Urban Context: Notarial Documents and Musical Experience in Early Modern Barcelona’, Study Day Researching Medieval and Early Modern Music, Royal Holloway, University of London, 16 May 2014.

‘Music and Piety in Sixteenth Century Barcelona’, Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference 2014, University of Birmingham, 3-6 July 2014.

‘Music for the Soul: Death and Piety in Sixteenth-Century Barcelona’, International Conference Listening to Early Modern Catholicism: New Perspectives from Musicology, Boston College, Boston (USA), 14-16 July 2014.

‘Inventories as Historical Evidence of Musical Knowledge and Activity’, Keynote paper, International Conference & Workshop Musikalische Inventare – Music Inventories, Universität Bern (Switzerland), 4–6 September 2014.

Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita

‘Women, Music and Witchcraft Through Renaissance Inquisition Records’, Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference 2013, Centro Studi sull’Ars Nova Italiana del Trecento, Certaldo (Italia), 4-7 July 2013.

‘The Role of Female Convents in the Soundscape of Sixteenth-Century Barcelona’, International Conference Early Modern Soundscapes, University of Bangor, 24-25 April 2014.

‘Música y músicos en la Barcelona del siglo XVI a través de documentos de la Inquisición’, Workshops of Cultural History 2014, I: ‘Aspectos sociales y culturales de la Inquisición’, Institució Milà i Fontanals, CSIC, Barcelona, 27 May 2014.

‘“Música para los reconciliados”: Music and Inquisitorial Acts of Faith in Renaissance Iberian cities’, Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference 2014, University of Birmingham, 3-6 July 2014.

‘“Una Celestial armonía”: los conventos femeninos en la vida musical de Barcelona en el siglo XVI’, Congreso Internacional de la AVAMUS La música a la Mediterrània Occidental: Xarxa de comunicació intercultural, Societat Coral El Micalet de Valencia, 23-25 July 2014.

‘The musical life at the Monastery of Santa Maria de Jonqueres in Barcelona through inventories made by visitors of the Order of Santiago (1495-1628)’, International Conference & Workshop, Musikalische Inventare – Music Inventories Universität Bern (Switzerland), 4–6 September 2014.


Tess Knighton

‘La última trayectoria de los Reyes Católicos’, Andalucía en la Historia, XII/46 (2014), pp.82-87.

‘Music for the Soul: Death and Piety in Sixteenth-Century Barcelona’, in (ed.) Daniele V. Filippi, Listening to Early Modern Catholicism: New Perspectives from Musicology (Cambridge, forthcoming 2015).

‘Barcelona sonora: els instruments musicals a l’espai domèstic a l’Edat Moderna’, MUHBA Textures (Barcelona, forthcoming 2015).

‘Musical daily life in a Jeronymite monastery in the sixteenth century: the case of Sant Jeroni de la Murtra, Barcelona’, Revista Catalana de Musicologia (forthcoming 2015).

Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita

‘¿Bailes o aquelarres? Música, mujeres y brujería en documentos inquisitoriales del Renacimiento’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies (forthcoming 2014).

‘Women and Music at the Time of the Catholic Monarchs’, in A Companion to Music in the Time of Ferdinand and Isabel, ed. Tess Knighton (Leiden: Brill; forthcoming 2015).

‘Controversias litúrgico-musicales en el Monasterio de Santa Maria de Jonqueres de Barcelona: reforma y resistencia en la Edad Moderna’, in Le Discours sur la musique religieuse en France à l’Époque Moderne, ed. Sophie Hache, Thierry Favier, Pierre Saby (forthcoming 2015).

‘El Monestir de Sant Pere de les Puelles en el paisatge sonor de Barcelona al segle XVI’, MUHBA Textures (Barcelona, forthcoming 2015)


3 Responses to About us

  1. Pingback: Visitas al archivo del Monestir de Sant Antoni i Santa Clara de Barcelona en Sant Benet de Montserrat | URBANMUSICS

  2. Hello, Barcelona, I like your Project very much and would like to join us in the Urban Music Studies Scholars Network https://www.facebook.com/urbanmusicstudies/ and http://urbanmusicstudies.org/. I hope we can put up a constructive collaboration.

    Alenka Barber-Kersovan

    • urbanmusics says:

      Dear Alenka,
      Thank you very much for your message. We will be pleased to join you in the Urban Music Studies Scholars Networks.
      Best wishes,
      Tess Knighton and Ascensión Mazuela

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