Renaissance Historiography and the Resistance to Violence

Renaissance Historiography and the Resistance to Violence

Musicology/Speaker 1 Renaissance Historiography and the Resistance to Violence Kate Van Orden Cultural histories of Renaissance music have tended to u...

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Musicology/Speaker 1 Renaissance Historiography and the Resistance to Violence Kate Van Orden Cultural histories of Renaissance music have tended to use humanism as a point of orientation, and in this respect they fit nicely with general trends in Renaissance studies since the Second World War. This concentration on humanism may not yet have peaked for musicology, and while I do not object to such studies (having conducted a few of them myself), I do worry that their appeal has obstructed research into other cultural contexts for music (scholastic, religious, military). Moreover, musicologists have generally interpreted the aims of musical humanism in extremely pacific terms. Whereas many scholars have begun to see how completely Renaissance philology was driven by politics and Anthony Grafton has gone so far as to assert that Renaissance humanists deployed their skills in order to invent historical traditions, forge documents, and create useful myths (see Forgers and Critics), musicologists continue to see musical humanism in a brighter light--as a search to recover the ethic effects of ancient music in programs of moral uplift or as rhetorical strategies aimed at musical persuasion. In both cases, music stirs the passions to ethical ends. But my recent research suggests that music was employed just as often to incite violence: trumpets and drums enflamed the courage of soldiers, the Phrygian mode was deliberately used to provoke anger in listeners, and Machiavelli's interest in ancient music was directly inspired by the desire to make the Florentine militia more effective. In this paper, I begin by considering several of the founding texts of the field: the series of articles on musical humanism by D. P. Walker collected in his Music, Spirit, and Language in the Renaissance and Dame Frances A. Yates' magisterial study of Renaissance neoplatonism, The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century. Both Walker and Yates worked at the Warburg Institute of the University of London, which had been transferred from Hamburg to London in 1934 when its first director, Fritz Saxl, fled the Nazi Regime. In fact, in January of 1940, Yates presented her research at the Warburg despite freezing temperatures and lack of heat due to rationing. There is no question that her theories were formulated during a time of war. I explore the influence of violence in her work, suggest the blind spots it produced, and trace its effect on the historiography of Renaissance music, which continues to prefer to place music on the side of peace in any equation involving war.