Re-visiting the concept of the ‘musical work’. Part II: My project, the Renaissance Musical Work by Soterraña Aguirre Rincón

Re-visiting the concept of the ‘musical work.’ Part II (Blog 2 of 4) by Soterraña Aguirre Rincón

As I mentioned in my previous post, the research project The Renaissance Musical Work: Fundamentals, Repertoires and Practices, carried out by the Contrapunto team, is based on the study of ‘other’ sources, environments and kinds of music that are little used in general music historiography. Now, I would like to present some of these. We have consulted, for instance, the writings of the humanist, philosopher and educator Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540); works of the philosopher and poet Giordano Bruno (1548-1600); or the musical theorist Fernand Estevan (fl. 1410). Our aim was to reflect on the concept of a musical work and to carry out an ontological investigation concerning Renaissance musical works that tell us about the past, but also project us towards the future through their potential for (re-) materialization as sounding music.

We also consulted such peculiar literary texts as those of the aristocrat, soldier and poet, Íñigo López de Mendoza, the first Marquis of Santillana (1398-1458), or the Arte de trovar (ca. 1427-33) by the astrologer and writer Enrique de Villena. The purpose here was to rethink the uses of interpretative practices in 15th-century songs with Castilian texts and the limits of these practices in relation to their potential classification as musical works. We further looked at the incunable dictionaries of Antonio de Nebrija (1441/44-1522), Alfonso de Palencia (1423-1492), and the interesting but almost unknown anonymous treatise, the Arte de la melodía sobre canto lano y canto dorgano (ca. 1475-1525 [Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, Ms. 1325/2, ff. 21v-24r]), among other sources, in order to study the gloss and its limits as an identifying element of musical works.

The results of our research have been set out in the volume Making Musical Works in Renaissance Spain, of which John Griffiths and I are the editors and which will come out shortly (Turnhout: Brepols). So as not to bore you with too much information, I would just like to say that this volume also includes case studies focused on concrete pieces of which a considerable number of copies have been preserved. For example, the romance Los brazos traygo cansados has been dealt with as an example of constant updating; while the hymn Pange lingua set by Juan de Urrede possesses a symbolism that shapes it into a work.

There are also other contributions that we believe will be of interest to the reader, such as the one dedicated to identifying the musical works contained in the immense library of Hernando  Colón (1488-1539) – a son of the well-known explorer, Christopher Columbus – on the banks of the River Guadalquivir, in Seville, with exactly 15.344 volumes, until now only partially examined.

We hope to be able to continue our research in a future project, where one of the central foci will be the study of the Palace of Peñaranda de Duero, an exceptional research object previously unstudied by musicologists, and one which I would like to talk about more in my next post.

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