Mapping the Musical Landscape of the Sixteenth Century (MML16)

Emily Hopkins

Monday, July 29, 2019

We have received the following announcement courtesy of Emily Hopkins (McGill University):

The invention of music printing transformed the European musical landscape in the sixteenth century. Access to clear and affordable notated music made it possible for far more people to learn to read music and perform it in their homes. The huge increase in copies of individual works meant that music moved from country to country and around the world, carried by missionaries, travellers, merchants, and musicians. New technologies transformed the role of music in a century marked by major religious and cultural conflict.

While there have been numerous studies of individual composers, music printers, and genres, there has not yet been a study of this new musical landscape as a whole. Which pieces were most popular? How did repertoire travel? What features distinguish local repertoires? What kinds of people acquired and performed different kinds of music? Professionals, amateurs, courtiers, merchants, choirboys, choirgirls, confraternities? When did music bring people together, and when did it push them apart?

To answer these questions, a comprehensive accounting of the surviving repertoire is needed: the contents of manuscripts and prints, and of all the sources for each work. A new project led by Julie Cumming (McGill University) will address these questions with a focus on Renaissance music. The five-year (2019-2024) SSHRC Insight grant-funded project is called Mapping the Musical Landscape of the Sixteenth Century and includes a research team of eleven people from Canada, the United States, and Europe, including our colleague Laurent Pugin from RISM Switzerland.

Among the goals is a freely accessible website for inventories of all musical sources of polyphonic music printed or copied during the 16th century, with information on dates, provenance, and type of source. Information from RISM’s database of printed editions and manuscripts will be incorporated, among other databases, and it will include links to RISM and other online inventories and catalogues. OMR (optical music recognition) will be employed for mensural notation, making it possible to do automatic transcriptions which will be linked to the inventories. Visualization tools will be built showing how music moved across space and time.

The project will contribute to a vastly expanded understanding of the musical landscape of the 16th century. The four research themes explore the role of music in the fields of religious conflict, colonization and conversion, regional and international identity, and sacred vs. secular. The project will be beneficial to not only the study of Renaissance music but will also engage with studies on the history of the book, religious studies, optical music recognition, and digital humanities.

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