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28.10.05

Report from AMS

As I wrote on Thursday, I have been attending the national meeting of the American Musicological Society here in Washington. The program committee has been, I think, fairly controlled in the selection of papers (.PDF file) this year, but there are always far more papers I would like to hear than I actually can. As everyone knows about these sorts of conferences, hanging out in the hall and talking to people is at least as important as listening to scholarly papers. However, I have heard some interesting ideas expressed at the meeting, and some of them may be worth writing about here.

On Thursday, I attended the session on Medieval and Renaissance Topics, where David Schiller from the University of Georgia read a paper on the music chanted during the anointing of English kings during the coronation ceremony. It was traditional to sing the antiphon Unxerunt Salomonem Sadoc sacerdos et Nathan propheta, so much so that even Handel used that text in his famous anthem for the coronation of King George II, Zadok the Priest. It has been sung at just about every English monarch's coronation ever since, including that of Queen Elizabeth II. However, for a period after Henry II had Thomas à Becket murdered, the coronation ordo called instead for a different chant, Deum time et mandata ejus observa, meaning "Fear God, and observe his law," which emphasizes that the monarch himself is subject to the law like anyone else. The paper itself did not really answer the questions it needed to, but I was struck by the presenter's decision to ask the audience to sing Deum time, from a facsimile of the Sarum antiphoner. The AMS national meeting is probably one of the few occasions on which someone could ask a group of people spontaneously to sightread from the old musical notation in a medieval manuscript and expect success. We sounded pretty good, I must say.

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Anonymous 4, Love's Illusion: Music From The Montpellier Codex 13th Century
The second paper in that session was much better, presented by Susannah Clark from Merton College, Oxford. It was a detailed analysis of the finer points of the 13th-century motet Joliement / Quant voi la florete / Je suis joliete / APTATUR, from the Montpellier Codex. You can hear this piece yourself on an excellent recording by Anonymous 4, Love's Illusion. A few years ago, the performer and scholar Christopher Page published a book about text and musical performance in the Middle Ages. He had a lot to say about the motet genre, music that was exceedingly sophisticated and almost too packed with artificial layers of allusion to be appreciated in a single performance. (For example, the piece Clark dissected has three different French texts, mixed with Latin in places, over a repeating Latin cantus firmus, and it appears to cite portions of a trouvère melody.) Who wrote this music and who listened to it are still very much at issue in musicological discussion today, and Clark had several interesting points to make about it.

This morning, I heard an excellent paper in the session on Chant as an Expression of Identity, by Barbara Haggh on the Office of St. Jean de Réôme. With her usual encyclopedic knowledge of archival materials, she gave a thorough analysis of the web of notational and source-related questions surrounding this office. I then switched over to my other main area of interest for a paper in one of the 18th-century sessions. Jacqueline Waeber, a Swiss musicologist who now teaches at Trinity College in Dublin, gave a brilliant reassessment of Rousseau's comic opera Le Devin du Village, and its relationship to the low comic style of Italian theater. Rousseau was in so many ways a dissembler, and she has shown the changes the Rousseau made to his score, after the events of the Querelle des Bouffons, because he wanted to recast his work in the light of his new championship of Italian musical style. Lionel Sawkins made a very funny comment about whether in 250 years music historians would be giving as much attention to Cats, which is just about as serious a work of music theater as Rousseau's trifle.

I remained in the French Baroque for the afternoon, when I caught two papers on music derived from the Biblical story of Jephthah, in a session called Representing Politics and Religion in the Seventeenth Century. Beverly Stein of California State University, Los Angeles, analyzed Carissimi's excellent Latin oratorio on the story in terms of a theory about gender and role exchange between Jephthah and the daughter he is forced to sacrifice. I found it a rather obscure and odd way to approach the subject, but I appreciated the detail of the work. Blake Stevens, a doctoral candidate at Stanford, gave a paper about Pellegrin and Montéclair's Jephté (1732), the first French opera on a Biblical subject, which he believes draws on earlier plays and a Jesuit college intermède. Unfortunately, I had to miss the paper by Mark Everist from the University of Southampton, on Mozart's so-called "Twelfth Mass," a piece no longer accepted by Mozart specialists as having been composed by Mozart (K. Anh. 232 / C1.04). It may not be by Mozart, but in spite of the lack of a real critical edition, it continues to feed into the legend of Mozart. As we approach the hagiographical Mozart Year, it is something to think about.

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