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Renaissance Serendipity

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Renaissance Serendipity

Is this a propos or what? The day after I put up a post explaining why the idea of "Renaissance" music should be, on the advice of Richard Taruskin, laid to rest, the New York Times puts up an article 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Renaissance Music. There is a long and impressive list of performers, critics and even musicologists that offer suggestions as to "Renaissance" music you should be listening to.

I’ve spent a significant portion of my adulthood living — in my imagination — in the Renaissance, with women from history who are now as much a part of my life as the women in my ensemble, Musica Secreta. By reconstructing their lives and their music, I’ve felt their humanity reaching across the centuries.

Another sample:

In Renaissance and Baroque Italy, the visual arts, music and poetry were often intertwined aspects of a unified enterprise that ennobled the human spirit. Music has always been a component of my approach as a museum curator, particularly in my research on Evaristo Baschenis, the great 17th-century painter of still lifes of musical instruments, and as a current running through my 2008 Met exhibition “Art and Love in Renaissance Italy.” I particularly love Cecilia Bartoli’s version of Caccini’s song “Amarilli, mia bella.” It may not be the most historically precise performance, but it exquisitely captures the intimacy of the verse.

Now don't get me wrong, there is a lot of lovely music here that would be worth your while to listen to. But it is pretty obvious that, like certain aspects of the early music movement and their claims to "authenticity," there are powerful commercial and marketing reasons for promoting the idea of "Renaissance music." Here we see how that works in practice. How do you sell early music to the general public? Well, some good marketing tactics are to claim historical authenticity and package it together with the more familiar works of Renaissance art and literature. Otherwise you are faced with the messy details of how music follows its own path quite different from the other arts. Reality, in other words.

Oh, and Caccini's song "Amarilli mia bella," which I have performed on numerous occasions, is an excellent example of early 17th century music and typically categorized as "Baroque," not "Renaissance" music. Heh!

This realization of the lute part is from Robert Dowland's 1610 collection A Musical Banquet. Robert is the son of John Dowland, the great English "Renaissance" lutenist and composer. Just to add a few more messy details.

UPDATE: Andrea Bayer provides a great example of what I described (following Taruskin) as the fallacy of essentialism, or the idea that there are certain inherent or immanent qualities that define an age or style when these are often no more than intellectual conveniences. The quote is:

In Renaissance and Baroque Italy, the visual arts, music and poetry were often intertwined aspects of a unified enterprise that ennobled the human spirit.

This is pure empty culture-babble, popping like a soap bubble as soon as examined. The histories of the visual arts, literature and music are very different from one another as even a brief acquaintance will show and were anything but a unified enterprise, though an international style in music did develop--though by "international" we are only talking about French, English and Italian music.



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