Graduate Research Colloquium: Dr. Brianne Dolce (University of Oxford)

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The city of Arras, and its wider region of the Southern Low Countries, is known to music historians as an important site of vernacular music making during the Middle Ages. But, in addition to being the home of the trouvères, this region was a hub of nonorthodox belief, resulting in various accusations of heresy—and cultural responses to it. In this paper, I examine two crucial historical moments that shed light on the relationship between musical culture and new forms of religious belief. The first is a trial for heresy that took place in Arras in 1025, information about which survives in a single surviving text known as the Acta synodi Atrebatensis. In it, music and sound play prominent roles, and the sense of hearing acts as a way of distinguishing between the faithful and unfaithful. The second moment is during the first half of the thirteenth century, when Arras’s musical culture was at its height. A collection of anonymous vernacular songs, known as the Chansons et dits, serve as cultural witnesses to thirteenth-century accusations of heresy, and reflect the relationship between vernacular music making and nonorthodox belief. As such, these two texts and the events they describe represent the unique role that music played in cultivating ideas about belief and articulating them in new cultural forms.

Brianne Dolce is the Fitzjames Research Fellow in Music at Merton College, Oxford. She completed her PhD at Yale University in 2020. From 2020-2021, she was a postdoctoral research fellow of the Past & Present Society at the Institute of Historical Research in London. Her research considers interactions between religious and cultural life during the high Middle Ages, with particular attention to heresy and the role of women in medieval culture. Her first article, “‘Soit hom u feme’,” unveiled the identities of women musicians in medieval Arras, and won the Royal Musical Association’s Jerome Roche Prize in 2020.

About the series:
The Colloquia feature leading figures, as well as younger scholars, from across the world. They present their research in papers on all kinds of music-related topics. Graduate student Judith Valerie Engel organises the series. Presentations are followed by a discussion and drinks reception. If you would like more information, please email