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While up to 1500 written notation was reserved for a rather small privileged minority, the sixteenth century saw the start of a more wide-spread musical literacy in Europe (still within a minority of literate individuals). Alongside oral transmission, which remained of great importance, it presented a new way to engage with music independently. The spread of musical literacy was – like the spread of general literacy – fuelled in part by the emergence of the printing press, adding a new way of reproducing text or notation in addition to manuscript production. The growth in available musical sources through printing in the sixteenth century is evident: between the beginning of printing polyphonic music from type in 1501 and 1545 440 editions of polyphonic music were printed, some in hundreds of copies, amounting to many thousand books of polyphonic music available. From a supply side, these seem to attest to the growing demand in such sources, and thus to the growing number of people able to read them. The rise in available musical sources has thus been tentatively linked not only to an increased musical literacy but further to a range of important developments starting in the so-called Renaissance: the rise in amateur musicianship, the development of private musical circles, the increase in music in the private household, and to some extent the spreading of new religious ideas. However, we have very little information on the individuals making up these supposed new communities of musically literate readers and on what they did with their music books.
My 5-year project DORMEME researches the Dissemination, Ownership and Reading of music books in early modern Europe. Taking a copy-based methodology as its starting point it searches for evidence in music books – evidence, which then leads us to those acquiring and reading these books. In this talk I will set out both the premises and the methodology of this project and show on some case studies how small marks in books can lead us to big questions around literacy, access to music and different forms of engaging with a book of music.
After completing her undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Vienna, Elisabeth Giselbrecht worked on a PhD at the University of Cambridge (completed in 2012). She then held a post-doc position at the University of Salzburg as part of a larger research project, on music printing in German-speaking lands. On 1 January 2015 Elisabeth started a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at King’s, with a project entitled Owners and Users of Early Music Books. Elisabeth has also worked as an external lecturer at the University of Cambridge, University of Salzburg, and Royal Holloway University.
The production, dissemination and reception of music in the 16th and 17th centuries stand at the centre of Elisabeth’s past and current research. Her PhD thesis explored the printed dissemination of Italian sacred music in German-speaking areas, with an emphasis on the music book as a cultural product and material object, which provides a window into the world of cultural transfer. Her research also expands to the production of various types of music books, such as theory books, pamphlets of occasional music and liturgical publications, with a particular focus on the influence of confessionalisation on the production and reception of music. Her current research investigates the users of these publications; in this context “use” is being defined very widely to include collecting, silent reading, annotating, and performance as some potential interactions of the early modern “reader” with a music book.
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 students Chuyu Zhang and Eugenie Dalgleish organise the series. Presentations are followed by a discussion and drinks reception. If you would like more information, please email Chuyu Zhang.