some early modernist stuff for ya

March 27, 2008 at 1:49 am (saints)

New School is trying very hard to pull me in the direction of Early Modern studies.  We have some pretty impressive faculty doing Early Modern + sexuality stuff, and so I’m in all the Early Modern classes trying to figure out how to graft theoretical interests and articulations onto my period of interest, which, despite the lure of the Renaissance, remains Anglo-Saxon (and despite the fact that I’m not exactly making a name for myself as a master of the necessary languages to do the medievalist thing).

Anyway, Susan McClary, author of Modal Subjectivities: Self-Fashioning in the Italian Madrigal, came to New School to give a lecture yesterday, and then she asked to be a part of our 17th century poetry class today, which is taught by somebody who knows a little something about sacred eroticism in the Renaissance.  McClary talked to us about Girolamo Frescobaldi’s “Maddalena alla Croce,” and about the history of gender and sexuality studies’ reception in music studies (which has ranged from hostile through cold and has in the past couple of decades broken out into a feverish tepidity, apparently).

Then she illustrated her major points about the multiple valences of Frescobaldi’s “Maddalena” by *playing the song for us on a piano, and singing.*  I can read music (slowly), and I know one or two things (not much more) about diatonic and chromatic scales, but had I known nothing, McClary’s presentation would have convinced me.  It was the coolest damned thing I’ve seen all year.  She was arguing for 1) the overtly erotic resonance of the piece, through not only lyrics but also and especially the “profoundly unstable” acoustics of Frescobaldi’s rupturing of “accepted,” “Pythagorean,” tonality; 2) for a related movement of which Frescobaldi was a part, analogous to the movement of which Bernini was a part in the visual arts, wherein the sacred erotic in the early 17th century can reasonably be connected to Sufi/Islamic influences of affective piety and mysticism via Spain; and 3) for some of her male undergraduate guitarist students having theorbo envy (ok, that last was not part of her presentation or argument, but emerged in the Q & A and was too delicious to pass up).

She did an incredible job of making her argument not only intelligible but also compelling to the non-musician, and she speaks with candor, passion, intelligence, and humor about her field.  Her book has nothing to do with anything I’m working on but I’m going to buy it, and furthermore I think I’ll download some Frescobaldi to help me get through Seminar Paper Hell this semester (four seminar papers due the same week.  Possibly one will be on angels, and one more will be on affective piety in Crashaw).  I think I need all the Frescobaldi I can get.

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