MUS 261
Lost Voices of Medieval and Renaissance Women Spring 2022
Division I Writing Skills
Cross-listed MUS 261 / WGSS 261

Class Details

Remarkably few female voices from the first 1500 years of music in the West are audible today; most of the extant music and poetry of these centuries was composed by men to communicate male perspectives on matters worldly and divine. In this course we will listen to the experiences and viewpoints of medieval and Renaissance women as expressed through their poetry and song. We will ask how these women, whose lives were shaped either by the requirements of monastic culture or by the complex dynamics of aristocratic court culture, negotiated their places and made their voices heard within the patriarchal society of their time. We will examine how the contrasting environments of church and court informed the different outlooks, ideas, and aesthetics expressed in the words and music of their songs. Along the way, we will critically assess how these lost voices have been recreated to speak to us today through recordings and film. Our exploration begins in Byzantium and travels through Germany to France, Spain, and Italy. Along the way we encounter the Greek chant of the 9th century Byzantine abbess Kassia, the Latin poetry, chant, and sacred music drama of the 12th century German polymath St. Hildegard of Bingen, and the elegant poems and courtly melodies of the Countess of Dia and Queen Blanche of Castile in 12th and 13th century France. Heading south, we explore 14th century sacred polyphony at the royal convent of Las Huelgas in northern Spain, and voyage cross the Mediterranean to sample the lively musical life of 15th and 16th century cloistered female communities in northern Italy. We conclude our journey with a comparison of three remarkable 16th century women: the archduchess Margaret of Austria, Governor of the Hapsburg Netherlands, and poet-composer of French chansons; Sister Leonora d’Este, an Italian princess who spent her life enclosed in a Venetian convent, and likely authored a collection of anonymous Latin motets; and Maddelena Casulana, a northern Italian composer of madrigals, and the first women to publish music under her own name. Her introduction to her first book of madrigals encapsulates the aim of this course: “I want to show the world, as much as I can in this profession of music, the vain error of men that they alone possess the gifts of intellect and artistry, and that such gifts are never given to women.”
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 10
Expected: 6
Class#: 3731
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Evaluation based on participation, three essays totaling 20-25 pages, three short peer reviews, and a final project presentation.
Prerequisites: Ability to read music helpful but not required.
Enrollment Preferences: Current or prospective Music and Women's Gender & Sexuality Studies majors, then seniors, juniors, and sophomores.
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
MUS 261 Division I WGSS 261 Division II
WS Notes: Students will write three essays totaling 20-25 pages, each of which will be revised in response to peer and instructor feedback.

Class Grid

Updated 11:02 am

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