The Catholic University of America

Sacred Music and the Counter-Reformation in Mid-Seventeenth-Century Rome, Venice, and Vienna

Andrew H. Weaver

 

The seventeenth century was an extremely turbulent time in all aspects of European life: the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) ravaged central Europe and affected all of the major European powers; the emerging Baroque style shocked audiences and challenged long-standing artistic precepts; and absolute rulers struggled to maintain their political authority in the face of rapidly changing social structures. Nor could the Catholic Church escape the turbulence of the age. Still facing the threat of the strengthening Protestant faiths, the Church found herself embroiled in political and cultural intrigues as she struggled to maintain her supremacy as the spiritual (and temporal) leader of the western world.

This seminar shall examine the sacred vocal music of the 1630s, 40s, and 50s in this rich religious, political, and cultural context, focusing on three major political and religious centers: Rome, Venice, and Vienna. Sacred music was viewed by Church and Monarch alike as a valuable tool in overcoming the turbulence of the age, and each of these centers showcased a remarkable variety of approaches and solutions in the use of sacred music toward larger religious and political aims.

Emphasis shall be placed first on the cities themselves; we will examine a variety of scholarly approaches (both musical and non-musical) that have been formulated to help understand the issues faced by church and political leaders -- and citizens -- during the mid-seventeenth century. We will then use this as a frame of reference for close musical analyses of sacred compositions by leading composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Giacomo Carissimi, and Giovanni Felice Sances. Our analyses will encompass a variety of issues and analytical techniques -- such as text choice, text-music relationship, harmonic symbolism, formal-structural analysis, and rhetorical expression of the affects -- all with the aim of elucidating musical meaning and understanding how the compositions would have spoken to seventeenth-century listeners.

Throughout the semester, each student shall also engage closely with a printed primary source (in facsimile), dealing with issues such as transcription, text and music editing, and performance issues, as well as putting the source into its context and teasing larger meaning out of it.

Classes shall be conducted primarily as discussion, with frequent student presentations. Students shall have weekly reading and analytical assignments, in addition to assignments relating to their primary source. There will also be a final independent research paper; this may be related to the primary source, but it could also be another topic entirely, of the student's choosing.

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