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  • Hearing the City in Early Modern Europe ed. by Tess Knighton and Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita
  • Lynette Bowring
Hearing the City in Early Modern Europe. Edited by Tess Knighton and Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita. Turnhout: Brepols, 2018. [428 p. ISBN 9782503579597 (paperback), €65.] Illustrations, music examples, tables, bibliography, index.

Many tantalizing glimpses of civic soundscapes have survived in primary sources, but scholars have only recently started to piece these together into detailed sonic histories. Hearing the City in Early Modern Europe provides a welcome forum for the scholars working in this field. The foundations for this substantial essay collection were the international workshop "Hearing the City: Musical Experience as Portal to Urban Soundscapes" (Barcelona, 2015), organized by the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), and the subsequent Marie Curie Foundation research project "Urban Musics and Musical Practices in Sixteenth-Century Europe." Emerging from these projects is a varied intellectual landscape that cultivates many new insights through its interdisciplinary breadth. This volume makes a significant contribution to the fields of urban sound studies and urban musicology through its twenty-one essays that include research from many major scholars.

"Urban musicology" is a concept rich in potential; as Joachim Kremer notes in his contribution to the volume, it provides a way to acknowledge and access the rich diversity of musical experiences that were generated by the stratified social hierarchies of early modern societies (p. 146). The idea of an "ur ban soundscape" opens this volume to a still wider range of both enriching and disruptive sonic experiences in the early modern city. Such concepts draw heavily on the groundbreaking work of Reinhard Strohm, who showed the potential of the term "soundscape" in Music in Late Medieval Bruges (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), and Tim Carter, who delineated the field of urban musicology in his "The Sound of Silence: Models for an Urban Musicology" (Urban History 29, no. 1 [May 2002]: 8–18); the essay by Dinko Fabris helpfully situates the current volume in relation to this scholarly lineage (pp. 53–56). The essays display a loyalty to this disciplinary heritage, creating a unifying intellectual undercurrent in a volume that otherwise spans a vast geographic and temporal space.

These concepts provide many opportunities for unexpected intersections of different disciplines and viewpoints. Geography and architecture, which are frequently depicted as passive containers for musical traditions, become active forces that shape and guide the sounds of urban spaces. Networks of individuals, social strata, and communication allow for the incorporation of personal and societal perspectives, bringing value to both subjective and collective aural experiences. Insights from ethnographic studies of modern [End Page 91] societies cast new light onto the soundscapes of the past, and "connected histories" (p. 73) allow for sounds to resonate through intercultural exchanges.

In the introduction to the volume, "Listening to Music in Early Modern Italy" (pp. 25–49), Tim Carter draws together many of the main themes. Through Carolyn Abbate's notions of drastic and gnostic ("Music—Drastic or Gnostic?" Critical Inquiry 30, no. 3 [Spring 2004]: 505–36), Carter argues that a "drastic" approach to listening may bring a closer understanding of how early modern soundscapes were heard at the time and how we may today experience those sounds in a historically informed way. His case studies for such drastic listening, Giovanni Gabrieli's In ecclesiis (from the Symphoniae sacrae) and Battista Guarini's poem Mentre vaga Angioletta (and Claudio Monteverdi's duet setting), demonstrate how close readings of the music and texts may guide a modern listener into a more intimate understanding of past listening and appreciation practices. In support of his approach, Carter connects drastic and gnostic impulses to geographic, social, and ethnographic insights in a range of primary source vignettes to show that, although listening practices were by no means uniform, there is still much here that can add to the modern experience of this music.

A number of essays expand this methodological basis further and seek intersections between the different fields represented in the book; the first group of essays, entitled "Crossing Boundaries," opens new perspectives by blurring these disciplinary boundaries. Fabris assesses the interdisciplinary expansion of soundscape studies; from this viewpoint, he uses...


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