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Eroticism in sacred music

An exploration of the eroticism of sacred music sheds light on the affective nature of music and its impact on gender norms.
Eroticism in sacred music
How sexuality and eroticism are transmitted through music and the way it creates and reinforces gender norms is not entirely understood.

An EU-funded project, SEMCMER (Sex in the early modern city: Musical eroticism in Rome), delved into how music can be used as a political and cultural tool. It focused on the 16th century, which witnessed a transformation of erotic culture in art, literature and song.

Specifically, the research pinpointed16thcentury Italian secular and sacred song linked to eroticism. This included madrigals, strophic song, and sacred song dedicated to cardinals, bishops, and other church men, noblewomen and noblemen. The main aim was to look at the ways in which men and women interacted with music in diverse ways according to class, ethnicity, race, religion, gender and sexuality. Music from 16thcentury prints was transcribed for its broad historical and cultural context in order to draw conclusions on the songs.

Layers of sexual innuendo could not be reduced to one meaning. This shows that songs can offer different levels of understanding, which depends on how familiar the audience is with contemporary erotic language. The songs gave inappropriate feelings a voice that could not otherwise be expressed in most contexts. One example is strophic songs that had political overtones.

This has enabled a better understanding of related issues in contemporary music and culture, including a feminist analysis of the discourse of purity of early music in 20th century Britain. Overall, the work offers a better understanding of the history of music as well as that of sexuality. As such, it can contribute to work against discrimination on grounds of sexuality and promote acceptance of diversity in Europe today.

Related information


Eroticism, sacred music, gender norms, sexuality, Rome, 16th century
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