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Music and Late Medieval European Court Cultures: Towards a Trans-Disciplinary and Post-National Cultural Poetics of the Performative Arts

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - MALMECC (Music and Late Medieval European Court Cultures: Towards a Trans-Disciplinary and Post-National Cultural Poetics of the Performative Arts)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

The Issue
Late-medieval European court cultures have traditionally been studied from a mono-disciplinary and national(ist) perspective. This has obscured much of the interplay of cultural performances that informed ‘courtly life’. Recent research has begun to reverse this, focusing on issues such as the tensions between orality, writing, and performance; the sociocultural dimensions of making and owning manuscripts (musical and otherwise); the interstices between musical, literary, and visual texts and political, social, and religious rituals; and the impact of gender, kinship, and social status on the genesis and transmission of culture and music. These ‘new medievalist’ studies have significantly enhanced our understanding of the cultural meanings of singing, listening, and sound in late-medieval times.
Taking a decisive step further, MALMECC systematically explores late-medieval (c. 1250-1500) court cultures and their music synoptically across Europe. The project is a large-scale comparative study focused on the role of sounds and music in courtly life. It embeds music within a multidisciplinary framework encompassing all the arts as well as politics and religion. England, the Low Countries, Iberia, Avignon, Bohemia, Austria, south-eastern Germany/Salzburg, Savoy, northern Italy, and Cyprus have been selected for study. These were vibrant sites of cultural production which have been relatively neglected due to prevailing discursive formations favouring ‘centres’ like Paris and Florence.
Its importance
The MALMECC approach provides new insights into late-medieval cultures and the societies that produced them. This contributes directly to Europeans’ understanding of the often enigmatic artefacts they see in museums, or the equally obscure pieces of medieval music that they hear in concerts and on recordings. By reconstructing cultural practices and the performances that shaped and surrounded these pieces, MALMECC reveals submerged cultural links across Europe.
The objectives
In highlighting these formal and informal cultural communities, MALMECC provides unique opportunities for today’s Europeans to re-connect with their heritage in a contemporary context. From an academic point of view, the project is important because it develops and tests an innovative, team-based research paradigm for historical ‘art’ research, which, it is anticipated, will be transferable to other periods of history and regions of the globe.
The MALMECC project began in January 2016 and transferred to Oxford in September 2016. As soon as recruitment was completed, the multidisciplinary team launched into an intensive period of knowledge exchange, both within the team and with selected external experts. This exploratory phase, designed to establish a common base of knowledge and a shared sense of purpose and identity, culminated in the project workshop, ‘Methodological Innovation in Late-Medieval Studies’, at Wadham College (27-28 April 2017).
Following the workshop’s success, the team added a series of four international ‘study days’ to their work plan in the next, research-driven phase of the MALMECC project. Each study day explored one of the main themes of the MALMECC research in particular depth. Details of all events are on the project website, www.malmecc.eu.
With much of the original research approaching completion, summer 2019 brought significant changes in the team’s composition. Each of the three post-doctoral scholars, Laura Slater, Christophe Masson, and David Murray who contributed to the project from 2016 onwards moved on to prestigious new appointments at Cambridge, Liège and Utrecht. An international search led to the appointment of three new post-doctoral scholars, who now contribute projects on late-medieval Castile (David Catalunya), Austria (Grantley McDonald), and the Francophone world around 1400 (Uri Smilansky). Slater, Masson, and Murray remain informally associated with MALMECC. Three external researchers (Ingrid Ciulisová, art history; Paweł Gancarczyk, music history; Soterraña Aguirre Rincón, music history) sought informal association of their independent research projects with MALMECC, underscoring the project’s impact on the wider research community.
The MALMECC Project Conference was held in the Faculty of Music, St Aldate’s, on 26-27 September 2019. We were delighted to welcome 17 scholars from six European countries and the United States from a diverse range of disciplines (art and architectural history, literary history, history, music history) who presented a string of fascinating papers that offered a striking, truly transdisciplinary window on late-medieval courtly life across Europe.
Following the 2019 conference, the project entered its final, synthetic stage. To accommodate the quality and quantity of the team’s research, in early 2020, a project extension amendment to the end of December 2021 was granted. Two further study days planned for spring 2020 with partners in Prague and Meissen were cancelled or postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The papers prepared for Prague are being collated into an essay collection dedicated to the influence of the Luxembourg dynasty on European court cultures.
As of the day of writing, we have produced 25 publications and 64 blog posts; they are available on
https://www.malmecc.eu/outputs-and-publications/
and
http://www.malmecc.eu/blog/
The project was designed to explore the possibility of a transdisciplinary and post-national(ist) methodology, exemplified by a set of interconnected case studies dedicated to late-medieval European court cultures. Over the past five years, internally generated, research-driven features like our international study days and, in the current stage, the ‘MALMECC seminars’ were added to the project. The changes in the team, and collaboration with associate researchers afforded unexpected additional research opportunities. This made it possible to significantly broaden the project’s geographic and thematic scope. It now goes well beyond what was first anticipated.
All this provides an ideal frame for testing the validity of the project’s underlying hypothesis - the feasibility of a transdisciplinary approach to the study of cultural history. While full results will become visible in the upcoming period only, several elements indicating significant progress beyond the state of the art have emerged. These include the role of ecclesiastic courts; the vital part played by ecclesiastics within the fabric of late-medieval courts; the complexities of female agency in both the secular and sacred spheres of court culture; and the heuristic value inherent in breaking down national(ist) historiographical tropes. Pursuing these strands makes visible submerged transregional or transcontinental networks that were constitutive for the cultural fabric of late-medieval Europe.
The project currently aims to publish two essay collections and three monographs in total, as well as an impressive list of high-profile scholarly articles as the combined research output of all project team members.
Image of the courtly life studied in the project
Outdoor public display of courtly art