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Final Report Summary - URBANMUSICS (Urban musics and musical practices in sixteenth-century Europe)

The URBANMUSICS project (CIG-2012, no.321876) aimed to look at urban musics and musical practices in sixteenth-century Europe through the optic of the Mediterranean city of Barcelona, its external European musical networks and internal musical dynamic, as well as the more general question of urban musical experience in the early modern period. Urban music history, hitherto generally focused on institutional history, has rarely attempted to look in a holistic way at the whole range of different musics practiced in a city; for example, Spanish music history has tended to concentrate almost exclusively on major ecclesiastical institutions. The PI aimed to go beyond the institutional to draw nearer to the daily musical experience of those living in the urban environment by adopting broader cross-disciplinary historical approaches, such as cultural history, history of the book, micro-history and historical anthropology, to understand the social functions of music and urban society’s engagement with it through cultural and social expectations as well as levels of musical literacy and established conduits of oral transmission. The musical life of the city is considered through the role of music in urban ritual and ceremonial and through the everyday musical experience of citizens, based primarily on the analysis of contemporaneous writings, such as relaciones, notarial and other documentation rarely used by music historians. Almost every citizen came into contact with a notary, and the new research affords remarkable insight into the musical experience and expectations of a variety of social groups including women, musical amateurs and those at the fringes of society, such as heretics, prisoners, blind beggars and prostitutes. A further group of considerable importance for the daily musical life of the city includes those who combined a profession such as candle-maker, barber, auctioneer or farmer with music-making on a professional level as employees of city institutions. Eschatological beliefs in which music was seen as a conduit between earth and heaven, ownership and use of material objects such as music books and instruments, and contracts between printers and booksellers, instrument-makers and their customers, teachers and apprentices or private pupils can all be reconstructed through notarial documentation. The PI’s pioneering holistic and cross-disciplinary approach goes well beyond the state-of-the-art and will surely serve as a model for future studies of other early modern European cities. The URBANMUSICS project deliberately aimed to focus on previously unstudied or understudied areas, not only in the case of Barcelona, but also of European cities generally. For example, a strong emphasis on the contribution of women to urban musical life, as patrons and performers and as regards their overall musical experience, emerged. While the varied musical life of Italian female convents has attracted considerable attention through studies by, for example, Craig Monson and Robert Kendrick, this has not been the case in the Iberian context, with the resulting impression that Spanish convents are of less interest as centres of artistic production. New archival research, as well as close contact and exchange with other projects and researchers focusing on other aspects of female convents as centres for cultural patronage (for example, the Claustra project based at the Universitat de Barcelona) brings this into question. Not only can it be demonstrated that a high degree of porosity between female convents and urban society occurred, but also that their cultural impact, particularly on their immediate hinterland in the city, was considerable. The relationship of women of varying social status—noblewomen, women in devotional and domestic contexts, and prostitutes—to the musical life of the city has also been explored through close and contextualized reading of contemporaneous relaciones, travel writing, biography and necrology, correspondence, novels and poetry as well as Inquisitorial and notarial documentation, where women's voices can be heard more directly than through traditional institutional-based studies. Another specific area in which materials rarely used by musicologists (whether in Spain or more generally) and where new methodologies have been developed, is that relating to questions of orality and aurality in the urban musical context, with exploration of the dynamic between print, written and unwritten musics and levels of musical literacy in the early modern city. Approaches and analytical techniques from history of the book have been adopted and adapted to shed light on the production (whether in print or manuscript), selling, ownership and use of music books. Certain kinds of print (for example, catechisms, or manuals (artes) of plainchant and polyphony) were cheaply produced and reached levels of mass production and so impacted on levels of musical literacy, while pamphlets and broadsheets of ballads and devotional songs circulated equally widely and tapped into an unwritten repertory of song and hymn melodies known to many citizens. Similarly, the construction and sale of musical instruments and their presence in the homes and lives of the citizens of Barcelona has resulted in a much more nuanced understanding of the extent to which musical activity permeated everyday urban experience. Daily devotional practice as part of social identity and hierarchy have been studied through wills and the foundation of chapels and anniversaries in parish and convent churches in order to grasp the significance of this kind of musical experience for the listener and gauge the density of musical practice.
Throughout the project intensive research has been carried out in almost twenty archives and libraries primarily in Barcelona, but also in Sant Cugat del Vallés and Madrid. This research has resulted in a vast collection of entirely new material that has been entered into the URBANMUSICS database which will be placed on open access in 2017 ( The database is designed as an analytical tool that will be of use to any historian of urban culture; it contains thousands of entries that can be searched by name, profession/position, geographical location, institution and source types, as well as by specifically musical fields such as genre, performance space and musical instrument. New information on musicians—singers, instrumentalists, composers—will be found, but perhaps the most exciting aspect of the database is its potential for providing data relating to broader cultural and socio-historical lines of inquiry. Barcelona thus becomes not only a case study in cultural micro-history, but also a model for the development of a typology of research materials and methodologies that can be applied (and adapted as necessary) to the cultural and musical life of other urban centres.
In all these innovative ways, progress has been achieved and the results, which have been published in numerous books, collections of essays and articles, will make a particularly important impact in the fields of urban musicology and European cultural history. It is hoped that the new directions opened up in daily musical experience, performative spaces, acoustemology and history of emotions will form the basis for a further cross-disciplinary and inter-institutional research project at a European level. The interdisciplinary aspect of this research has been greatly helped and encouraged through integration into the research-based Institució Milà i Fontanals–CSIC and other university departments and research centres in the city of Barcelona.

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