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Saturday morning quotes 8.44: A novel idea

June 11, 2022

This is just a short post to feature an interesting article that reflects a bit of our own philosophy in approaching performance of early music. Those familiar with Mignarda’s music understand that our interpretations are quite different compared to most other early music professionals. While we keep up with current (useful) academic research, our approach is informed by gaining a contextual understanding of the sources of historical music; what the music meant originally and how it was performed and received when it was new. This premise seems like a “no-brainer” for performers of historical repertory but we aren’t content to engage in hollow sales talk—we actually mean it. A case in point is that we spent many years singing the Latin Mass, a practice that is ironically disconnected from the PR-driven “castle and cathedral” fantasy world of modern early music performance. Performing historical functional music connects art with actual practical considerations, a process that reveals the sort of joys and frustrations historical musicians experienced when the music was new.

Our featured article illustrates how the guitar was used by professional musicians and amateurs in the 17th century to accompany popular songs, because the music many early music professionals elaborately present today as sacred relics were really just popular songs in their own day.

“…Playing the Spanish guitar in early modern Italy is a topic that yields many rewards, thanks in large part to the volumes of textual evidence that mark the surging numbers of aspiring and professional musicians who took up the instrument starting around the year 1600. The number of guitar sources produced c. 1580–1700 is staggering: about 100 or so manuscripts (tutors, books of songs, dances and sonatas), several dozen printed Spanish guitar tutors (reprinted in great numbers throughout the century)…”

“Seventeenth-century guitarists will be the knowing selves and subjects of this essay, and the texts that they produced, learned from, played from, and marked up will here be the material traces of the musical logics and epistemologies born out of holding the guitar in the hands, touching the fretboard and strumming the strings. From these texts guitar logic materialises as a way of both ‘doing/playing’ and ‘knowing/thinking’, a mutually dependent technê and epistêmê defined in accordance with the bodily and intellectual relationships that develop between guitarists and the instruments they play.”

“…The chief aim is to make a case for the Spanish guitar as an instrument through which knowing subjects sought and secured an epistemology of musical practice, a way-of-knowing and-doing that could even surpass other musical epistemologies already in circulation.”

– Cory M. Gavito, “Thinking Like a Guitarist in Seventeenth-Century Italy”, Early Music History, Volume 40, 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press, ppg. 37-84.

We applaud an approach to scholarship that honors practical considerations such as the timeless application of fingers touching strings of an instrument. There is no better way to understand how historical music actually worked than investing time and energy in learning how an historical instrument with proper stringing defined the interpretive possibilities. For starters, it becomes obvious that an historical guitar was not used in a large concert hall setting, but rather in small rooms at home for domestic music-making.

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