Listening as Spiritual Practice in Early Modern Italy

Listening as Spiritual Practice in Early Modern Italy

Listening as Spiritual Practice in Early Modern Italy

Listening as Spiritual Practice in Early Modern Italy

Synopsis

The early seventeenth century, when the first operas were written and technical advances with far-reaching consequences--such as tonal music--began to develop, is also notable for another shift: the displacement of aristocratic music-makers by a new professional class of performers. In this book, Andrew Dell'Antonio looks at a related phenomenon: the rise of a cultivated audience whose skill involved listening rather than playing or singing. Drawing from contemporaneous discourses and other commentaries on music, the visual arts, and Church doctrine, Dell'Antonio links the new ideas about cultivated listening with other intellectual trends of the period: humanistic learning, contemplative listening (or watching) as an active spiritual practice, and musical mysticism as an ideal promoted by the Church as part of the Catholic Reformation.

Excerpt

Music is the most “spiritual” of the arts of the spirit and
a love of music is a guarantee of “spirituality.” … As the
countless variations on the soul of music and the music of
the soul bear witness, music is bound up with “interiority”
(“inner music”) of the “deepest” sort and all concerts
are sacred.

—Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction:
A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste

Pierre Bourdieu’s scare quotes around the term spiritual indicate that he is arguing metaphorically and perhaps with a good dose of irony, drawing analogies between social understandings of religious transcendence and musical fruition rather than postulating their direct equivalence. While there would be much to say about Bourdieu’s metaphorical characterization as it applies to the place of music in the post-Enlightenment European tradition, for a group of influential thinkers in early modern Italy (and Rome in particular) the link between sonic and spiritual transcendence was very direct. Leaders of the post-Tridentine Catholic Reformation understood the role of visual art as entirely bound to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the sacred and placed the ultimate onus of that understanding on the properly disposed recipient. Likewise, they set about positing musical experience, and most crucially the listener’s appropriate parsing of that experience, as a privileged path to union with the divine. More specifically, a focused approach to musical fruition—developed, primarily in elite Roman circles, in the first decades of the seventeenth century—was a conscious response by the early modern Catholic nobility and curia to the challenges posed by changing musical . . .

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