Silent Music: Medieval Song and the Construction of History in Eighteenth-Century Spain

By Noel, Charles C. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Silent Music: Medieval Song and the Construction of History in Eighteenth-Century Spain


Noel, Charles C., The Catholic Historical Review


Silent Music: Medieval Song and the Construction of History in EighteenthCentury Spain. By Susan Boynton. [Currents in Latin American and Iberian Music] (New York: Oxford University Press. 2011. Pp. xxvi, 208. $3995. ISBN 978-0-19-975459-5.)

In 1749 the ministers of the Spanish king, Ferdinand VI, set up the Royal Commission on Archives. This was one of many such bodies established directly by the Crown or at its instigation beginning during the final years of the murderous Spanish civil War of the Succession. They were commissions, committees, societies, and academies that brought together scholars, scientists, artists, engineers, amateur enthusiasts, and government officials. Whatever their particular tasks, their members engaged in research, observation, and analysis of the world around them; they explored nature, geographical space, culture, and the past; they produced studies, reports, works of art, and sometimes lasting and influential institutions; they helped enlarge the intellectual world of Spaniards of the mid- and late-eighteenth century. It is this slowly expanding cultural world that Susan Boynton explores in her new book.

Of course, the kings' ministers and ordinary members of these bodies had complex and occasionally incompatible aims. Ferdinand VFs ministers wanted the Archives Commission to uncover documents that would help strengthen their hand in diplomatic dealings with the Roman Curia. This was at a time when Ferdinand's government and the ministers of Pope Benedict XTV were negotiating what turned out to be the transfer, defined in the Concordat of 1753, of vast Spanish ecclesiastical patronage from the Quirinale to Madrid.

Wisely keeping the diplomatic negotiations in the background, Boynton focuses on a few of the Commission's scholars. Her chief protagonists are the Jesuit scholar and educational reformer Andrés Marcos Burriel and his colleague, the highly skilled calligrapher and paleographer Francisco Xavier de Santiago y Palomares. Beginning in 1750, this pair, immersing themselves in the archives of Toledo cathedral, made major discoveries and provided important reinterpretations of Spain's Visigothic liturgical and more broadly cultural legacy.

Boynton is an award-winning historical musicologist who specializes in medieval Roman Catholic liturgy. Her study of the scholarship of Burriel and Palomares, however, takes its greatest value from the cultural and political context into which she plants it. …

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