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The Anatomy and Physiognomy of Early Modern Vocal Identity

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Coincidentally in 1600 two lavish books were published in Northern Italy, both revolutionary: Julius Casserius’s huge Anatomical History of the Organs of Voice and Hearing with its famous detailed engravings of dissections and the equally detailed score of Ottavio Rinuccini’s and Jacopo Peri’s Euridice – the first modern through-sung drama in music, nowadays considered to be the first genuine opera. Each in its own way was an attempt to represent in print that which could not, in fact, be recorded – the human voice. And although the ‘images’ of the voice which each of these books contains appear to us timelessly translatable — seeing as our own voices must be physically identical with those of people in 1600 — in reality, both books were conceived and born within a vocal paradigm utterly different to our own, especially the ways in which the connections between voice and identity were understood. This paradox is the starting point for an exploration of the question ‘how might an understanding of the medical, philosophical and social concepts of early modern vocality affect how we attempt to read its silent traces today’.

Richard Wistreich is Professor of Music and Director of Research at the Royal College of Music. His wide-ranging research interests are focused primarily on the cultural and social history of music-making in early-modern Europe. His book Warrior, Courtier, Singer: Giulio Cesare Brancaccio and the Performance of Identity in the Late Renaissance was published in 2007 (Ashgate), as was The Cambridge Companion to Monteverdi (CUP), co-edited with John Whenham; currently he is co-editor, with Iain Fenlon, of The Cambridge History of Sixteenth-Century Music (CUP). His wider research interests embrace the history and culture of performance in all ages, the pedagogy and practice of singing, and other related topics. Richard is also an internationally renowned performer of both early and contemporary music: he has made concert, radio and television appearances worldwide, and recorded more than 100 CDs of music ranging from award-winning albums of twelfth century organum, to many new works commissioned for the ensemble Red Byrd, and including celebrated discs of Monteverdi and Purcell.

This talk is part of the Faculty of Music Colloquia series.

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