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Material Texts: Mary Channen Caldwell (Music, Penn): "Inscribing Performance: Cueing Repetition in Medieval Song"
Monday, October 2, 2017 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center
6th Floor of Van-Pelt Library

We will be welcoming Mary Channen Caldwell for a talk entitled: “Inscribing Performance: Cueing Repetition in Medieval Song.” Mary writes:

Although repetition saturates medieval song at all levels, its most identifiable shape across languages and genres is the refrain. There is, of course, no one kind of refrain; the refrain alters its identity almost as often as it repeats itself. Key to the refrain, however, whether understood on the level of structure, quotation, or aphorism, is repetition—a refrain requires a return. In this talk I will consider the moment of return as it occurs implicitly and explicitly on the manuscript page through cueing, symbols, and abbreviation practices. By attending to the material side of the refrain’s return, we gain a deeper understanding of how they were performed and disseminated.

Specifically, delving into repetition’s material life provides a revealing glimpse into its immaterial life, showcasing the refrain’s itinerancy across songs and manuscripts and its performative orality. As an example, I focus my attention on a collection of Latin songs (conducti) in two late-medieval liturgical manuscripts from the monastery of St. Lambrecht (Graz, Universitätsbibliothek, MSS 409 and 258). In both sources, the visual shape of refrains and their cues continually subvert expectations of repetition and return, demanding consideration of how performance practices and oral transmission intervene in song. Foregrounding the refrain’s life on the page, these sources disclose the complexity of the medieval return as it occurs beyond the page. 

Mary Channen Caldwell is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. She has articles on the Roman de Fauvel and the Latin conductus published in, respectively, Early Music History and Plainsong & Medieval Music, and a forthcoming chapter in an edited collection on a thirteenth-century French manuscript (Tours MS 927) published by the Medieval Institute in the Early Drama, Art and Music series. Ongoing projects include a book-length study of time and song in premodern Europe, titled Seasonal Refrains: A Calendar of Song in Premodern Europe.