Motets, Inscriptions and the Praise of Music in Robert Dow’s Tudor Partbooks

In 1580s Oxford debates concerning the relative merits or vices of music were intensifying. Ex-Oxford student Stephen Gosson had attacked music in his School of Abuse (1579) encouraging his readers to eschew practical music and look instead to the harmonious delights of heaven: ‘If you will be good scholers, and profit well in the Art of Music, shut your fiddles in their cases, and look up to heaven: the order of the Spheres, the unfallible motion of the Planets’. The newly appointed and (by his own admission) musically ignorant Lecturer in Music, Matthew Gwinne, responded in his inaugural lecture, ‘In laudem musices oratio’, (1582), exhorting his listeners to ‘show yourselves men of good will, expel music’s enemies, hold them in contempt; cherish its patrons’. Published defences soon followed with the anonymous The Praise of Music (1586) and Apologia musices (1588) by former Fellow of St John’s College, John Case.

DOW image_96dpi.jpg

In the midst of this debate Robert Dow – a Fellow of Laws at All Souls College, Oxford and a teacher of penmanship – began copying a set of musical partbooks (where every voice part is copied into its own book) containing Latin motets, English anthems, consort songs and textless music. They survive today in Christ Church Library, Oxford (Mus. 979-83).

These music books (available to view online via DIAMM) were designed not merely to be functional in communicating musical notation to players, but also to be both witty and visually appealing. Each book begins with a Latin poem in praise of music by Walter Haddon, at one time President of Magdalen College, followed by Latin verse requesting that users treat his books with care and several quotations attesting to the value and joys of music. These Latin inscriptions continue throughout the motet section of the partbooks. Many of them praise particular composers, including Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Robert White, William Mundy and Robert Parsons. A few promote the quality of English music, while many others cite myths and commonplaces about the benefits or nature of music.

Dow’s combination of notation and inscription presents a rare and intriguing meeting point of musical thought and practice, offering insights into the motivations and philosophies of this amateur Elizabethan musician. Whether or not Dow had a specific meaning in mind for each juxtaposition, in a culture used to emblems, allegory, and witty conceits these inscriptions would have invited users to reflect on the connections between the musical debates evoked by the quotation and the musical practice represented by the notation and its performance.

Some of the connections between the motet and its accompanying inscription are clear. William Byrd’s motet Tribulatio proxima est (first line: ‘Tribulation is very near: for there is none to help me’) is paired with a line that translates as ‘Music is the medicine of the sad mind’. The inscription draws on the commonly held belief that music was a cure for melancholy and by pairing the motet and inscription Dow raises the suggestion that singing motets of lamentation like Byrd’s could have therapeutic properties.

Other juxtapositions are more oblique. William Byrd’s O Domine adiuva me is paired with a phrase that translates as ‘everything that lives is captivated by music if it follows nature’. It resonates with sentiments expressed in many defences of music including The Praise of Music (1586), which argues: ‘daily experience doth prove unto us, that not only men but all other living creatures, are delighted with the sweet harmony and consent of music’. Although the context in The Praise of Music is musicality in the natural world, reading the inscription alongside the motet gives the phrase ‘everything that lives’ a rather different resonance. O Domine adiuva me is a motet about salvation in which the protagonist pleas with the Lord to save them from eternal death because He has died that sinners might live. The life here is eternal and in this context the living who are captivated by music might be read as those who will have salvation

dow

Dow’s intention to praise and justify music is clear through these and the many other inscriptions he copied (discussed more fully in the article linked to below). He made no attempt to provide balanced statements on music’s virtues or vices, and chose numerous quotations explicitly condemning music’s detractors. The stories and arguments raised by his choice of quotations are wholly conventional and influenced by the rhetoric of other contemporary encomia. Yet his justification is founded primarily on the pleasurable, moral and religious advantages of musicality, inviting reflection on the roles music might play in Christian living, honest pleasures and ultimately salvation.

Where Dow’s partbooks are most distinctive is in prompting the users of his books to consider how singing these motets might bring specific benefits. With the inscriptions interspersed throughout the books, performers would stumble across them in the course of playing, potentially prompting communal discussions of music’s effects in relation to the motets just sung. In his Plain and Easy Introduction to Music, the composer Thomas Morley would describe the motet as a ‘grave and sober’ genre of the highest art that ‘causeth most strange effects in the hearer’, drawing them to devout contemplation of God. Dow’s juxtapositions similarly suggest that one might sing these motets to achieve the beneficial effects alluded to in the inscriptions. Moreover Morley argues that such effects would be most powerfully felt by the ‘skilful auditor’ – presumably musically educated men like Dow. Engaging communally with the multimedia contents of these partbooks Dow and his co-performers could cultivate both their performance abilities and those esteemed skills of musical knowledge, judgement and reasoning, seeking ultimately to reap the benefits of the powers of music.

To read the full article published by the Early Music journal visit: https://academic.oup.com/em/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/em/cax006  (open access).

Advertisements

Tudor Partbooks: How You Could Get Involved!

Are you into early music, Renaissance manuscripts or using Photoshop to improve digital images?  If any of theme applies to you, then you might enjoy getting involved with two of Tudor Partbooks’s most exciting projects to reconstruct Tudor music manuscripts.

1) A digital reconstruction of John Sadler’s music partbooks

The first of these opportunities concerns the reconstruction of the Sadler Partbooks, which I’ve blogged a little about previously. The Elizabethan music-lover John Sadler copied a set of partbooks using ink that was too acidic. Over the centuries this acidic ink has burned through the paper leaving his music books  difficult to read in many places (images of the Sadler partbooks are freely available on the DIAMM website) . Here’s a brief introduction:

We have c.600 images in need of restoration, which we estimate will take a couple of thousand hours to complete. So we’re looking to recruit a large team of volunteers who would like to learn the process of digital reconstruction and have a go at restoring some of these manuscript pages. No previous experience is necessary as I’ve created a series of videos to teach the few basic techniques that are needed. These also explain the aesthetics of the reconstruction process: how to we decide what to to remove or leave in, and how do we try to maintain the look of a 400-year-old manuscript?

This first video is an introduction to some basic Photoshop tools and the settings you’ll need to enable for digital reconstruction. (The videos currently show the process via Adobe Photoshop CS6, however, the same digital reconstruction techniques are possible with Adobe Photoshop Elements).

Now you’re ready to have a go at the technique of cloning:

So once you’ve mastered the cloning technique, the next step is to learn how to judge what to clone out and what to leave in:

Finally, we want to make sure that the end results of our restoration leave the manuscript looking like a 400-year-old manuscript, just one without the burn-through from the acidic ink. This final video explains how to achieve this effect:

Now you’re ready to have a go! Email Julia to request your first image, along with any questions you might still have.

2) A polyphonic reconstruction of John Baldwin’s lost tenor book

mus_979_34_crop_coloursJohn Baldwin’s partbooks are a vital source of Tudor polyphonic music both from the Elizabethan period when Baldwin was copying, and from earlier, pre-Reformation repertories.  Unfortunately the tenor book has been lost rendering all its music incomplete. We’re creating a facsimile of Baldwin’s partbooks using high quality images provided by Christ Church library, but if people are going to be able to perform from Baldwin’s notation again we’re going to need to reconstruct the missing tenor book. Sometimes we can find the tenor part from another manuscript, but in around 60 cases we’re going to have to use the surviving parts and our knowledge of the composers’ styles to reconstruct the missing tenor voice.‌

DSCI0328.JPG

Before we can start each piece, we need have to transcribe the music from the remaining partbooks. These transcriptions are then used for making the reconstructed tenor parts. We’re experimenting with a collaborative process of reconstructing the missing voice that has included performers, students alongside academic specialists. As part of this we’ve held some reconstruction workshop weekends (you can see Storifys of previous workshops in Oxford and Cambridge, while the next is forthcoming in Newcastle in March).

So if you read sixteenth-century music notation and/or are good with Sibelius music software there are two ways that you could help in reconstructing Baldwin’s partbooks: firstly, by making transcriptions and, secondly, by participating in polyphonic reconstruction. If you’d like to volunteer, or would like guidelines on the Tudor Partbooks house style, just email Magnus.

We look forward to welcoming you into our team of volunteers and hope you might enjoy participating in these ground-breaking collaborative projects to reconstruction Tudor music manuscripts.

Music in Elizabethan Court Politics

My book Music in Elizabethan Court Politics has just been published!IMGP2947

In the book I investigate the political roles of music (particularly secular music-making) within the court of Queen Elizabeth I. IT’s begins by considering the musical reputation of Elizabeth herself. Did being a musician, music-lover and patron assist Elizabeth in projecting an image of authority, or did it leave her open to accusations of frivolity or even lust (as it often could for musical women)? Whom did Elizabeth choose to perform for and why? How might her performances for ambassadors have influence the course of negotiations – particularly those surrounding her marriage? Also politically significant was Elizabeth’s patronage of musicians: she employed a large number of musicians in both her household and her chapel who performed during court ceremonies, or festivities such as plays, masques, and dancing. In addition visitors often noted the luxurious and unusual instruments that were displayed throughout her royal palaces.

Yet one of the key themes about the book is that music at the Elizabethan court was not solely under the Queen’s direct control. Courtiers, noblemen, even the performers themselves all had influence over the music performed and the politics messages they conveyed. Courtiers who were intimate with the Queen might write lyrics and have them set to music if they thought they were in danger of losing her favour. Others took their opportunity in the tiltyard. Taking on a personal knightly persona they dressed up in elaborately themed armour travelling on a pageant car with a train of followers to present they personal shield to Elizabeth, all to the accompaniment of music. This pageantry before the jousting and other military sports began often revealed much about the nobleman’s political interests, the image of noble masculinity he wished to create, and his relationship with Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s summer progress – tours through parts of her realm – opened up further opportunities for political music-making, both by courtiers and those usually more remote from the court. Elizabeth visited the estates of noblemen and made royal entries into towns. She not only visited loyal servants but also those whose activities were more suspected – Catholic gentlemen such as Lord Montague at Cowdray, or the Earl of Hertford who had earned royal displeasure by marrying a lady with royal blood without the Queen’s permission. These were vital occasions when the host (civic or noble) had the Queen’s attention and could make personal petitions or aim to influence her political policies. Music and song punctuated the elaborate entertainments that both towns and noblemen prepared for their Elizabeth, and these were always coloured by the politics of the occasion. Songs flattered the Queen, petitioned her for favour and rewards, made last-ditch attempts at wooing Elizabeth on behalf of suitors, and even criticised her policies and attitudes. All the while the musicians employed in these events had their eye on earning lucrative rewards or even a royal appointment.

I hope this has given you a flavour of some of the fascinating research behind this book. It paints a fascinating picture of how music served as a valuable means for both the tactful influencing of policies and patronage, and the construction of political identities and relationships. In the Elizabethan court, music was simultaneously a tool of authority for the monarch and an instrument of persuasion for the nobility.

If I’ve whetted your appetite, you can order online from Boydell and Brewer. Quote the reference 15800 to receive the offer price of £45 (ends 1/3/2015)

Tudor Partbooks: Update and Forthcoming Events

TudorPartbooksFacultyWebsite.qxp_Layout 4 copyIt’s been an exciting few months getting the Tudor Partbooks project underway (see my previous post outlining the aims of the project). We’ve received and processed nearly 12,000 digital images from the Bodleian and British Libraries, covering all the partbooks in their collections dating from the 1530s-1580s. I’ve started typesetting the facsimile editions of the remaining Baldwin partbooks and designed our website which is very nearly ready to go live. I’ve also started work on a detailed study of the so-called ‘Hamond’ partbooks –  a fascinating, if scruffy, set which may have started life in a parish church before finding their way into an Elizabethan home (more on these another time!) You can also follow the work of our PhD student, Daisy, whose started her own blog: ‘Music in Tudor England.’

The Tudor Partbooks project will also be holding an extensive series of events, which have already begun. Dr Julia Craig-McFeely led our first seminar on the digital restoration of manuscripts. If you DigitalRestorationWorkshop7-1-2015missed it, she’s repeating it on 12 February (3:30pm, Oxford Music Faculty). Entitled ‘Digital Restoration for Beginners: Is this for me and how would I get started?’, it’s an opportunity to find out what digital reconstruction entails, what can be achieved through the process, and how to get started. Register by 1 February by emailing me.

In March we’re holding the first of our workshops on editing and reconstructing the missingMus_979_34_crop_colours Baldwin partbook. Sessions on editing Tudor polyphony and completing missing parts will be led by Magnus Williamson, Owen Rees, Andrew Johnstone and John Milsom. Singers from Contrapunctus will participate on Friday afternoon, trying out editorial solutions and providing the singers’ perspective. Register for some or all of this weekend by 31 January here.

On the Saturday evening (7 March) there’s also be a concert of music from the Baldwin Partbooks, performed by Contrapunctus (Queen’s College Chapel,7:30pm, tickets available here).

More events for April, May and July are already in the planning stages (details to follow soon). In the meantime we’re starting the task of creating detailed inventories for every partbook in our image collection.

The Earliest Surviving Song in Praise of Queen Elizabeth I?

The earliest song in praise of Queen Elizabeth I is not a madrigal, lute song, consort song or anthem – the genres most widely associated with her reign – but a modest broadside ballad by one William Birche. His A Songe Betweene the Quenes Maiestie and England (now in the library of the Society of Antiquaries) is a charming love song between Bessy (Elizabeth) and her realm. The surviving copy was published in 1564, but it this was probably a reprinting on an earlier version published in 1558-9, shortly after her Coronation. As a broadside ballad it would have circulated widely. Printed on a single sheet it would have been sold cheaply and could also have been learnt orally through hearing the ballad seller singing his wares or his customers enjoying their purchases. Ballads were found pasted up in alehouses and private homes, and were enjoyed by nobility and poor husbandmen alike. [1]

Coronation_Procession_of_Elizabeth_I_of_England_1559

Coronation Procession of Elizabeth I of England_1559

Birche adapted a popular song melody, ‘Come over the born, Bessy’, which refers to one of two similar tunes: either ‘Ouer the Broome Bessy’ or a minor mode variant, ‘Brown Bessy, Sweet Bessy, Come Over to Me’ [2]: Musical setting of A Songe Betweene the Queenes Maiestie and England

As early as her coronation day, Elizabeth’s reputation as a monarch who loved and was loved by her people was being forged. Richard Mulcaster described London during her pre-Coronation procession as ‘a stage wherein was showed the wonderful spectacle, of a noble hearted princess toward her most loving people’ (The Passage of Our Most Drad Soueraigne, 1559). Birche’s song too emphasises the intimate bond between Queen and kingdom. In the first verse tells how Elizabeth was supposedly called by England to be Queen, and then England asks Bessy to give her hand in marriage:

England:
I am thy lover fair
hath chose thee to mine heir
and my name is Merry England
Therefore come away
and make no more delay
Sweet Bessy give me thy hand

Bessy:
Here is my hand
My dear lover England
I am thine both with mind and heart
for ever to endure
thou mayest be sure
Until death us two depart.

With the character of Merry England, Birche looks ahead to a new golden age of English prosperity. Yet the ballad presents a complex and paradoxical set of relationships between Bessy and England: she is England’s ‘dear lady’, lover, wife and heir.

Elizabeth’s role as lover and ‘dear lady’ suggests the Elizabeth_I_Coronation_Miniaturesame true affection between kingdom and monarch evoked by Mulcaster. This is followed by the bond of marriage, suggesting the official coronation ceremony that has bound monarch and country and in which the monarch also received a ring. This metaphor of a monarch marrying their kingdom dated back to at least 1300, and had been employed by Elizabeth herself in her speech to Parliament in 1559 [3]. Finally her representation as heir underlines her legitimate claim to the throne. The emphasis on her Englishness both distanced her from her sister, Mary I, who was popularly perceived as Spanish (because of her Spanish mother and marriage to Philip II), and also used her subjects’ sense of national identity to encourage a bond of loyalty with their new queen.

The ballad also recognises that Elizabeth has not always been treated with such affection and it stages a scene of forgiveness and reconciliation. Bessy describes her imprisonment during in the Tower and at Woodstock during Mary’s reign. England makes its excuses for her treatment (tyrants and fear), painting a picture of a country that had lamented the reign of Mary and waited eagerly for Elizabeth’s Accession. Expressing disbelief at her treatment, England confirms her legitimacy: surely these enemies were mad men who did not know she was daughter of Henry, princess by birth and sister to Mary? Bessy responds by graciously offering her forgiveness to all those who amend their ways. Her quasi-religious persona becomes increasingly explicit until the final verses hail her as ‘sweet virgin pure’ and ‘handmaid of the Lord’. Elizabeth/Bessy becomes a second Virgin Mary. The image presents her piety, purity and divine appointment as the crowning arguments for her authority. The charmingly informal image of two lovers has formalised into one of Queen and Kingdom, with the monarch bidding the realm to be obedient and the subjects praying for her long reign. They end united in praise and prayer to God:

All honour, laud and praise
be to the Lord God always
Who has all princes’ hearts in his hands
That by his power and might
he may give them a right
For the wealth of all Christian lands.

What does this song represent? Was this official propaganda instructed by Elizabeth or a member of her government in a format that could carry across the country as both printed broadside and orally-circulated song? Or was Birche’s song an enthusiastic outpouring from an enthusiastic Protestant thrilled to be rid of the Catholic Mary and hoping to gain some early favour with the new Queen?

Birche’s Protestantism is evident from his other godly ballads: A warnyng to England, let London begin:To repent their iniquitie, & flie from their sin (1565?) ending with a prayer for Elizabeth; The complaint of a sinner, vexed with paine (1563?); and A free admonition without any fees/To warne the Papistes to beware of three trees (1571) which ends with a resolute ‘God save our Queene Elizabeth.’ Or are we perhaps in danger of being taken in by the very rhetoric of mutual love Birche’s song pours forth? One can hardly imagine Birche being allowed to print (and reprint) a song that goes as far as putting words in the Queen’s mouth if it did not at least have royal approval.

Yet if it was officially instigated by Elizabeth’s government, it was not a strategy that Elizabeth was quick to repeat. Not until 1577-8 were official broadside songs of praise produced, this time by royal printer Christopher Barker to commemorate her Accession Day on 17 November. These, however, were sung prayers and thanksgivings of a more sober nature than Birche’s charming dialogue.

Whether officially instigated or merely royally approved, Birche’s ballad certainly started the process of constructing and disseminating across the kingdom aspects of the royal image that were to become characteristic of her reign: Elizabeth’s status as one divinely appointed by God and under his direct protection, and the ideal of a mutual affection between the Queen and her subjects.

References
1. Christopher Marsh, Music and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2010), chap.5 and Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety (Cambridge, 1991), chap.1
2. Frederick Sternfeld, Music in Shakespearean Tragedy (London, 1963), 180-88
3. William Camden, Annales, The True and Royall History of the Famous Empresse Elizabeth. Queene of England  (London, 1625), p.28; Judith Richards, ‘Mary Tudor as “Sole Quene”?: Gendering Tudor Monarchy,’ The Historical Journal 40 (1997): 895-924 (p.912).

Study Day on 14th May: Crisis, Creativity and the Self, 1550-1700

The seventeenth century is often presented as a time of crisis and profound change across Europe. These include political crises such as the Civil War and Restoration; economic crises; continued religious tensions between Protestants, Catholics and other dissenting groups; profound intellectual changes such as the new experimental philosophy, the re-evaluation of the status of Classical knowledge, and a new awareness of individual subjectivity. These social and cultural developments also had an impact on the arts.

On 15th May an interdisciplinary study day is being convened in London by Stephen Rose to explore this idea of crisis in relation to notions of creativity and self. There’s a key-note by John Butt, as well as papers (including my own) placing music alongside drama, literature, science and religion. Issues for discussion include:

  • how  notions of creativity and the self were reshaped by the changing religious, political and intellectual climate
  • how subjectivity was performed in music, on the stage, and in the church
  • how notions of innovation and creative adaptation changed

A full timetable and details of how to book are included below.

Continue reading

Tarantulas, Tunes and Temperaments

The Meanings of an Italian Musical Marvel in Early Modern England

As an arachnophobe the last thing I thought I’d end up writing about was spiders. Yet, having had to get over my reluctance to even pick up a book with a spider on the cover, that is exactly where my current project exploring musical myths has taken me.

Tarantella_(Athanasius_Kircher)In late-sixteenth century England a tale began to circulate concerning music’s ability to cure the bite of the tarantula, a particular type of spider found in the Apulia region of Italy. The tarantula’s poison might cause various effects in the victim – including laughing, weeping, silence, sleeping, raving and calling out, delusions, melancholy, fearfulness and numbness – according to the temperament of either the patient or the spider. No cure was to be found, except music. Musicians had to find the right tune to match the temperament or the patient and/or the temperament of the spider (which was also believed to dance to a specific tune) and once the correct tune was identified the patient would begin to dance until the poison was expelled. The patient would be cured, but the illness would recur each year, requiring the same musical cure until, it was often said, the tarantula that had caused the bite died. Numerous books catalogued the tales of individual victims, including Athanasius Kircher’s Magnes siue de arte magnetica (Rome, 1641), which famously transcribed some of the curative tunes (see above).

But why was this story about an Italian spider significant in England? Here’s a little taster of what I’ve been finding out.

Book_of_the_Courtier-smallThe myth was probably brought into England via Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528) and began to circulate widely following Thomas Hoby’s English translation (1561). As it concerned a remote corner of Italy few Englishmen were likely to visit it was as exotic and marvellous as tales from Classical mythology and it especially captured the imagination of courtly writers at a time when all things Italian were in fashion at the Elizabethan court. Sir Philip Sidney, for example, uses the tarantula as a metaphor for falling in love in The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia (1590): the word ‘lover’ pierces Pyrocles just as music touches the victim of the tarantula, so that his body and heart ‘seemed to dance to the sound of that word’. The sting of Cupid’s arrow causes lovesickness just as the tarantula bite causes the victim to lose control of mind and body.

Although Sidney provides no musical cure for his character, the tarantula myth was most obviously an example of music’s healing powers, a particular fascination for physicians and natural philosphers in seventeenth-century England. In the early modern world, the most common explanation for illness was an imbalance of the four humours (black bile/melancholy, yellow bile/choler, phlegm and blood). As wellbeing required keeping the humours in balance, musical metaphors were common, with health regarded as ‘but a harmony of temperament and sicknesse a dissonancie’ (Virgilio Malvezzi, David Persecuted, 1650). Furthermore music was widely recognised as a cure for madness, melancholy (including lovesickness) and as able toCharleton_1619-1707 drive out demons (another potential cause of illness). For the tarantula bite, music’s curative powers depended on the effects of its vibration of the air when transferred to the body via the ear. Physician Walter Charleton described the venom as conveyed by a ‘thin, acrimonious and pricking Humor’. The harmonious movement of air caused by the music was received by ears, transported by the spirits until it agitated the humour carrying the venom. This made parts of the body itch, causing the victim to dance and the ‘pricking Humour’ to be sweated out (Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charltoniana, or, A Fabrick of Science Natural, 1654).

Not only did this story about physical disease (a tarantula bite) serve as a metaphor for a mental affliction (lovesickness), but it also become a favourite of religious writers concerned with music’s ability to cure diseases of the soul. The anonymous ‘University Pen’ who wrote The Spiritual Bee (1662) interpreted dancing as an immoral symptom of the bite rather than the cure. This was typical of how the tarantula became a symbol for various kinds of earthly transgressions, including drunkenness and frivolity. Furthermore the author considered the case of the tarantula victims who die laughing if not cured by music to be ‘much the same who are bitten by that Infernal Serpent; All whose years are spent in mirth, and their days in laughter, but in a moment they goe down unto the grave’. This comparison of tarantulas with Satan was helped along by a certain amount of confusion in England over precisely what kind of a creature the tarantula actually was. As well as a spider it was variously described as a lizard, a fly, an eft (a small lizard-like creature), and a serpent. The last of these offered obvious comparisons with the serpent of the Garden of Eden and by extension with the Devil himself. The musical cure was paralleled in The Spiritual Bee with the harmonious voice of God (‘that wise Charmer’) who can cure the ‘exorbitances and profusenesse of our spirits in wordly delights’, in effect rebalancing the temperament of the soul.

The story of the tarantula bite and its musical cure was received unquestioningly in England until the investigations of the Royal Society in the 1670s. Their confidence in the phenomenon was shaken when they heard the opinion of the Neapolitan physician Dr Thomas Cornelio that tarantism had nothing to do with the bite of a tarantula but was simply the result of the hot, dry climate. Yet despite the evidence of a fellow intellectual who had visited the region and studied the phenomenon, many scientists (including Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle) continued to believe the story. Interestingly, however, neither Cornelio’s demythologising nor Boyle and Hooke’s commitment to its veracity tell the full story. Modern studies of Tarantism have shown it to have been neither a legendary phenomenon, nor the effect of a spider bite, nor even a metal disorder, but rather a ‘culturally conditioned symbolic order’ in which a particular life crisis is symbolically remodelled as the bite of a tarantula and ritually controlled and exorcised through rituals of music and dance (De Martino, The Land of Remorse). Such a medical disorder with its musical cure fits uncomfortably within modern perceptions of health and disease, let alone those of the early modern England. Yet the tarantula myth nevertheless served as a emblem of music’s beneficial properties for mind, body and soul.

Continue reading