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Cambridge History

I’ve been very fortunate to have been associated with Cambridge University Press since my first book Vocal Authority was published in 1998. It was followed by the Companion to Singing, and then a long while later by the History of Singing which I wrote jointly with Neil Sorrell. At one point there was a suggestion that the singing history would be a multi-authored  Cambridge History of Singing, but bearing in mind the impossibility of writing anything definitive about singing, we insisted that ours was only A History. In between I did contribute to two Cambridge histories the latest of which, The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, has just appeared. These huge multi-authored projects are an editorial nightmare and very rarely run to schedule. As it happens I got my chapter in pretty close to the deadline – I was still an academic so these things were important. Long after I’d left academia, and the inevitable and infuriating late submitters having finally come up with the goods, the handsome two-volume set is on the shelves. My chapter is called ‘Issues in the modern performance of medieval music’ and I got it done so long ago that it doesn’t mention the Conductus project that has in its small way revolutionised the performance of 12th century music in the present.  For the outcomes of that research project you have to get another Cambridge publication, Discovering Medieval Song (which I haven’t yet read but which I suspect also doesn’t have much to say about the performing experience which was such a major part of the research programme).

Last weekend I was in Worms with my fellow ‘Conductors’ Rogers Covey-Crump and Christopher O’Gorman for the Tage alter Musik und Literatur  and the first concert in the Via Mediaeval season.  Our performance was as close to 12th/13th century performance ideals as we could make it, and although the musicology will presumably last a bit longer, as is the way with performance the sound of it is now lost for ever. Next week I’ll be in Uppsala with Serikon’s St Bridget project. Unlike Conductus, which was a state funded research project designed to explore 12th century performance practice, the Serikon ensemble references history in a creative and pragmatic way, with musicology used as a starting point to make the music work in the present. Then next month I’ll be taking a further step away from the past with the Dowland Project’s visit to Murnau.  Our programme in the Grenzenlos festival reflects the agenda of the event: no boundaries, so we’re not constrained by musicology at all. The programme will probably open with a troubadour song, a lute improvising, acknowledging the past (though it will be Jacob Heringman’s renaissance instrument, some 500 years later than the song). Then maybe I’ll start on the song itself, or perhaps you’ll hear Milos Valent’s viola or John Surman’s saxophone.

I love exploring historical performance practice (and even once came out briefly as a musicologist) but writing about it is pretty well always going to be out of date before the ink is dry.  The more rigorous connection to the past provided by the Conductus project yielded many unique insights, but even if I had written about it in the Cambridge History I couldn’t have accounted for the evolution of the project over the last five years that culminates in its latest iteration in Worms on Sunday. The books, outdated though they mostly are, will survive in print whereas the performances they deal with disappear into the ether straight away. But that’s always been the problem with musicology: musicians do what they can with what they have,  then it’s gone and we’re off to the pub.

 

Jana Jocif Dowland Project

photo: Jana Jocif

 

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