Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance Music - Polyphony, in four parts: composing, performing, listening, reflecting

Event speakers
John Milsom (Liverpool Hope University)
24 January 2019 17:00 - 19:00
Wharton Room, All Souls College
All are welcome

Over the past three decades, much thought has been given to the matter of how sixteenth-century composers conceived and crafted their polyphonic works, especially ones made mainly in fuga (imitation). In general, however, this research has been academic and abstract; the dialogue between musicologists and performers has barely begun, even though the musical ideas and issues explored through analysis might be relevant and interesting to singers, players and directors. As for listeners, they tend to be sidelined altogether. Rarely is it asked how any performance of a polyphonic work, let alone an analysis-informed one, is processed by a listener, and indeed is differently processed depending on that listener’s experience, knowledge, and familiarity with the work in hand. This in turn leads to the question of what it means to ‘appreciate’ and ‘understand’ a polyphonic work, especially when issues that were arguably of central concern to the composer are barely apprehended by most modern listeners, let alone savoured by them. Might the richest engagement with sixteenth-century polyphony therefore be attained not only by performing it and listening to it, but also by considering it from the angle of how it was made?