Shelf Life | Newberry

Shelf Life

“Shelf Life” is a podcast about the humanities–and the humans behind them. Each episode features a new conversation with the Newberry staff, fellows, and other readers who bring the Newberry’s world-famous collection to life.

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Early Modern Earworms

Performing early modern music today is a feat of historical reconstruction as much as musical adaptation. Adding to the musical-historical challenge is the fact that some songs (by Bach, for example) were tailored to the strengths of particular choirs and weren’t intended to outlive their creators. In this episode, we speak with Matt Dean, managing director of Schola Antiqua early music ensemble, and Ikumi Crocoll, Newberry reference librarian, about what goes into reviving early music, why it’s worth the effort, and how there are technical reasons for medieval and Renaissance music being as catchy as Top-40 pop songs.

Early Modern Earworms by Shelf Life, from the Newberry Library

Show Notes

1:15 – What do we mean by “early music,” and why does it draw you in?

2:58 – Music selection: “Why Do I Use My Paper, Ink, and Pen,” by William Byrd. From Psalmes, Sonets, & Songs of Sadnes and Pietie, 1588.

4:01 – Ikumi discusses the music that she selected for the Religious Change and Print, 1450-1700 exhibition and that Schola Antiqua recorded. How might the music have been experienced, and how does it exemplify the characteristics of early music.

6:57 – Music selection: Hymn for the Virgin Mary: “Hail, star of the sea” (“Ave maris stella”). From a collection of Mexican choir books (vol. 4, 17th-18th century).

10:01 – Matt explains who Schola Antiqua are, how they got involved in the Newberry project, and why it matters to share performances of early music.

14:02 – How does interpreting early music differ from other types of musical interpretation? What do musicians consider in the process?

15:53 – Music selection: “O Lord, How Long Wilt Thou Forget,” by William Byrd. From Psalmes, Sonets, & Songs of Sadnes and Pietie, 1588.

17:52 – Matt and Ikumi discuss how language interpretation is essential for musicality and how “productive disagreements” help produce a good performance.

19:48 – With all of these considerations, Matt explains what exactly early music looks like and why people might interpret it in many ways at different points in history.

23:04 – Music selection: “Why Do I Use My Paper, Ink, and Pen,” by William Byrd. From Psalmes, Sonets, & Songs of Sadnes and Pietie, 1588.

24:20 – Matt explores some of the delight of singing these songs from the Newberry’s collection.

25:48-27:01 – Music selection: Psalm 23: “My God nourishes me” (“Mon Dieu me pait”). From The Psalms of David Set in French Verse by Clement Marot (Pseaumes de David: mis en rime francoise), 1562.

28:11-28:43 – Music selection: “Ah, Charles, you mighty man!” (“Ach Karle grosmechtiger Man”). From A Song for the Landsknecht (Ein lied für die landsknecht gemach), 1546.

28:43 – What do you hope visitors and listeners gain from hearing this music performed?

Related Resources

About the Newberry’s collection of music

Voices of Reform (audio recordings by Schola Antiqua of music from the Newberry’s collection)

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