MUSI 036. Contesting Darkness: Music, Sound, and Place in Gothic Europe.

Consistent with the integrative ideals of a liberal arts education, Contesting Darkness is an interdisciplinary study of the music, art, and culture of "high" and "late" medieval Europe. It is centered on the artistic, architectural, scientific, and political currents that gave rise to the world's first skyscrapers, monumental Gothic structures that were an impetus and a home for the music making that concretely forms the basis of Western musical cultures to the present day. We will consider the sonic and visual arts that were created during the Middle Ages, the relationship between these cultural products, the ritual activities that engendered them, and the physical spaces they inhabited. Music-like all artwork-is not created in a vacuum, but instead has always been influenced by and influences the sociocultural context that surrounds it. And yet, this context is not extraneous; it is as much a part of the artistic object as the notes on the page or the pigment in a fresco, and must be considered as integral at all stages of artistic creation. As we will see, many of the innovations that gave rise to the tallest, brightest, and most ornate buildings also inspired musical developments in notation, rhythm, and counterpoint; many were dependent on and spurred global intellectual and commercial exchange. Moreover, broader changes in piety, such as more intense devotion to the Virgin Mary, were expressed architecturally
(through the addition of "Lady Chapels" to existing churches and dedications of new churches and shrines), artistically (in frescoes, paintings, and stained glass depicting her), and musically (through a myriad of musical compositions that explicitly lauded the Virgin Mary and extolled her multifaceted roles within Medieval Christianity). Contrary to popular
images of the Middle Ages as "unenlightened," the period under our consideration was one of tremendous achievement, and literal brightness.

And yet, the medieval period continues to be depicted as the so-called "Dark Ages," or worse, misrepresented and weaponized to support ideologies of hatred. It is no accident that when neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville reciting racist and anti-Semitic chants, or when rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 that they carried torches
and shields emblazoned with medieval insignia. As many people continue to yearn for a homogenous, white, isolated, and Christian Middle Ages that never existed, it has become increasingly critical to be equipped with knowledge that counters this narrative. This course aims to do just that, by broadly considering the culture of the European Middle Ages, and by recognizing and bringing to the fore how complicated it actually was (in often the best of ways), as well as the voices and perspectives of those who might not otherwise be recognized in weaponized nostalgia: those of low social rank, religious minorities, queer people, and people with disabilities.

At the end of the course, students will participate in a 12-day Off-campus education program in England and France for on-site study, learning from eminent scholars, and practitioners, and consultation of original manuscripts in local collections.
Prerequisite: MUSI 011
Corequisite: Optional: MUSI 036A
Spring 2023. Blasina.

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