Beinecke hosts Venetian music

Yale’s Collegium Musicum plays Venetian music in a concert at Beinecke Library.
Yale’s Collegium Musicum plays Venetian music in a concert at Beinecke Library. Photo by Andrew Kahn.

Four hundred years before Rick Steves, artists and composers in Venice labored to make the City of Canals a destination for visitors from around the world. Thisafternoon, though, Venice will come to Yale.

Yale’s Collegium Musicum, an ensemble that focuses on music beforeand duringthe Renaissance, will play Venetian music in a public performance at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Libraryat 4:30 p.m. The concert, titled “The City and the Sea: Musical Venice and the Renaissance,” was organized in collaboration with the humanities course “Art and Music in Venice” and reflects a broader effort to enhance collaboration between the Music Department and other disciplines at Yale, the Collegium’s co-director Grant Herreid said.

The musicians, many of whom are taking early music performance classes with Herreid and Collegium co-director Robert Mealy, have prepared a program designed to shed light on the ceremonial and popular elements of music in Renaissance Venice. These musical themes are a focus of “Art and Music in Venice,” asenior seminar that was conceived to broaden music and art offerings in the Humanities Department, said Ellen Rosand, who teaches the course with Robert Nelson.

Herreid said he makes sure to teach Collegium performers about the historical context of the music they play. For instance, the performance will incorporate elements of the Commedia dell’Arte tradition, Herreid said, including the style’s characteristic masks.

The Renaissance was an era of innovation in all the arts, including music, Herreid said. But while artists and poets could take inspiration from Greek and Roman artifacts, composers were out on a limb becausefew records of music had survivedfrom antiquity.

“They had no clue at all as to how Greek or even Roman music sounded,” he said. “They basically made it up.”

Venice was a hotbed of musical innovation, Herreid said. The city had a wealthy, progressive merchant class; in addition, it was a republic. Unlike Rome, where the churchruled the arts scene, or Florence, where the Medicis had tight control, Venice was home to many competing communities of artists.

The wide spread of artistic patronage in Venice promoted rivalry among artists, creating a hotter musical scene, Herreid said.

Most of the resulting music had a political purpose, “Art and Music in Venice” professorRosand said.

“All of culture in Venice was designed to enhance the reputation of the city as a cultural mecca,” she said.“And it was one, until Napoleon came around.”

Venice was also notorious for its “aristocratic sex trade,” Herreid said, which is reflected in the subject matter of some of the music.

“A woman could be a musician if she was a courtesan,” he said. “Or a nun.”

A rehearsal on Tuesday evening was full of twists. At one point, vocalists and instrumentalists alike auditioned to play the conch shell, a new addition to the ensemble.

“There are always exciting musical surprises,” said Emily Langowitz ’12, a vocalist in the group and one of the anointed conchists. “Suddenly a lute is being played, or someone gets handed a tambourine — or a shell!”

“Art and Music in Venice,” this year’s Franke Seminar in the Humanities, also includes an interdisciplinary lecture series that is open to the public.

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