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Early modern music: music, circulation and memory from London to the Caribbean

Venue: Online

Join The London Renaissance Seminar to investigate early modern sound and music as it was made, heard and remembered. Our three panellist take up key questions from the way surviving evidence can disclose playhouse songs and sounds in circulation, to the Blackfriars’ trumpets of terror and the place African musical traditions and enslaved performers in the making of sounds and texts to visit and recover. Our panellist, Mary Caton Lingold, Bruce R. Smith and Simon Smith draw on sound studies, archives and images to illuminate the centrality of sounding out the archives afresh.


6.00pm. Simon Smith

 ‘Approaching Playhouse Song in the Archive: The Case of Dekker, Ford, Middleton and Rowley’s The Spanish Gypsy’


6.15pm Bruce R. Smith

‘The Blackfriars’ “Drummes and Trumpetts”: Noise, neighbourhood and playhouse’


6.30pm Mary Caton Lingold, ‘Music, memory, sound, and slavery’


Responses and discussion

Contact name:

  • Bruce R. Smith -

    The Blackfriars’ 'Drummes and Trumpetts’: Noise, neighbourhood and playhouse


    When neighbors in the parish of St. Anne’s Blackfriars successfully petitioned the Bishop of London to prevent the Lord Chamberlain’s Men from opening the indoor Blackfriars theater in 1596, they listed as one of their reasons ‘the same Playhouse is so neere the Church that the noyse of the Drummes and Trumpetts will greatly disturbe and hinder both the Ministers and the Parishioners in tyme of devine service and Sermones.’ So focused have we been on the words spoken within the Globe and the Blackfriars theaters that we have shut our ears to how full of non-verbal sounds these places were. My paper will be a preliminary attempt to reposition drumming and brass-horn playing vis-à-vis speaking in the Blackfriars and Globe theaters. Using evidence about early modern drumming and brass-playing practices like Cesare Bendinelli’s Tutta l’arte della trombetta (1614), I will make a case for a common language among drums, brass instruments, and human voices. In particular, I will attend to speeches immediately preceding and following cues for brass instruments and drums, hypothesizing that I will find continuities in rhythm and intonation. Rather than a binary between human speech and the ‘noise’ of trumpets and drums, I will suggest a continuum.

  • Mary Caton Lingold -

    Music, memory, sound, and slavery


    This presentation discusses the circulation of African musical traditions during the era of slavery, focusing on one illustrative episode from Richard Ligon’s A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1657). The narrative portrays a musical encounter between the author and an enslaved musician named Macow. Both men were accomplished musicians, and both, I argue, were documentarians of music history. Throughout my work, I turn to sound as a methodology for centering African perspectives when using sources authored by Europeans.


  • Simon Smith -

    Approaching Playhouse Song in the Archive: The Case of Dekker, Ford, Middleton and Rowley’s The Spanish Gypsy


    What does early modern playhouse song look like in the archive? How can approaches to the investigation of dramatic song best take into account the nature of the surviving evidence? There is considerable interest at present in theatrical music, across a range of disciplinary contexts from literary studies to musicology, via cultural and theatre history.  Yet between us and the songs that once characterized dramatic performances and their enclosing theatrical soundscapes stands four centuries of historical and cultural distance, and an evidence base that is rather more complex and partial than is sometimes assumed. This brief talk will return to playhouse song’s archival traces in order to consider the implications of evidentiary form for the study of early modern theatrical song.