Talking Music in Vienna - Faculty Travel Report
October 3, 2007
Peter Urquhart, associate professor of music traveled this summer to several
locations in Europe. While abroad he presented a paper at a conference
in Vienna, and worked on a number of projects that took him from Austria
to Switzerland and France. His report follows.
With the help of a CIE grant, I took a trip to Europe in August
of 2007. The grant was aimed specifically at my participation in a conference
held in Vienna, so I left wife and child with family members in France,
while I traveled further east.
In Vienna I read a paper about a Josquin motet, Benedicta es,
and its final cadence, which is peculiar in the context of music of the
time. That probably sounds like a specialized and pointed topic, typical
of esoteric scholarship in any field; but actually my paper serves as an
invitation to a very large chapter in a book I am writing, which is about
one of the central problems in Renaissance music: what it sounded like,
in terms of the pitch content. OK, that still sounds esoteric, but the
audience was specialized themselves, and thus got most of the implications.
But since many of them have in the past claimed rather different things
about my topic, reception was cordial, mixed, and guarded. More explicit
differences of opinions will emerge upon publication.
The 16th century Rathaus in Basel
But my trip was about more than that conference. I carried
three other projects along with me, and started discussions
about them in Vienna with scholars in my field. One was about
the instrumentation (or not) of the 15th century chanson,
a project that I am pursuing together with a graduate student
at UNH. We hope to publish the results this fall, which will
prove that the lute or harp participated in the performance
of chansons, an idea that has been disparaged over the last
I made a trip to Basel, Switzerland, to talk to the premiere lutenist
in this area of 15th century plectrum lute, Crawford Young of the Schola
Cantorum Basiliensis, an institute set up in the 1930s by Paul Sacher.
Many of Boston's finest early music players and singers came through the
Schola Cantorum, so it was interesting to get a tour of the place, and
hear Crawford Young's input on our paper.
The second topic I carried about was fuzzy and ill-formed; I have long
wished to see the area where the composer Pierrequin de Thérache
was from. He worked in Nancy, France, from about 1492 on, but his name
evokes the region of the Thierache, a farming region best known for its
remoteness from city life. There are a few monastic institutions there,
where choirs and singers may have been supported, but there is not much
to go on. Most of the churches are fortified, for the region has been raked
by wars for most of its history. Still, since Thérache's music,
and perhaps his brother, were present in Cambrai circa 1500, and the composer
landed in Nancy in the Lorraine, it certainly seems possible that the composer
as a choirboy came from the Thierache, which is directly between the two
cities. It was illuminating to see the area, and although I cannot say
anything material will come of it, I am publishing a recording of Thérache's
music, as well as an edition of his music.
Urquhart in L'Andlau, France, where a church is located in which Ste. Odile is venerated to this day
Finally, I've embarked on a study of the provenance of the
UNH chant books, two 15th century manuscripts that were donated
to Dimond Library in the 1970s, and 'rediscovered' by a student
My guide turned out to be a lady of the 8th century by the name of Saint
Odilia. Ste. Odile is venerated to this day in the valley of Alsace, for
she founded a monastery about the year 690 on the western edge of Alsace,
in the Vosges mountains above Obernai.
Our chant books have a section devoted to Ste. Odile, which suggests
a connection with this area; she is also listed in the Kalendarium.
I spent a day looking at chant manuscripts in the Bibliotheque Municipal
in Colmar, concentrating on manuscripts of the type and from the time of
the UNH books. Although the Colmar chant books lacked any reference to
Ste. Odile, there were a few connections to be made, especially regarding
physical resemblances. More striking however were the churches in the area
around the Mont. Ste. Odile. A number of institutions, such as the 12th
century abbey in L'Andlau, still have connections to Ste. Odile, and likely
did hold books of this type in their choirs. Further work may eventually
lead to a provenance for the UNH choir books.