Knowledge Building in Early Modern English Music

PDF Knowledge Building in Early Modern English Music 2022-06-15

Book author
  1. Katie Bank

Knowledge Building in Early Modern English Music is a rich, interdisciplinary investigation into the role of music and musical culture in the development of metaphysical thought in late sixteenth-, early seventeenth-century England. The book considers how music presented questions about the relationships between the mind, body, passions, and the soul, drawing out examples of domestic music that explicitly address topics of human consciousness, such as dreams, love, and sensing. Early seventeenth-century metaphysical thought is said to pave the way for the Enlightenment Self. Yet studies of the music’s role in natural philosophy has been primarily limited to symbolic functions in philosophical treatises, virtually ignoring music making’s substantial contribution to this watershed period. Contrary to prevailing narratives, the author shows why music making did not only reflect impending change in philosophical thought but contributed to its formation. The book demonstrates how recreational song such as the English madrigal confronted assumptions about reality and representation and the role of dialogue in cultural production, and other ideas linked to changes in how knowledge was built. Focusing on music by John Dowland, Martin Peerson, Thomas Weelkes, and William Byrd, this study revises historiography by reflecting on the experience of music and how music contributed to the way early modern awareness was shaped.


As this book began as my doctoral dissertation, I must thank my outstanding supervisor, Helen Deeming. I am grateful to the supremely generous academics who have supported and encouraged me in practical and emotional ways. Some are friends, and others have kindly donated their time and expertise to a stranger over email. My sincerest gratitude to Christian Leitmeir, Tim Shephard, Matthew Symonds, Katherine Butler, Barbara Eichner, Gavin Alexander, Paul Schleuse, Kerry McCarthy, Richard Wistreich, Lisa Colton, Michael Alan Anderson, Linda Phyllis Austern, Gillian Gower, Samantha Bassler, Matthew Laube, Richard Rastall, Cathy Ann Elias, Julian Johnson, Angela Mace Christian, Josh Duchan, Harriet Boyd-Bennett, Matthew Thomson, Robyn Adams, Joseph Mason, Elizabeth Randall Upton, Matthew Ingleby, Hector Sequera, Mary C. Fuller, Daniel Carey, Sigrid Harris, Samantha Arten, Eleanor Chan, Helen MathesonPollock, Scott A. Trudell, and Stephen Rose. The late Lisa Jardine left an inimitable mark on my life and scholarship. Thank you for empowering me to behave badly and fearlessly pursue work that does not fit comfortably into traditional academic departments.

My National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship at the Newberry Library introduced me to a wonderful cohort of fellows and colleagues, including Jamie Forde, Brian O’Camb, Anne Koenig, Carmen Hsu, Christine Götteler, Tatiana Sejas, Jason Rosenholtz-Witt, Cynthia Nazarian, Jodi Bilinkoff, Chris Fletcher, Rebecca Fall, Christine DeLucia, Anne Boemler, Keelin Burke, and D. Bradford Hunt. I appreciate your feedback and comradery.

I must also thank the library staff at the Newberry Library, Bodleian Library, Warburg Institute, British Library, and Oriel College Archives for their dedication and assistance. I am appreciative of the continued support of friends and colleagues at the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL) at University College London. You will always be my interdisciplinary safe haven. I am also grateful for the support of the Department of Music at the University of Sheffield, where I am an honorary research fellow.

Thank you to Francis Bevan for typesetting the Weelkes editions and to Nick Sandon from Antico Edition for granting permission to use their editions of Martin Peerson. Edward Tambling, thank you for all the bits and bobs you’ve done over the years, including assistance with Latin translation. Martin Dehnel-Wild kindly donated his skill in LaTeX. Previously published research included in this book was given permission thanks to Wiley, Boydell & Brewer, and the Hakluyt Society. Harald Braun and Emily Michelson, my series editors, and Max Novick from Routledge have been brilliant to work with.

Hopefully this book communicates what an important role singing communities play in my life. Thank you to the Orlando Chamber Choir, Chantage, and the Cathedral Choir at St James’s Cathedral, Chicago.

There are some who fit into so many various professional and friendoriented categories that I couldn’t possibly pick one. Thank you, Nancy-Jane Rucker, Bruno Bower, Jennifer Thorp, Dai Bowe, Heather Dehnel-Wild, Martin Dehnel-Wild, Sam Blickhan, Patrick Allies, Nerissa Taysom, Robert Quinney, Benjamin Thompson, Shannon Guglietti, Ollie Boothroyd, Louisa Sullivan, Charlotte de Mille, and Alexa Suskin.

To my family – I couldn’t have done this without you: Mom, Dad, Kristy, Eric, Becca, Popo, Irene, and especially Taylor. Will, you have been my indefatigable cheerleader. Thank you for always believing in me. This book was supported financially by the Newberry Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Reid Scholarship from Royal Holloway, University of London.


In the preface to Henry Lichfild’s First Set of Madrigals of 5. Parts: apt for both Viols and Voyces (1613), poet Christopher Brooke, a friend of Philip Sidney, contributed two sonnets to honour the music’s composer. The first, ‘To the Avthor vpon his Musicall Muse’, states: Ovr Times so curious, and our wits as nice, And all as changing as the Fashion is; No Art for any certaine Truth hath price; All by Opinion goe: and therefore this Which th’ Angell (propper to thy Musicks skill) Hath here expos’d to Fashion, Time, and Wit, Looke not t’haue simply crown’d for Good, or Ill, But as thy humorous Censor shall thinke fit. Fortune in these Things rules; (That all know blinde) As blinde are they that censure out of Humor; But if some few judiciall in this Kinde, Shall grace thy Muse; force not the idle Rumor: For thy knowne worth, in Their just approbation, Shall wage with Wit, with Humor, Time, and Fashion. 1 In this poem Brooke acknowledges not only the fleeting nature of trends but also addresses pressing questions on subjectivity in artistic meaning, a common topic of discussion in the prefatory material of song books. Brooke advises readers to rely on their own judgement and acknowledges the role of sense perception in knowing. He suggests that in self-reliant judgements, the truth in art, or rather, art’s true value, will prove itself. The truth-bearing capability of art was one of the foremost aesthetic questions of late sixteenth-, early seventeenth-century England, particularly surrounding music in worship and the ability of poetry to positively affect society. Concurrently, natural philosophers like Francis Bacon were adjusting metaphysical perceptions of the human mind, and with them, the individual subject, aware of their capacities, becomes the locus of all representations. There was also concerted metaphysical interest around the passions in this period, evident in a variety of treatises and fictions. 2 I use the word ‘metaphysical’ to encompass this type of question rather than the term as it relates to the specific group of poets. For example, Thomas Wright’s Passions of the Minde (1604, first printed 1601) contains a list of questions called ‘Problemes concerning the substance of our Soules’. 3 Here he asks about the quality of knowledge (‘What is evidence and certitude in Knowledge, and how they differ’ and ‘How knowledge and perfit Science, differ from credulity and opinion’), 4 as well as questions about the internal processes related to sense perception and representation (‘How a corporall imagination concurre to a spirituall conceit’, ‘What is Arte? what the Idea in the artificers minde, by whose direction hee frameth his woorkes’). 5 In these unanswered questions, Wright demonstrated his own uncertainty about what constituted certain knowledge, how it was formulated, and through what evidence one might prove it. He also touched on the influential role of scepticism in seeking truth. After his list of questions, Wright bemoaned that
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