Music and Power in Early Modern Spain

PDF Music and Power in Early Modern Spain November 30, 2021

Book author
  1. Timothy M. Foster

This book explores the representation of music in early modern Spanish literature and reveals how music was understood within the framework of the Harmony of the Spheres, emanating from cosmic harmony as directed by the creator.

The Harmony of Spheres was not ideologically neutral but rather tied to the earthly power structures of the Church, Crown, and nobility. Music could be "true," taking the listener closer to the divine, or "false," leading the listener astray. As such, music was increasingly seen as a potent weapon to be wielded in service of earthly centers of power, which can be observed in works such as vihuela songbooks, the colonial chronicle of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, and in the palace theater of Pedro Calderón de la Barca. While music could be a powerful metaphor mapping onto ideological currents of imperial Spain, this volume shows that it also became a contested site where diverse stakeholders challenged the Harmonic Spheres of Influence.

Music and Power in Early Modern Spain is a useful tool for upper-level undergraduates, postgraduates, and scholars interested in musicology, music history, Spanish literature, cultural studies, and transatlantic studies in the early modern period.


The Spanish musician Luis de Milán, in his 1536 instructional book El maestro, includes a striking woodcut of Orpheus, the hero of ancient Greek mythology, playing what is unmistakably a contemporary stringed instrument, the Spanish vihuela. The border around Orpheus’s likeness reads: “El grande Orpheo/primero inuentor./Por quien la vihuela/paresce en el mundo./Si el fue primero/no fue sin segundo./Pues dios de todos/de todo hazedor” [“The great Orpheus/first inventor/to whom the vihuela/appeared in the world./If he was the first/he was not without second./The God of all/is maker of all”]. Encircling Orpheus lies a dog, lion, and other animals looking toward the musician in supplication, and behind him appear images of the underworld and Charon guiding a party across the River Styx (Figure 0.1).


I am profoundly grateful to my family, to all my teachers throughout the years, and to my colleagues, former and current, for directly or indirectly supporting the production of this book. Thanks to my advisor, Edward H. Friedman, for encouraging me to “play to my strengths,” for helping me to be my best first reader, and for embodying the Platonic Form of a gentleman and a scholar. I am also grateful to the other members of my committee, José Cárdenas Bunsen, Ruth Hill, Jane Landers, and Colleen Baade. Thank you to my colleagues in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Vanderbilt University, especially Andrés Zamora, Paz Pintané, Steve Wenz, and Cory Duclos. Thank you to the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt for supporting my work with a dissertation fellowship. Thank you to my colleagues in the Department of English, Philosophy, and Modern Languages at West Texas A&M University, especially Alex Hunt, Matthew Harrison, Daniel Helbert, Ryan Brooks, Bonnie Roos, AJ McCormick, Sandra Davidson, and Susan Amos for scholarly, pedagogical, and personal support during my time in Canyon. I am especially grateful for the friendship and collegiality of Andy Reynolds, without whom this project would never have become a book. I am grateful to the department and to the Joan Urban Faculty Support Fund for assistance in attending conferences to present drafts of this work, including organizing a panel at MLA 2019, Music in Early Modern Iberia. Thank you to the series editors, Carole Levin and Marguerite Tassi, for taking interest in my project, and to the editors at Taylor & Francis for shepherding it along to fruition.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge the enormous impact of my family in assisting me to get to where I am today: to my grandparents for teaching me the value of curiosity, hard work, justice, and perseverance; to my mom† for fighting to be here so she could help me be my best self; to my dad for pushing me to set my sights high and for seeing things I couldn’t see myself; to Rebecca for blazing so many trails and always being there to help me catch up; to Kristen for showing me how to think differently and challenge assumptions; to Michelle for helping me to approach life and health with good cheer; and to Daniel for being my most loyal friend and for picking me up when no one else can. Finally, I am eternally grateful to Katie for teaching me constantly to view life in new ways and to Lydia, Ingrid, and Josie for being the best source of knowledge about the power of language and music.
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