Event: Making Sense of Song in Anglo-Saxon England, Online Lecture, 24 April 2020, 4pm GMT


Online Lecture

This event provides an opportunity to gather virtually across the globe, owing to the cancellation of the FMRSI conference on ‘Hearing and Auditory Perception’ on 24-25 April at Trinity College Dublin. Dr Barrett was to give one of the keynote lectures on that occasion, and has now kindly offered to present it online. There will be an opportunity for Q&A after the lecture, followed by an informal ‘meeting’, both of which will be accessible to all participants.

Please note: Registration is essential. 

Only registered attendees will be sent a link to the Zoom event which is kindly facilitated by the Medieval History Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin.

For enquiries, please email: medrenforum@gmail.com

For ongoing updates about the postponed 2020 Conference, see our website: http://www.fmrsi.wordpress.com


‘Making Sense of Song in Anglo-Saxon England’

Dr Sam Barrett, University of Cambridge

What did it mean to listen to song in Anglo-Saxon England? When so little is known about the singing of early medieval poetry beyond the liturgical round, any attempt to answer to this question might seem premature. It is argued in this paper that a significant source of information about the place of song in histories of listening, emotion and musical cognition has been overlooked. Glosses added to Anglo-Saxon copies of Boethius’ De consolatione philosophiae contain insightful commentary on the songs that play a central role in the unfolding dialogue. These glosses will be investigated along two axes. The Latin commentary on key passages is compared with continental traditions from the ninth to eleventh centuries. Insular Latin glosses are then compared with Anglo-Saxon translations of the De consolatione philosophiae. What emerges are evaluations of singing and listening that differ significantly between Anglo-Saxon and continental traditions. Most importantly, the distinctive formulations provided in the insular glosses and Anglo-Saxon translations align with the findings of recent studies of Anglo-Saxon psychology by Leslie Lockett and Britt Mize. Interpretation of key terms in the light of models of cognition recently traced by literary scholars opens up a broader context for understanding how sense was made of song in Anglo-Saxon England. A final example, announcing a previously unknown notation for Philosophia’s opening lament, demonstrates in practical terms what it meant for a melody ‘to come to mind’ in Anglo-Saxon England.

Sam Barrett is Reader in Early Medieval Music as the University of Cambridge and Fellow at Pembroke College. He is a specialist in early medieval music with a particular interest in Latin song and issues in notation, transmission and performance. His work within medieval music is driven by an interest in song, especially in the way it crosses boundaries between text and music, writing and orality, and memory and performance. These interests have focussed on arguably the earliest surviving layer of the Western European lyric tradition, namely the music of the late antique and early medieval Latin lyric, in relation to which he has identified new notated sources and developed analytical techniques for assessing a musical tradition previously presumed to lie beyond detailed commentary.

Dr Barrett has extended his scholarly work through collaboration with the Sequentia ensemble over the last five years, resulting in contributions to several concert programmes, and a recording titled Boethius: Songs of Consolation – Metra from 11th-century Canterbury (Glossa, 2018). His latest performing edition of songs reconstructed in conjunction with members of Sequentia from the mid-eleventh century Cambridge Songs manuscript is freely available on the project website: https://boethius.mus.cam.ac.uk/reconstructing-songs-boethius

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