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Research Projects

Postdoctoral research

Cantors and Catafalques: Music and Death c. 1300–c. 1530

Financing: Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek
Promotor: David Burn
Researcher: Miriam Wendling
Period: 01.01.2018 – 31.12.2021 

The universality of death for human beings made it particularly susceptible to the development of ritual cultures. A burgeoning inter- and cross-disciplinary field, that of death studies or thanatology, has developed in recent years to research and understand these ritual practices in different periods and contexts. Music, however, although it plays a significant role in these rituals, has not typically received the attention that it deserves in the field of death studies.

The present project aims to fill this important scholarly lacuna by researching music and death culture from a variety of perspectives in the late medieval and early modern periods (c. 1300–c. 1530). The role of music in death-rituals in three complementary areas of late medieval and early modern life will be researched: the individual, parochial communities, and institutions which followed a Rule. Each of these will be studied in two geographical areas: the Low Countries, and Germany. In so doing, the project aims to understand the diversity of musical practices related to dying at different social levels, and to understand how musical practices relate to, complement, or reinforce other, nonmusical practices related to death and dying.

The project aims ultimately to bridge currently separated areas by introducing music into ongoing discourses in death studies as well as by drawing insights from death studies into the study of music.

According to Antwerp, Reformed to Rome: Music, Liturgies, and Identities in the Bishopric of Antwerp (1559–1801)

Financing: Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek
Promotor: David Burn
Researcher: Marianne Gillion
Period: 2018-2021 

Liturgy and ritual formed the foundations of institutional, municipal and regional religious identities in Counter Reformation Europe. Plainchant was the essential sonic element of the liturgy and an integral part of the worship experience for all segments of society. Yet there is a dearth of research on chant and its role in crafting and communicating Catholic identities in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. The present project aims to fill this vital scholarly lacuna by investigating the production, practice and performance of plainchant during this period in the main institutions in the bishopric of Antwerp: The Cathedral of Our Lady and the Church of Saint James (1559-1801).

The foundations of religious reform in Antwerp will be reassessed through overlooked musical evidence. The particularization of the liturgies to reflect institutional identities will be investigated textually and musically through the celebrations of significant saints and feasts. The performance of chanted liturgies in the physical spaces of the Cathedral and St. James will be reconstructed. In so doing, the project aims to understand how Post-Tridentine liturgies were established, expressed, and experienced. The project will provide an innovative perspective on the role of liturgical plainchant in forming and embodying a wide range of identities in the Age of Catholic Renewal. As such, it will significantly benefit and enhance multidisciplinary studies into liturgical and religious reform.

PhD research

The 'Alamire' Manuscripts in Partbook Format

Financing: IWT/SBO
Promotors: David Burn, Ignace Bossuyt
Copromotor: Emily Thelen
Researcher: Serafina Beck
Period: 01.10.2011 – 30.09.2015 / PhD expected in 2019

The Leuven Chansonnier 15th Century Courtly Song

Financing: KU Leuven C2 Fund
Promotors: David Burn, Bart Demuyt
Researcher: Ryan O’Sullivan
Period: 15.10.2018 ‒ 15.10.2022

In 2015, the Alamire Foundation tracked down a previously unknown fifteenth-century chansonnier. The manuscript, containing fifty polyphonic compositions of which twelve were unique, was purchased in 2016 by the King Baudouin Foundation, at the request of the Alamire Foundation, and entrusted to the latter’s care. This unique find, henceforth known as the Leuven Chansonnier (LC), has attracted attention from around the world.

The present doctorate offers the first in-depth examination of the LC. It aims to four main perspectives. First, it aims to solve remaining questions concerning the LC as a material object. This involves, among other things, examination of the extremely rare textile binding, the parchment, and illuminations. Research questions here include the as-yet still unclear early ownership and provenance of the source. Second, it will examine the LC’s contents. This concerns not only the twelve unica, which will be music-stylistically analysed, but also the remaining thirty-eight pieces. Text-critical examination will place the sometimes highly distinctive LC versions of known songs in a broader perspective. Analysis will also focus on the poetry of the songs: the LC is important not only as a musical source, but also a poetic one. Analysis of the poetry of the unique songs will shed light on the production context, and possibly on authorship of the unique pieces. Analysis of spelling and writing styles may provide new clues for provenance. Third, it will examine the consequences of the discovery of the LC for reassessing related sources. Of particular importance here is a reconsideration of the so-called Loire Valley hypothesis: the proposal that the sources most closely related to the LC originated in the Loire Valley region; Finally, it will consider the consequences of the LC for our understanding of fifteenth-century song culture: for the ways in which song circulated, was preserved, and was consumed.