Hearing the City in Early Modern Europe is the most recent contribution to a growing academic literature on historical soundscapes. The book's twenty-one essays came out of a 2015 ICREA international workshop in Barcelona titled “Hearing the City: Musical Experience as Portal to Urban Soundscapes,” which explored European urban soundscapes from 1500 to 1800. More than forty cross-disciplinary scholars met to discuss historical urban soundscapes, with a particular emphasis on musical experience; thus it is perhaps not surprising that musicology dominates the volume's represented fields. The book is divided thematically into four parts: “Crossing Boundaries,” “Sounds in Contention: Musical Repertories and Genres in Contested Urban Spaces,” “Soundworlds and Spatial Strategies of the Social Elite,” and “Case Studies in Urban Soundscapes.” With each part comprising four to five essays and the whole bookended by an introduction and coda, the volume makes for a dense and information-laden read.
Coeditor Tess Knighton, a leading expert on historical soundscapes and key organizer of the project, provides a foreword in which she discusses the 2015 workshop and preparations for the book. She gives an overview of each chapter, pointing to the salient aspects of the authors’ contributions as they relate to the study of sound in the past. Tim Carter's introduction then opens by asking, “How can we best study musical listening?” (26). Carter untangles the principal features of “listening communities” (33) in the past through what he terms “Historically Informed Listening,” an invented analytical category that seeks to attend both to those who made music and to those who experienced it (26). Citing case studies from the late Renaissance and early baroque Italy, Carter makes the larger claim that historians can constructively represent premodern soundscapes through deep readings of primary sources and familiarity with larger historical contexts. All of the core issues that Carter outlines in his introduction, ranging from questions of theoretical methodology to documentary analysis, are then addressed in further detail in the subsequent chapters.
Five essays make up the first part of the book. In their contributions, Dinko Fabris and David R. M. Irving point to the accounts of travelers in foreign lands as invaluable sources for reconstructing past soundscapes, in part because outsiders were often attracted to difference in the cities they visited. Fabris cites early modern utopian texts, such as Thomas More's eponymous narrative, to illustrate how learned Europeans associated musical harmony with the stability of the state. He calls for the creation of “a new discipline to study, with a specifically developed methodology” (61), an objective that can be achieved only through interdisciplinary collaboration across the humanities. Juan José Carreras follows with a reconstruction of the sonic environment of early modern Madrid, with attention to public musical performance. Using the accounts of German traveler Christian August Fischer, Carreras explores the institutional connections that permeated the city through sound. He argues that prior to the nineteenth century, a more reticent Madrid existed, its silence constituting “a sonic dimension quite alien to contemporary urban experience, and difficult to imagine” (91).
Bruce R. Smith, an established authority on English historical soundscapes, writes of the 1604 ceremonial entry into London by James I (r. 1603–25), using the event to illustrate the inseparability of visual and aural pageantry. Smith calls the reader's attention to the physical, fictional, and virtual space of public ceremony (104). As public processions moved through the English capital, they acted as mediators between the physical city itself and a “harmonious virtual space” in ways that brought the “fictional” space into real time (111). Music and ceremonial noise thus played a critical role in shaping early modern London. In contrast, Helen Hills explores the world of seventeenth-century cloistered nuns in Italy, such as those of the Dominican convents of Santa Maria della Sapienza and Santa Maria del Gesù delle Monache. Delving further into the relationship between architecture and sound, Hills argues that the physical sequestering of the nuns from the outside world paradoxically emphasized their presence through song. Concealed from sight, the nuns were instead disclosed through sound, so much so that some of them became widely known for their exceptional voices. According to Hills, highlighting the “interplay of music and architecture as events” (118) will only add to what has been a “massively impoverished urban history” (121–23).
Jan-Friedrich Missfelder's essay on sound in Reformation Zurich opens the second part of the book. Missfelder examines the mandates and actions of Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger to refute claims that the Reformation silenced communities. Instead, as Missfelder convincingly shows, the Zurich reformers established “an acoustic re-organization of the entangled practices of prayer, preaching and communal action” (141). Reformers thus transformed the soundscape of Zurich to mirror their own priorities, such as instituting sonic orderliness that encouraged attentive listening to God during prayer. Essays by Joachim Kremer and Mélanie Traversier explore theatrical space and performance in seventeenth-century Hamburg and eighteenth-century Naples, respectively. Opera's growing popularity—despite its occasional tendency to cause great public disturbances—meant that it cultivated a distinct place in the urban makeup of each city. Anna Tedesco traces the relationship between music and political power in seventeenth-century Palermo, exploring the role of music in the city's urban spaces. Andrea Bombi addresses the shifts in musical perception in eighteenth-century Valencia, arguing that chronicles and relaciones de fiestas penned by Dominican monks and Jesuits reveal “changes in witnesses’ attitudes” toward music and performance (178). For example, the Dominican Tomás Güell's suspicious report of new “musical amusements” in Valencia reflected his evident discontent regarding the secularization of public events in the city following the War of Succession and imposition of Castilian jurisdiction over local law (180–81).
Coeditor Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita opens the third part of the volume with a contribution on women's roles in the soundscapes of sixteenth-century palace life in Barcelona. Her essay investigates the lives of noblewomen like Estefania de Requesens, who patronized the arts, including religious music, to express their piety and affirm their social status. Anne-Madeleine Goulet's essay on the Palazzo Pasquina of the Orsini family in seventeenth-century Rome argues that families sponsored theatrical performances and gatherings as a means of acquiring prestige. In their essays, Ferrán Escrivà-Llorca and Javier Marín-López point to sixteenth-century processions in Lisbon and music regulation in Úbeda as reflections of power dynamics within those communities. Borrowing from Robert Darnton, Escrivà-Llorca reminds the reader that the 1588 procession of the relics of São Roque in Lisbon revealed the “visual and aural idiom that makes manifest a city's identity” (229). As Marín-López notes, Charles V's former secretary, Francisco de los Cobos y Molina, modeled the musical direction of the Sacra Capilla of Úbeda on that of the Royal Chapel of Granada, using the sounds of organ and plainchant to link himself to the Catholic Monarchs.
The final part of the volume opens with Reinhard Strohm's reconstruction of the aural language of clocks, bells, town criers, and Hornwerke in fifteenth-century Vienna, which conveyed information about political and religious events to the population. Tess Knighton's essay employs a series of case studies to explore the oral and aural transmission of unwritten music among children, the disabled, immigrants, and sex workers in sixteenth-century Barcelona. Citing Protestant psalm books, Jesuit songs for children, and Thomas Platter's travel notes on the music of prostitutes and the blind, the essay provides a fascinating glimpse into the city's larger soundscape.
Ilaria Grippaudo explores the effects of music, changing architecture, and processions in early modern Palermo. She shows how sound was linked to expressions of institutional power—a popular theme throughout the volume—by considering events such as the successful bid by the Theatines against the Palermitan Senate to halt the construction of a space for secular music in 1622 (310). María Gembero-Ustárroz and Peter Holman investigate the minutiae of music making in early modern Navarre and London. Gembero-Ustárroz follows networks of organ builders, printers, and music copyists to assess the production of sound in Navarre, while Holman gives further sensorial depth to eighteenth-century London by recovering the structural details surrounding musical composition and performance.
The book concludes with a coda that describes the online soundscape project of Juan Ruiz Jiménez and Ignacio José Lizarán Rus. Ruiz Jiménez's digital map of early modern Granada and Seville locates moments of sonic change drawn from primary source documents, thereby generating a fascinating interactive platform that seeks to “reduce the gap between academic research and public knowledge” on historical soundscapes (370).
Overall, the volume is a valuable resource for future research in sound studies. Historians interested in sensory experience will find the methods presented useful, and architectural historians may also benefit from the perspective of musicologists on the relation between sound and physical structures. Several of the contributing scholars note the evident need for more cross-disciplinary work; by bringing together methods that seek to understand how sound structured communities, and by examining the role of power expressed through sound, we can begin to move beyond simply trying to recover how the past sounded. In addition, through such investigations we can begin to explore the broader relevance of such scholarship to the humanities as a whole.