Letter from Barbara Sparti

Rome, 12 July 2012

Dear friends and colleagues of SDHS,

I have just returned from attending a week-long conference of the International Musicology Society held at the Rome’s Parco della Musica—a beautiful and perfect venue (designed by architecht Renzo Piano) for the hundreds of participants. (I was a part of a Music Iconography session at which I presented new interpretations of the dancers in Lorenzetti’s Good Government fresco in Siena.)

During the week we received the news of the death of Julia Sutton, musicologist and dance historian: her translation of Caroso’s Nobiltà di dame (1600) was an important first, and more recently she was editor-in-chief of the scholarly edition of Dances for the Sun King: André Lorin’s Livre de Contredance.

It made me realize that the first researchers in dance history—Julia Sutton and Ingrid Brainard—were musicologists; they were mainly concerned with Italian 15th-16th century dance. They were founders and active members of SDHS. Our field was further enriched by two more musicologists working on French sources—Carol Marsh and Rebecca Harris-Warrick for the 17th and 18th centuries (also members of SDHS). Marion Smith, musicologist, has contributed uniquely to investigations about music for ballet pantomime (in Giselle for example), and much more. At the Rome conference I heard an excellent paper by another musicologist, Margaret Butler, about the city of Parma during the period of Austrian occupation of northern Italy when there was an Italian opera company with Italian dancers as well as a French dance troupe! She urged the audience to go to the Parma archives that were so rich.

Other musicologists talked about the comédies-ballets by Lully and Molière and how much of Lully’s music incorporated Italian style music. Why then, I asked, did Lully not use Italian style in his dances? (Unanswered question). I also discovered from Bruce A. Brown, musicologist who collaborated with Rebecca Harris-Warrick on the book about Gennanro Magri, published by SDHS, that while Noverre’s pantomimes were walked (which the Roman audiences didn’t like or understand) and dance was kept separate, Angiolini insisted that the pantomime ballets incorporate dance.

Two French female scholars from the Versailles Association pour un Centre de Recherche sur les Arts du Spectacle aux xviie et xviiie siècles, Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, working in Rome on French families living in Rome in that period, have found many previously unknown references to specific dancing masters!

These are some of my thoughts after the IMS conference and the death of Julia Sutton. Musicologists continue to unearth things in archives or by studying works in depth. I believe, and have believed for many years, that most dance historians are not keeping up. There is, of course, some “new musicology” but it is rather minor. Hence I am not at all comfortable with the tendency of SDHS to give primacy to theory studies. When there is so much to be discovered about dancing in, for example, Italy and France in the 15th–18th centuries. Are we going to continue leaving this research to the musicologists?

Barbara Sparti

SDHS publications

Studies in Dance History SDHS’s monograph series, published by University of Wisconsin Press, answers a growing demand for works that provide fresh analytical perspectives on dancing, dancers, and dances in a global context. Read more...

[cover of 2015 Conversations] Issued yearly in early spring generally, Conversations Across the Field of Dance Studies reflects the dynamic and diverse membership of SDHS. We seek to bring you themes and debates current in the field of dance studies and the profession, alongside news from the international community of scholars in dance and related disciplines. Read more...

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