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Topic and aims

Music and love are connected by a strong relationship. The history of secular music begins with love songs and until today love has remained the central topic of music – in its texts but also in its contexts. What makes music and love such an important pair? Why have they played such an important part in the history and culture of European societies from the first notated pieces until today? What is the role of music in the history of love and what is the impact of the history of love on music?
The basic assumption of our congress is that music as well as love are systems of communicative codes which complement each other in their social functions and effects and which are subject to historical change in this interaction. It is our aim to study the conditions and the development of this relationship for the period of Early Modern Times, an epoch which we consider of central importance for the common history of music and love. The congress aims to introduce the topic into the social history of music and the history of its discourses. At the same time it aims to point out the importance of music for the propagation of social ideas like e.g. love.
As a starting point for thoughts on the functions of music and love in early modern societies one might use Norbert Elias’ theory of "The Civilizing Process". According to Elias, the social effort to control drives like anger and lust has lead to an increasing reflection and ritualisation of emotions since the High Middle Ages and thus has initiated a process of civilisation. Eros, the immediately acted out desire, was sublimated by amor, that is, highly complex rites and games of love. Sexual intercourse remained an aim, which, however, increasingly lost importance for the social discourses about love and became more and more unlikely. While the body and its desires moved into the background, the discourse of love won new, additional functions: e.g. the development of a culture within which persons might create an identity for themselves, or as a media for social competition. When a feudal lord patronized love songs or even sung himself, he seldom meant courtship and often not even pleasant pastime, but the attempt to secure (or improve) his social status by referring to a social utopia. Early Modern Times brought an increasing fictionalisation of love discourses. Love songs developed into complex composed chansons. They became part of public stagings of love during court festivals and on the stages of theatres. The civilisation process reached a new level of public self-reflection of a society which discussed its understanding of emotions and especially love with the help of music.
Music and love as closely connected discourses played a crucial role for the "civilisation process". Therefore the examination of their relationship is of central importance for the social history of music and of a history of its discourses that still has to be written. Moreover, we try to deal with the question how the history of music, this most emotional of all arts, has to be written in the context of a history of emotions.


During the 15th century, at the beginning of Early Modern Times, a paradigm shift changed the discourses of love and music. Ideas and cultural practises of courtly love were taken up by an urban society and adopted to new social contexts. The discourse of love became polyphonic and controversial and with it the discussion of the love song. Various innovations concurred: Around 1500 love discourses were discovered as a means to train and demonstrate virtuous behaviour by aspiring social groups with the intention to succeed as part of a social elite. The philosophical discourse on platonic love and its relationship to music on the basis of the translation and interpretation by Marsilio Ficino, which formerly had been restricted to closed circles of &ndash male &ndash humanists, opened up for new social elites and changed its profile. The reception of Ficino’s interpretation of Plato legitimised the idea to draw parallels between music and love with their common opposing effects of ennoblement and debasement, arousal and satisfaction. The comparable effects of love and music on body, mind and soul could now be processed socially and assessed morally.
The late 15th, the 16th and the early 17th centuries and their slow gradual transition from a feudal to an absolutistic society with increasing urban and bourgeois currents were the heyday of the love song as an artfully stylised musical form as well as a popular media in various national discourses. During the 15th century the chanson had been petrified as a form of lyric as well as a musical form. The result was a stagnancy in depression and nihilism &ndash as can be felt e.g. in the chansonniers of Margaret of Austria and at the same time in songs from the court of Henry VII. of England &ndash which, however, exploded with new live, a multitude of national and regional forms and a high variety of styles and contents around 1500. The new secular songs were played and sung at court, in the houses of educated citizens but also on the streets and even in brothels. In every new context it acquired new meaning and new functions. Due to its social mobility, however, the discrepancies grew. The new secular songs were provoking. Their new, simple forms were associated with peasant culture and received as an expression of a desire for a simple way of living and loving. Among bourgeois circles, however, the connotation of the courtly acquired a taste of the morally degenerated. The love song became the subject of social conflicts.
Under the impression of the reading of ancient authors the 16th century became a time of intensive discussion on the ethical and emotional effects of music. Pietro Bembo’s tract "Gli Asolani" (1505), with its conversations on platonic love, functioned as a model for a flood of tracts on love and virtues. In this tract music takes a central role. Except for Baldessare Castiglione’s "Libro del Cortegiano" (written from 1508 onwards, printed 1528) this kind of literature has by now found little intention of musicology.
The revolutionary innovations of printing and especially music printing formed the basis for the new popularity of the love discourse around 1500. Since the innovation of music printing by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1501 the modern media began to serve an anonymous public. Ever since the first prints of Chansons, Frottole and Villanelle the love song has had a decisive part in the quickly developing business with the new commodity music. The functioning of the communication between the public and the producers of printed music became an entrepreneurial risk, which, obviously, could be reduced by the topic of love. On the one hand love songs carried associations of courtliness and promised social distinction for the aspiring bourgeois. On the other they provoked the protests of religious and humanistic moralists. Here the creed of the music market to arise attention through provocation and polarisation took its beginning. The Italian Frottola and the Parisian chanson with their barely veiled eroticism marked the beginning of a new time in which music had to prove itself on the market.

To understand a love song and its meaning in history it does not suffice to analyse music and text. The song has to be studied within the contemporary discourses on love and music, embedded in its social context and its context within the history of ideas. Many a culture of love songs is widely underestimated, because they seem too simple and lack original invention - seen from the perspective of an aesthetic of art, which is still dominating many histories of music and literature. In their times, however, genres like the Italian frottola were of central importance for their social surroundings.

In Early Modern Times the discourses on music and love were right at the centre of many social processes. They were part of a great variety of discourses e.g. on education, international diplomacy, private and public performance..., and they were reflected and reproduced by other arts. Therefore, a wide and interdisciplinary approach is essential. Scholars in cultural studies and historians will deal with the social contexts of love songs, scholars in literary studies will describe the changes of love poetry during the epoch, art historians will explain the imagery of music and love in fine arts, philosophers the history of ideas and musicologists will deal with the effects of love discourses on music and its genres down to details in the composition. Aspects of gender will play a role as the relationship of music and love can give important evidence on the relationship of the sexes.
The congress will concentrate on a time of central importance for the history of the love song. It will stop short of dealing with opera. With the emergence of opera a new, large step of fictionalisation of love and its musical representation took its beginning. The congress understands itself as a continuation of the scholarly discussion of the love discourses of the Middle Ages which has remained a desideratum until today.