A published article on the theme of springtime in medieval and Renaissance religious and secular music has earned David J. Rothenberg from the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University's College of Arts and Sciences one of the highest honors from the American Musicological Society. He was presented with the Alfred Einstein Award during the society's 2007 annual meeting on November 3 in Quebec City, Canada.
"The winning article this year demonstrates considerable erudition, richness of interpretive powers and great breadth in its chronological sweep," stated Lawrence Bernstein, the chair of the Einstein award committee, during Saturday's ceremony.
The article, which grew out of Rothenberg's 2004 dissertation, is entitled "The Marian Symbolism of Spring, ca. 1200—ca. 1500: Two Case Studies" and was published in 2006 in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, the flagship journal in the field of music history.
"I am shocked when I see the names of those who have received this award in the past," said Rothenberg about the honor that recognizes an outstanding article by a researcher in the early years of a career in music history. "It is humbling to read the list."
Among the previous honorees of one of the AMS's oldest awards are several past presidents of the society as well as Rothenberg's doctoral adviser at Yale University, Craig Wright. Rothenberg credits Wright with allowing him to approach his doctoral dissertation from a broad perspective, exploring sacred and secular symbolism in religious music and French poetry and song across several centuries--from the high Middle Ages through the Renaissance.
"We are extremely proud of what David has accomplished in such a short time after finishing his dissertation, and happy to have him as a colleague and teacher in our department here at Case Western Reserve," said Ross Duffin, Fynette H. Kulas Professor of Music and interim music department chair.
The season of spring is the focus of three major elements that Rothenberg brings together in his article. He shows that a consistent symbolism of spring endured for more than 300 years as illustrated in two case studies--one from the medieval period and the other from the Renaissance.
The first element he explores is the liturgy of Easter. After weeks of somber music and liturgy that characterize the religious season of Lent, which readies Christians for the impending death of Christ (and also reflects the dreary days of winter), Easter Sunday heralds a drastic shift in music and ceremony. Death and darkness are replaced by bright light and joyfulness, while outside flowers and budding leaves return to the earth. This earthly rebirth, said Rothenberg, is aligned with Christ's resurrection and the Easter celebration, which annually takes place after the vernal equinox.
The second element that Rothenberg explores is devotion to the Virgin Mary and how votive services and special prayers make a transformation upon the arrival of spring. He also points out that music of that time reflected a theological misunderstanding that it was the Virgin Mary instead of Mary Magdalene who first saw the Resurrected Christ.
Thirdly, he examines secular French poetry and song. Rothenberg found that the Virgin Mary, the Easter liturgy and secular springtime elements came together in certain "polyphonic" compositions in which Gregorian chants, prayers to Mary and French songs were sung simultaneously. While the three simultaneously sounding elements sound confusing to modern audiences, this kind of music was meant to be understood by a small and well-educated group that included the composers and singers.
Rothenberg highlights the confluence of these three elements in two case studies. The first is about music of the high Middle Ages and analyzes Marian symbolism in a cluster of 13th-century compositions on the well-known tune In speculum. This tune was drawn from the music of the mass for Easter Sunday. The other case study analyzes two pieces of music from the Renaissance, Henricus Isaac's Laudes salvatori from the Choralis Constantinus and Josquin des Prez's Victimae paschal laudes.
Research for the paper was conducted in Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which houses an extensive collection of rare service and prayer books. Rothenberg also received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Fellowship to spend a year in Munich, Germany, where he used the collections of rare religious service books and Renaissance music books in the Bavarian State Library and other European libraries.
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