Anna Kathryn Grau and Lisa Colton

Sep 1, 2023

Female-Voice Song and Women's Musical Agency in the Middle Ages

Brill 2022

While there is little doubt that women were active participants in medieval musical culture, their role has nevertheless been variously obfuscated, undermined, and overlooked, in large part because of the relative absence of named women composers. Work from recent decades has sought to re-insert women into our music-historical narratives, often by broadening their scopes and shifting away from strictly author-focused surveys. 

Female-Voice Song and Women's Musical Agency in the Middle Ages (Brill, 2022) brings together seventeen essays, each of which newly identifies contributions to musical culture made by women before 1500 across Europe. Encompassing not only medieval French, English, and Italian culture, but also stretching to Iceland and the Islamicite courts, this volume speaks to the various ways in which we can hear women’s voices through history.

Prof. Lisa Colton and Dr. Anna Kathryn Grau jointly edited this collection, in addition to contributing chapters to it. In this episode, they speak with Áine Palmer about the study of women’s participation in medieval musical culture, the process of putting together an edited volume such as this, and share insights on their own analyses of 13th-century French motets.

Further Reading and Listening:

For those interested, you can here performer’s renditions of some of the songs and motets mentioned in Anna’s chapter here, here, and here, and a rendition of the motet Lisa’s chapter focuses on can be found here.

Those interested in Bahktinian approaches to early music should also read Helen Dell, Desire by Gender and Genre in Trouvère Song (Woodbridge: Suffolk, 2008), particularly chapters 5 and 6, and Anna Kathryn Grau ‘Hearing Voices: Heteroglossia, Homoglossia, and the Old French Motet’ in Musica Disciplina 58 (2013), pp. 73-100.

Prof. Lisa Colton can be found on Twitter at @elsie33, and you can find Dr. Anna Kathryn Grau at @AnnaKathrynGrau.

Aine Palmer is a PhD candidate in the Music Department at Yale.

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Aine Palmer is a PhD candidate in the Music Department at Yale.

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