Renaissance Performance Caps Off First Thursdays Season

Oliver Levine

This year has been an exciting one for the Allen Memorial Art Museum and its curatorial accomplishments. The successful transformation of the Allen’s Ellen Johnson Gallery into a pseudo-Renaissance chapel has been a major success, exploring themes in religion, ritual and performance. To further explore these topics, which seem intertwined in Renaissance art, the museum has organized several First Thursdays events that expand upon our understanding of Renaissance life and traditions. In October, the AMAM brought Dr. Laurence Kanter, OC ’76, chief curator and curator of Renaissance art at the Yale University Art Gallery, who presented a lecture titled “Ghiberti, Brunelleschi and the ‘Birth’ of the Renaissance.”

Last week, the AMAM’s monthly affair aimed to immerse the audience in Renaissance life through performance. Introduced by Professor of Historical Performance Kathryn Montoya, Professor of English Nicholas Jones and AMAM Director Andria Derstine, Music in Celebration of “Religion, Ritual and Performance in the Renaissance” turned out to be a genuinely interesting experience. In their introduction, the speakers explained the significance of music during the Renaissance and what we can learn about the period in regard to how and when people used these songs.

Perhaps more interesting is how Renaissance music was instrumental in the start of printed music. Music printing had a major effect on how music spread; not only did a printed piece of music reach a larger audience than any manuscript ever could, but it did so at a much lower cost. On a small projector the audience was shown images of sheet music from the 15th century. The speakers went on to explain the significance of different genres of music at the time, letting the audience know the context in which they would have heard this music had they been alive 500 years ago. When all was said and done, it was time to play those Renaissance jams.

The concert, featuring Michael Leopold on lute and theorbo and the Oberlin Recorder and Viol Consorts and directed by Kathryn Montoya, included works by Johanes Ciconia, Josquin de Prez, Giovanni Palestrina and Michael Praetorius. The performance was not flawless, but it didn’t matter. Everyone within earshot was instantly transported back in time, even more so if they got a chance to look at the Renaissance art while listening to the music. There were no lyrics sung to the songs played, but a lyric sheet containing translations of their lyrics was provided. These translations added another layer of understanding to the songs, which were at times sleep-inducing, but short enough to keep the audience on its feet. One piece, “Mon père m’a donné mari,” sounded like it may have been a romantic wedding song, but reading the lyrics reveals that it was a song in protest of arranged marriages: “My father gave me to a husband/ whose beard is all grey./ I am only fifteen and a half/ and such an old man does not please me.”

All in all, the First Thursday was well-organized and well-attended by both students and locals. The AMAM staff, and the music at this past First Thursday, have done an excellent job of bringing the Renaissance to Oberlin.