About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 16, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 34
Rare Renaissance Instruments, Books Take Center Stage

Among the wind instruments played during the Renaissance were the soprano recorder, tenor recorder, Renaissance flute, gemshorn and crumhorn.

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The music of the Renaissance will take center stage at the Peabody campus this spring and summer as the conservatory and George Peabody Library will host a conference and connected exhibit on the period of history known as the dawn of the modern world.

On May 23, the George Peabody Library, part of the university's Sheridan Libraries, will open an exhibition titled Art, Science, Spirit, Soul: Mastering Music in the Renaissance. The exhibit, which runs until July 31, will explore the quintessential elements of musical education for both men and women in the Renaissance.

Susan Weiss, one of the curators of the exhibition and director of the conference, said that the exhibit, which is free and open to the public, will showcase an array of works that reveal the social, historical and cultural contexts that were key to the study of music during the period.

"We not only have music treatises but also books on grammar, mathematics and more practical subjects like fencing and fishing. The surviving books point out the diversity and spirit of the Renaissance men and women doing the reading," said Weiss, a musicologist at Peabody. "In the days following the birth of printing, people were hungry for learning, building their libraries with theoretical and practical sources."

Emily Caton, a Peabody student and assistant curator of the exhibition; Mark Sudek of the Baltimore Consort; Susan Weiss, Peabody musicologist and co-curator; John Buchtel, foreground, rare books curator at the Sheridan Libraries and co-curator of the exhibition.

Beautifully illustrated rare books from JHU's Sheridan and Arthur Friedheim Libraries, the Walters Art Museum, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress will be on display. Also included in the exhibit will be period string and wind instruments from the Peabody Conservatory's collection and manuscripts featuring ornate woodcuts and engravings.

John Buchtel, curator of rare books at the Sheridan Libraries and co-curator of the exhibition, said that the exhibit includes some of the most influential early printed music treatises, manuals and handbooks.

"The idea behind the show is to look not only at the ways music was taught, and its contexts, during the Renaissance but also at the ways books and images can provide evidence for varying degrees of musical literacy during this time period," Buchtel said. "It has been exciting to discover as many early modern music-related works as we uncovered in the process of preparing this show. It is an immense privilege to curate the Sheridan Libraries' rare books collections, and it never fails to amaze me how full of surprises our collections are."

Specifically, the exhibit will include perhaps the most famous book on the science of beekeeping, The Feminin Monarchi, which was published in 1634 by Charles Butler, a priest. The book includes a four-part song, written in table music format, intended to imitate the sounds of bees buzzing. Also on display are such seminal works as the Practica Musicae (1497) by music theorist Franchinus Gafurius, a friend of Leonardo da Vinci's whose works greatly influenced later writers on music.

A lute, a popular instrument of the day

From June 2 to 4, the Peabody Conservatory will host a conference titled Reading and Writing the Pedagogy of the Renaissance: The Student, the Study Materials and the Teacher of Music, 1470-1650, in which distinguished scholars from around the world will explore how people learned to play and sing music in Renaissance times.

The conference will feature a performers' roundtable, at which members of Early Music ensembles will teach a Renaissance music lesson, using the texts and popular instruments of the day such as lutes, citterns, recorders, flutes, crumhorns and rackets. The racket is a short wooden or ivory instrument containing cylindrical tubing that was bent back on itself nine times to produce a reedy, low-pitched and muffled sound. In Renaissance times, knowledge of music and the ability to play an instrument were considered an essential part of a gentleman's and gentlewoman's education.

Among those scheduled to attend the conference is noted historian Anthony Grafton, author of Bring Out Your Dead: The Past as Revelation (Harvard University Press, 2001) and Cardano's Cosmos: The Worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer (JHU Press, 2000).

A highlight of the conference will be the June 4 musical performance of the Baltimore Consort, an ensemble specializing in arrangements of the medieval and Renaissance music of England, Scotland and France. The concert, tickets for which are $12, will take place at 8 p.m. in Peabody's Griswold Hall.

The conference is supported by funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Dean's Office at the School of Arts and Sciences, the Peabody Musicology Department, the Arthur Friedheim Music Library, the University of Delaware and the Venable law firm.

Registration for the event is $50 per day. To register or to purchase concert tickets, go to


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |