The Music History and Theory Study Group Presents:

Patrick Fitzgibbon

University of Chicago

Butler’s Political Musicalizations

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Logan 802

4:30 – 6:00 PM

Musician, logician, vicar, beekeeper, spelling reformer, incest apologist—suffice it to say that the seventeenth-century English author Charles Butler was never at a loss for a second book project. Although his colorful career has since receded into relative historical obscurity, I argue that this idiosyncratic polymath offers key insights into not only his milieu but ours, particularly regarding an abiding ambivalence toward forms of order and discipline both musical and political. In the attached excerpt, drawn from my dissertation project on the concept of rule-breaking in early modern European music theory, I argue that Butler musicalizes political uncertainties in ways both subtle and overt, from solmization pedagogy to principles of “setting” (composing).

An especially evocative illustration is his setting of “The Bees Madrigall,” a stylized rendering of an overcrowded colony on the verge of swarming. While Butler’s previous commentators have understandably emphasized the fabulous artifice of this natural dictation, I contend that such an interpretive tack at once overdetermines and undervalues Butler’s brand of empiricism, both flattening the madrigal’s sharp royalist–revolutionary tensions and blurring its fine-grained mimetic details. But feel free to decide for yourself on Wednesday afternoon: back to back with a field recording of the eusocial vibration signal honeybee biologists call “piping,” I’ll be giving the world premiere of my own electronic transcription—the first of its unnatural kind.

Special thanks to Joshua Klopfenstein for serving as respondent

Follow this link to download the paper.

Persons who believe they may require accommodations to participate fully in this event should contact the coordinator, Bradley Spiers at, in advance.

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