Winkler tells tale of ambivalence, discord through 17th-century theatrical music
Winkler tells tale of ambivalence, discord through 17th-century theatrical musicDecember 05, 2006Roxanna Carpenterrocarpen@syr.edu
Disorder provides fertile ground for Amanda Eubanks Winkler’s scholarship, so much that while examining a favorite topic — early English music and society — she needed to confine her curiosity to just three archetypes: the bad, sad and mad. The result is her new book, “O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note” (Indiana University Press, 2006).
Winkler, assistant professor of music history and cultures in the Department of Fine Arts at Syracuse University, has expertise in Baroque and early English music, especially that of the English stage during the 17th century. About working on her recent book, Winkler says: “To enact my own order upon the potentially limitless material from this tumultuous century, I’ve chosen to examine the vocal music and dances for three disorderly character types that appeared repeatedly on the public and private stages: the witch, the melancholic and the mad.”
A concept prevalent during this chaotic time in Europe addresses how people understood music and disorder, with harmony at the center and various sorts of madness at the fringe of society. From harmony, allied with docile obedience, to discord, simultaneously attractive and repulsive, music’s influence was believed to be persuasive at personal and governmental levels. These ideas form the core of “Howle.” The century’s disordered social history, relentless political change and continuing uncertainties were reflected in musical and theatrical conventions portraying the three intertwined, disordered character types. How that disorder was portrayed and why these conventions emerged “are the questions at the heart of my study,” says Winkler.
To the mind and ear of the 17th century, harmony in music represented harmony in life, in personal affairs and those of the kingdom. Discord and dissonance portrayed the opposite. Disorderly elements were dangerous, corruptive by their very presence, and threatening to neighbors and the English kingdom. This is Winkler’s broad interest — the mix and interplay of music, gender and politics on the early English stage. In examining the music that was written for the witches, the melancholic and the mad, and presented theatrically in 17th-century England, Winkler finds a varied, sometimes ambiguous, always interesting portrayal of character types. She details the related musical and theatrical conventions and their changes over time, as musical tastes shifted and an understanding of the underlying causes in these character anomalies began to grow.
In the theater, Winkler notes the brilliance and innovation of the music, which attempted to portray the different characters and their mad disorders. “By design, it seduced and titillated and disturbed the listener,” says Winkler. In one word, Winkler names the way these disorderly characters were both presented and received in their society: ambivalence. Representing them with music that was “innovative, unpredictable and tremendously powerful” invited multiple interpretations, leaving some listeners infatuated with “the allure of hell translated into harmony.”
Winkler, who has taught in The College of Arts and Sciences at SU since 2001, has published several articles and reviews and has presented at a number of lectures and conferences. A member of the American Musicological Society, Society for Seventeenth-Century Music, Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and other professional associations, she is author of the critical edition “Music for Macbeth” (A-R Editions, 2004). Winkler is currently researching a book about theatrical music for sorcerers, comparing how the cultures of England, France and Italy perceived the person who made magic and what ramifications appeared in the music composed for sorcerers in theater.
A native of Illinois, Winkler holds a bachelor of music degree summa cum laude from Illinois State University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Michigan.