Musical mimēsis in Antiquity and the Renaissance

Myrthe Bartels

The idea that music and its elements imitate human character types, associated with Plato, has exercised great appeal throughout the centuries. Extensively discussed already by philosophers and musical writers in Antiquity itself, it enjoyed a substantial revival in the Renaissance. This research project examines the idea of musical mimēsis in its ancient Greek cultural-historical context, drawing on recent advances made in the study of ancient Greek music, and then traces how this essentially philosophical idea lived on in the very different musical environments of Renaissance and Baroque musicology and musical practice (16th-18th century). It investigates how humanists, antiquarians and musicologists, who turned to ancient musical and philosophical texts and interpreted these from the perspective of their own musical practices and materialities, applied the insights derived from these texts — that reflected a completely different musical reality — to their own everyday musical genres and instruments. This project brings together the study of ancient philosophy and music archaeology, on the one hand, and the history of early modern musicology and philosophy, on the other hand, thus fusing classics and reception studies into a coherent approach to the complex lineage of Platonic thought.

Dr Myrthe Bartels is a COFUND JRF at Durham from 2018-2019