The proposed research addresses the complexity of recreating women’s domestic vocal performance at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Songs transmitted through amateur manuscripts and printed books of ayres became a medium for female representation and artistic expression in the household’s private sphere. Lutenist and composer John Dowland had an active role in endorsing such cultivated pastimes, being the first to publish an English lute song collection for the amateur market: his First Booke of Songes or Ayres (1597) which set the standard for books of ayres printed between 1597 and 1622. A Pilgrimes Solace (1612), Dowland’s last publication, is remarkable for its set of six devotional ayres: psalms and religious songs “were unequivocally considered suitable for women from humble laborers to the nobility”. The collection also includes several melancholy ayres, masque songs, and lighter pieces with various vocal and instrumental combinations for amateur ensembles.
Since female music-making was restricted to domestic spaces in early modern England, gendered research to date has sought to define the different roles and spheres of influence of female musicians in private household settings and their repercussions on Jacobean society by examining autobiographies, literature, and conduct manuals. Building on studies on embodied women’s voices and amateur music-making by Linda Phyllis Austern, Gina Bloom, Leslie Dunn, and Katherine Larson, Valeria aims to reconstruct the female domestic music-making practices explored by these scholars. This practice-led approach will examine elements that are not yet incorporated into contemporary performances of lute songs, such as the spatial aspect of the intimate domestic sphere, a search for a historical vocal sound in harmony with the domestic space, and a gendered poetic agenda embedded in Dowland’s devotional songs.
From a performative point of view, the voice is a complex physical and acoustical event involving different layers of extremely precise motoric coordination: the natural way of learning vocal patterns, such as speaking and singing, is through direct imitation. The reconstruction of a contemporaneous vocal technique will be based on the anatomic and physiological information found in Camillo Maffei’s Delle Lettere del S.or Gio. Camillo Maffei da Solofra (Naples: Raymundo Amato, 1562), and Helkiah Crooke’s Mikrokosmographia: a description of the Body of Man (London: William Jaggard, 1615), to reimagine historical amateur singing practice from an early modern perspective.