Aristocratic women exerted unprecedented political and social influence in Florence throughout the late 16th and early 17th century; during this period convents flourished and female members of the powerful Medici family governed the city for the only time in its history.
These women also helped to shape the city’s aristocratic life, commissioning works of music, art, and theater that were inscribed with their own concerns and aspirations, promoting a vision of their world and their place in it—a worldview that differed significantly from that of their male counterparts.
The musical construction of female characters in the developing operatic realm became especially important and increasingly politicized. Court sponsorship of the arts began underwriting a new image of legitimate authority, presenting Florentine audiences and influential visitors with numerous examples of virtuous and powerful female leaders.
For example, in Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina, commissioned and produced by the archduchess Maria Maddalena (above) for a diplomatic celebration, the benevolent sorceress Melissa single-handedly defeats the evil enchantress Alcina, freeing the heroic Ruggerio from the bonds of illicit sensuality. Alcina’s fatal excesses are depicted in musical passages that surpass the normal harmonic vocabulary of early 17th-century Florentine opera, demonstrating her defiance of the boundaries of acceptable behavior; Melissa’s superior power is portrayed in music that avoids harmonic and melodic extremes, indicating her rationality and control as she restores the hero’s sanity. Such heroines symbolically asserted both women’s political rights and the moral and spiritual basis for their legitimacy.
This according to Echoes of women’s voices: Music, art, and female patronage in early modern Florence by Kelley Harness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2006-4451).
BENJMA is designed to publish at least one annual issue, and to undertake the publication of special issues when the need arises. The journal publishes well-researched scholarly articles in music and the arts to promote scholarship and support the dissemination of research findings at local and global levels, providing a forum for discourses on historical, contemporary, and evolving subjects. It aims to serve as a basis for the formation of future perspectives, the making of impactful predictions, and the galvanization of developmental ideas.
BENJMA’s editors and reviewers have a wealth of experience in various areas of music and the arts, and the journal is open to any thematic area.
Below, excerpts from the Yorùbá ìbejì festival, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.
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Brahms’s correspondence reveals that he was very fond of railroad travel; nowadays he might be called a railfan.
In an 1881 letter to George Henschel, Brahms noted that he was spending the summer in the Viennese suburb of Pressbaum, observing that “I shall be only a short distance by rail, which, however, I always travel with great pleasure.”
Advising his father on taking a train to visit him in 1867, the composer wrote:
Now you get a ticket direct to Vienna by way of Berlin, Dresden, Prague. The ticket must be valid for 5–8 days. Be sure of both things! Costs about 30 thaler second class all the way.
There are only two trains. You can of course travel through in one go—in about 32 hours. That works only if you have rainy, cool weather! Otherwise you couldn’t stand it. But since the ticket is good for a week, you can also stop over for a day or half a day in each city, and look around it. But if so, go first of all to a good hotel and make use of porters and [public] servants for hire as guides. If you continue on right away in Berlin you must take a hackney to the other station. A policeman hands out the voucher at the exit.
Before you travel the night through, as is practical in the heat, drink a glass of grog so you sleep well. But take along very little, for example no scruffy things for the trip! No cigars, nothing new, nothing that is taxable. You’ll find every conceivable thing here with me. Don’t let that make your journey uncomfortable.
With the advent of railroad travel, musicians like Brahms enjoyed travel opportunities that previously were possible only through complex logistical arrangements, sometimes involving significant physical hardship. As a symbol of the industrial age, the railway did not threaten him; he was comfortable with steam propelling him, not least when he traversed the distance between Vienna and his beloved Hamburg.
Let’s celebrate this historic event by visiting an odd corner of the album’s reception history: a meticulous and complex theory claiming that it was conceived, constructed, and produced as a deliberate and calculated musical accompaniment to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, and that its sounds and silences will, if correctly decoded, reveal explicit and specific congruences with key scenes in the movie.
The theory’s origins can be traced to the mid-1990s, when fans began excitedly posting on Pink Floyd websites about synchronicities that result from simultaneously watching the film and listening to the album. Soon these fansites provided detailed instructions for experiencing these audio-visual parallels. Typically viewers are told to start the film and begin playing the album at the MGM trademark lion’s third roar; if the music begins at the moment that the words “Produced by Mervin Leroy” appear on the screen the synchronization is on track, and the coincidences begin:
Just after the words “look around” in Breathe, Dorothy turns around;
The words “balanced on the biggest wave” accompany Dorothy balancing on a fence;
At the words “no one told you when to run” Dorothy breaks into a trot;
Many aspects of the Munchkin scene are coordinated with Money;
The chimes in Time coincide with the appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West;
and so on, with different websites claiming as many as 70 to 100 moments of synchronicity.
Although the band members have dismissively refuted any association between the album and the film, enthusiasm for the theory continues unabated. On one level, this phenomenon may be an example of an urban myth. On another level, it may reveal much about how texts can generate multiple meanings that dispel the tyranny of the imposed explanation—one of the principal tenets underlying the relocation of the consumer as active rather than passive.
This according to “‘We’re not in Kansas any more’: Music, myth and narrative structure in The dark side of the moon” by Lee Barron and Ian Inglis, an essay included in “Speak to me”: The legacy of Pink Floyd’s “The dark side of the moon” (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005, 56–66; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2005-6807).
Below, we invite you to see how many coincidences you can discover!
The frequencies of pitches produced by a musical instrument are determined by the physical properties of the instrument. Consequently, by measuring the frequency of a pitch, one can infer information about the instrument’s physical properties. By modifying a musical instrument to contain a sample and then analyzing the instrument’s pitch, one can make precision measurements of the physical properties of the sample.
Researchers used the mbira, a 3000-year-old African instrument that consists of metal tines attached to a wooden board; these tines are plucked to play musical pitches. By replacing the mbira’s tines with bent steel tubing, filling the tubing with a sample, using a smartphone to record the sound while plucking the tubing, and measuring the frequency of the sound using a free software tool available on their website, they could measure the density of the sample with a resolution of about 0.012 g/mL.
To demonstrate the mbira sensor’s capabilities, they used it to successfully distinguish diethylene glycol and glycerol, two similar chemicals that are sometimes mistaken for each other in pharmaceutical manufacturing (leading to hundreds of deaths).
Unlike existing tools for measuring density, the mbira sensor can be made and used by virtually anyone in the world with access to a smartphone and the free software tool posted on the Internet. Among many possible applications, consumers could use mbira sensors to detect counterfeit and adulterated medications (which represent around 10% of all medications in low- and middle-income countries).
This according to “Musical instruments as sensors” by Heran C. Bhakta, Vamsi K. Choday, and William H. Grover (ACS omega III  11026–32; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-95175). Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this article to our attention!
Above, (A, left to right) a conventional mbira, the same instrument with the tines replaced by a length of stainless steel tubing bent into a U shape, and an example easily made from scrap lumber and hardware; (B) the method of using an mbira sensor; and (C) a waveform plot of a sound recording of plucking an mbira sensor, obtained using a smartphone’s voice recorder app and the free online software tool.
It was this annual celebration that brought the chapel to the attention of the Berlin artist and musician Carsten Nicolai, who was scouting for a location for an installation for the project 500 Kirchen—500 Ideen, which sought proposals for rescuing some of the many more or less abandoned Protestant churches in central Germany (2000 in Thuringia alone).
The resulting work, installed in 2017, is a sculptural piece entitled organ. A pyrophone built by Frank Fietzek in which gas flames generate sound by disturbing the airflow in 25 glass cylinders, the work/instrument is programmed to play a 12-minute piece composed for it by Nicolai. It has also been used for improvisation, and its presence has made the church a popular venue for various activities organized by both community members and visitors.
This according to “Klang-, Licht- und Wärmespender: Die Feuerorgel von Carsten Nicolai in der St. Annen-Kapelle Krobitz, Thüringen” by Elisa Wrobel (Organ: Journal für die Orgel XXV/4  34–36; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-15515).
JRM accepts research, review articles, and scientific findings of scholars of the performing arts. The journal welcomes article submissions and does not charge any submission fee nor publication fee. A double-blind peer review process is used to review journal articles; according to the reviewer’s comments, all authors should revise the manuscripts and resubmit. The editorial board of JRM reserves the right to refuse the publication of an article. All accepted articles will be available open access under the Creative Commons License CC BY-NC. Authors retain the copyright without restrictions.
Below, one of the highlights of Berlin’s 2022 Festival of Lights, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.
After her breakout performance at Lebanon’s 1957 Baalbeck International Festival (where organizers had initially worried that their sophisticated audience would find homegrown music distasteful) the music of Fayrūz went on to become a powerful emblem of Lebanese identity—a position that it holds to this day.
Fayrūz’s performance, which featured music by the Raḥbānī brothers, was the headline act of the Festival’s first Lebanese Nights series, and its resounding success ensured the continuation of the series, with the Fayrūz/Raḥbānī trio as its mainstay, until the Festival’s suspension at the beginning of the Civil War in 1975. During that time, the trio forged a music that both articulated Lebanon’s national character and aspired toward a future in which the country’s liminal position between the Arab world and the West would bring long-lasting peace and prosperity.
While this element of futurity was rhetorical and discursive, it was also profoundly sonic, manifested in the arrangement, instrumentation, and style of their work. The Fayrūz/Raḥbānī trio’s music was clearly positioned in relation to three major reference points that dominated nationalist discourse at the time: Arab nationalism, the West (conceived as European high culture), and Lebanese culture (conceived as local folklore).
While the style developed by the trio continues to shape understandings what it is to sound Lebanese today, Fayrūz’s voice has become symbolic of Lebanon itself. Notably, she did not sing there during the Civil War; she came back to perform in 1994, and returned to Baalbeck’s stage on the occasion of the Festival’s postwar resumption in 1998. Her wartime silence was publicly received as an act of resistance against violence on Lebanese soil and as a show of solidarity with the Lebanese people—further reinforcing the identification of her voice and persona with Lebanon as a country.
This according to “Hearing cosmopolitan nationalism in the work of Fairuz and the Rahbani Brothers” by Nour El Rayes (Yearbook for traditional music LIV/1  49–72; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-16150).
Above, Fayrūz performing in 1971 (public domain). Below, the official music video for the Fayrūz/Raḥbānī song Lebnan el akhdar(لبنان الأخضر/Lebanon the verdant); the recording is the subject of a detailed analysis in El Rayes’s article.
The medieval German town Hann. Münden was home to Johann Andreas Eisenbarth (1663–1727), a colorful figure who became a subject of folklore to the extent that fact and fiction are now difficult to untangle.
A celebrated surgeon who was bestowed with privileges by various members of German royalty, Eisenbarth had no formal medical credentials, nor was he ever officially awarded the title “Doctor”. Nevertheless, his skill and medical innovations are matters of historical record, not least his pioneering contributions to the development of cataract surgery.
Reputed to have traveled with an entourage of up to 120 attendants including musicians, acrobats, and clowns, he is said to have plied his trade in a carnival-like atmosphere. The loud music and revelry served both to attract large crowds—potential customers for Eisenbarth’s services and bottled remedies—and to drown out the cries of his patients, who underwent procedures including tooth extractions and amputations in an era before the advent of anesthetics.
In honor of this now semi-legendary resident, a mechanical clock was installed in the upper story of Hann. Münden’s Rathaus in 1980. After the stroke of noon and a brief pause, an automatic carillon plays the tune of the comical song Ich bin der Doktor Eisenbart as automata depict the doctor extracting a huge, bloody tooth from the mouth of a terrified, gesticulating patient restrained by a hammer-wielding attendant. In addition to these central figures, a juggler, an acrobat, and a flag-bearer suggest the festive nature of Eisenbarth’s medical procedures.
This according to “Dr Eisenbarth’s automated musical clock in Hann. Münden” by Mark Singleton and Sven Heinmann (The music box: An international journal of mechanical music XXVIII/5 [spring 2018] pp. 185–87; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-52039).
Today is Eisenbarth’s 360th birthday! Above and below, the good doctor in action.
Today a growing number of Mexican-American musicians in the United States perform on Indigenous Mesoamerican instruments and archaeological replicas in what is widely referred to as Aztec music.
For example, contemporary musicians in Los Angeles draw on legacies of Mexican nationalist music research and integrate applied anthropological and archeological models, showing how musical and cultural frameworks that once served to unite post-revolutionary Mexico have gained new significance in countering Mexican Indigenous erasure in the United States.
This according to “Forging Aztecness: Twentieth-century Mexican musical nationalism in twenty-first century Los Angeles/Forjando el Aztecanismo: Nacionalismo musical mexicano del siglo XX en el siglo XXI en Los Ángeles” by Kristina F. Nielsen (Yearbook for traditional music LII  127–46; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-69466).
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