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Music, Discipline, and Arms in Early Modern France

In this groundbreaking new study, Kate van Orden examines noble education in the arts to show how music contributed to cultural and social transformation in early modern French society. She constructs a fresh account of music’s importance in promoting the absolutism that the French monarchy would fully embrace under Louis XIV, uncovering many hitherto unpublished ballets and royal ceremonial performances.

The great pressure on French noblemen to take up the life of the warrior gave rise to bellicose art forms such as sword dances and equestrian ballets. Far from being construed as effeminizing, such combinations of music and the martial arts were at once refined and masculine-a perfect way to display military prowess. The incursion of music into riding schools and infantry drills contributed materially to disciplinary order, enabling the larger and more effective armies of the seventeenth century. This book is a history of the development of these musical spheres and how they brought forth new cultural priorities of civility, military discipline, and political harmony. Music, Discipline, and Arms in Early Modern France effectively illustrates the seminal role music played in mediating between the cultural spheres of letters and arms.

View a one-minute video of an equestrian ballet performance. (Video is 3.5 Mb in .wmv format.)

344 pages | 4 color plates, 26 halftones, 18 musical examples | 6-5/8 x 9-3/8 | © 2004

History: European History, Military History

Music: General Music


"This book is a brilliant, learned, and convincing advance in the understanding of Renaissance history and European culture in general."

Orest A. Ranum, The Johns Hopkins University

"A very impressive and engaging work of scholarship. Music, Discipline, and Arms in Early Modern France argues that music played an important part in changing the character of the French ruling elite during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In particular, it contributed to the broad process of behavioral and cultural disciplining that the French nobility underwent during this time. Van Orden shows wide knowledge of sixteenth-century literature and a great understanding of the technical realities of early modern warfare."

Jonathan Dewald, State University of New York, Buffalo

"Music refines manners, according to a French proverb. We know relatively little about the role music played in war, or about how closely it was connected to the military arts. However, music could not avoid being drawn into the training of the military and the pedagogical and civilizing demands of their profession. From troops to officers, from the general staff at court right up to the Royal Commander in Chief, music, musicians, singers, instrumentalists, and dancers actively participated in the machinery of modern civilization. Kate van Orden’s book is an innovative, original, and convincing addition to this field. It successfully leads the reader in a seductive and sensitive rediscovery of the noises and sounds of war in a bygone age."

Daniel Roche, Collège de France

"Outstanding research and publications have taken place in the realm of French seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music for the last forty years or so, especially in the States. However, there are few individuals in the Anglo-Saxon intellectual community who possess the ’finesse d’esprit’ so dear to the French and so necessary to communicate the essence of French cultural history to English and American readers. Kate van Orden is equally at home with France and its complicated social and cultural history. Her research is impressive, her writing is elegant, and her overview of music and the role it played in the aristocratic society of the ’Grand Siècle’ is fresh and important."

William Christie, music director, Les Arts Florissants

"This book takes music from its insulated aesthetic niche and positions it within a world in which sound served to reinforce power and to produce real effects on nobility and populace alike. A professional performer of early repertories, van Orden brings her experiences as a musician to bear on conversations usually dominated by political and military historians. Her innovative point of view will provide insights and new directions for a wide range of disciplines."

Susan McClary, University of California, Los Angeles

"This is an important book for those concerned with the cultural relationships of music."

Early Music Review

"[Van Orden’s] study engages the transition from Renaissance culture to that of subsequent early modern Europe; it is an impressive contribution both to the history of music and to European cultural history."

Ann E. Moyer | Renaissance Quarterly

"Kate van Orden convincingly demonstrates that music was critical in building a new social and political order after the Wars of Religion. . . She highlights the musical basis of a wide range of absolutist ideas and practices that have rarely (if ever) been considered from a musical perspective: the "domestication" of the French nobility, fencing/dueling, Jean Bodin’s theory of absolutism, horseback riding, musketry, and pike drill. The book is well argued in limpid prose. The author is as much at ease in the world of the word as in that of music. . . . This is a very important work that opens an entirely new perspective on the making of French absolutism."

Rafe Blaufarb | American Historical Review

"Van Orden draws upon an astonishingly rich array of primary materials. . . . [These documents] yield a compelling vision of the moralized aesthetics and aestheticized sense of virtue through which French elites fashioned themselves. . . . We cannot help but wonder at the immense range of sources assembled in this excellent book, and the patient learning with which they have been considered."

Richard Freeman | Early Music

"Van Orden takes a very interesting and innovative approach. . . . She succeeds at bringing music into a realm hitherto dominated by political and military historians. She likewise manages to bring together the military and civilian words to show how the nobility . . . transformed itself into the epitome of refined behavior and in doing so contributed to the growth of the French monarchy."

Joan G. Gonzalez | Comitatus

[Van Orden] brings a deeply learned, refreshing and original approach to the topic. The chapter on the political and religious uses of singing during the Wars of Religion is the highlight, brilliantly realised, thought-provoking, and worth the cover price alone. . . . She is never less than interesting and there are fascinating insights into all sorts of subjects, from dressage to drumming."

Stuart Carroll | H-France Net

"This is a remarkable work, carefully argued and thoroughly documented, which can enrich our understanding of all aspects of the history and culture of early modern France."

Jane Couchman | Sixteenth Century Journal

"[This book] is a seminal, outstanding, and pluridisciplinary work, in which one can find an impressive wealth of ideas. Kate van Orden brilliantly uses and masters a large array of manuscripts and printed materials . . . and brings life to a complex period of French history. The result is a seductive and very well-written book that is difficult to lay down: once you have opened it, you cannot resist reading it without a pause from cover to cover."

Jean-Paul C. Montagnier | Journal of the American Musicological Society

"A splendid, monumental work, based on exhaustive research across several disciplines and presented with style. It is very warmly recommended to readers interested in early modern history and culture."

Barbara Ravelhofer | Kritikon Litterarum

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Music in a Time of War
2. Juste Proportion: Music as the Measure of All Things
3. Violence, Dance, and Ballet de Cour
4. The Cross and the Sword
5. Pyrrhic Dance and the Art of War
6. "Dresser l’homme": The Ballet à Cheval

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