Research Stream


Jason Stoessel (2014-2017)
The University of New England


The Emotional Community of Early Humanists at Padua: Rhetoric and Music

Before that momentous rediscovery of Lucretius' "De rerum natura" in 1417 and what Stephen Greenblatt has controversially called the "swerve towards European modernity", humanists in early fifteenth-century Padua had already embarked upon a revolutionary mode of homosocial discourse and emotion-laden rhetoric inspired by the Ancients. This project asks what role did one of the greatest composers of the day, Johannes Ciconia (c.1385 -1412), and his musical colleagues at Padua play in the cultural life of this community of teachers, lawyers, poets and writers dreaming of Antiquity as they reshaped their present

The Emotional Community of Early Humanists at Padua: Rhetoric and Music

This project examines the emotional life of early humanists and musicians in Padua, Italy, around the year 1400. At Padua, early revolutionary humanists like Pier Paolo Vergerio put aside the dry dialectic of the middle ages in favour of an emotionally charged and persuasive public oratory, often as heart-wrenching funeral elegies for the leading figures of the day. Early humanist modes of rhetorical expression signal a new emotional community at Padua, one that looked to the past to fashion its present sensibilities as a community of like-minded individuals. This project proposes that this emotional community of humanists and its newly reinvented modes of self-expression influenced the music of Johannes Ciconia (c.1385–1412). Ciconia, perhaps the greatest composer of his age, lived at Padua for the last eleven years of his life among the very same emotional community of humanists, which included Francesco Zabarella and the young Leonardo Giustinian.

This cross-disciplinary project draws on various approaches such as Michael Baxandall's "styles of cognition" and Bourdieu's concept of habitus for describing generative structures of everyday behaviour. Close readings of rhetorical manuals written around the year 1400 will fuel the search for rhetorical analogues in the music of Johannes Ciconia. Research will include archival work in the libraries at Padua and Modena in preparation of editions of hitherto unedited public speeches from Padua and for bringing to light additional evidence of relations between early humanists and musicians at Padua.

Publications and Conference Papers

Stoessel, Jason. 'Climbing Mont Ventoux: The Contest/Context of Scholasticism and Humanism in Early Fifteenth-Century Paduan Music Theory and Practice'. Intellectual History Review 27.3 (2017): 317–32. doi: 10.1080/17496977.2017.1333314.

Stoessel, Jason. 'De invloed van de dood op de muziek van de 14de eeuw [Death's Influence on the Music of the Fourteenth Century]'. In Laus Polyphoniae 2016: MORS | De eeuw van de zwarte dood [The Century of the Black Death], 19-28 August 2016, pp. 113–19. Antwerp: AMUZ [Festival van Vlaanderen-Antwerpen], 2016. Commissioned article for festival booklet. [English and Dutch].

Stoessel, J. 'Con lagreme bagnandome el viso: Mourning and Music in the Late Medieval Padua'. Plainsong and Medieval Music 24.1 (2015): 71–89. doi: 10.1017/S0961137115000030.

Stoessel, Jason. 'Matthæus Herbenus, The Miraculous Voice, and Singing like animals in the early Modern era', at 'The Voice and Histories of Emotion (1500-1800)' CHE Performance Program Collaboratory, The University of Sydney, 29 September to 1 October 2014.

Stoessel, Jason. 'Music and Rhetoric in Johannes Ciconia's late songs', Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Birmingham, 3–6 July 2014.