Music and Minde: Knowledge Building in Early Seventeenth-Century English Domestic Vocal Music

Katie Bank

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Natural Philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626), in his attempt to revise all of knowledge, observed that ‘the sense of hearing striketh the spirits more immediately than the other senses’, contributing to contemporary dialogues on the relationship between the mind and the senses and the reliability of sense perception in discerning truth. Though music’s role in the so-called Scientific Revolution is well represented in scholarship, most accounts do not consider how individual songs might have contributed to ongoing debates on representation and the nature of reality.

This thesis is an interdisciplinary investigation into the role of music in the development of metaphysical thought in late-Elizabethan and early-Stuart music. First, it considers contemporary understandings of the mechanics of sense perception and the way music presented questions about the relationships between the mind, body, passions, and the soul, drawing out examples of multi-voiced domestic music that explicitly address topics of human consciousness. Next, it demonstrates how music and text could work together in conjunction with mythology and satire to confront assumptions about reality and representation in the music of Thomas Weelkes. Subsequently, it considers the role of dialogue in early seventeenth-century cultural production and discusses how dialogue (in its variety of forms) was linked to changes in knowledge building, focussing on music by John Dowland, Martin Peerson, and William Byrd. Finally, it considers the role of the experience of music (emotion in action) and how this repertoire can contribute to our understanding of the ways contemporary awareness was shaped and structured.

Drawing insights from musicology, the history of ideas, the history of science, and literary theory, this dissertation elucidates the relationship between the texts and practice of domestic music making and the developing changes in approach to knowledge that mark the seventeenth century as one of the most pivotal eras in our intellectual history.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Deeming, Helen, Supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Weelkes
  • Byrd
  • Sidney
  • Knowledge
  • early modern
  • early music
  • domestic music
  • Peerson
  • consort song
  • madrigal
  • English madrigal
  • vocal music
  • musical meaning
  • Phenomenology
  • historical phenomenology
  • intellectual history
  • England

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