Monday, March 17, 2014

A Mercenary Transition

About a month ago I wrote a post about the extent to which the Renaissance could be viewed as a "transitional age." Following the lead of Thomas Kuhn, I tried to make that case that the nature of any transition could be found in what were accepted as "normal practices." However, I did not say very much about the motive behind those practices and how they may have influenced change.

Recently, I have been doing more background reading on what those normal practices were in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (and, as a sidebar, the role of geography in establishing the normality of those practices). In a paper that Nino Pirotta had published in the Journal of the American Musicological Society I found that he used the phrase "mercenary professionals" to describe those for whom the practice of music was a means of earning a living, rather than one of many intellectual pursuits, often practiced through the support of the church. It occurred to me that one of the key "transitions" of the Renaissance was the rise of market-based thinking through the introduction of currency and exchange that would begin to dislodge traditional sources of authority, whether clerical or temporal, with a "leveling of the playing field," so to speak, based on the power to buy and sell. Musicians thus became players on that field, where "normal" practices were shared with not only the members of craft guilds but also merchants. Put another way, the ancestry of Tin Pan Alley can be traced all the way back to the Renaissance!

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