by Robert L. Kendrick, author of Fruits of the Cross: Passiontide Music Theater in Habsburg Vienna


Over the course of researching my book on musical devotion sparked by the ritual adoration of a replica of Christ’s Tomb by the Austrian Habsburgs, I was quite aware of the fascination it has held in the present, and in the past, as shown in the below image of the buildings of Saint Stephen’s Basilica in Bologna, Italy, also known as “The Seven Churches”. Specifically, this picture depicts the old pulpit, within the building called “Basilica del Santo Sepolcro“.

Santo Sepolcro a Bologna - Pulpito 2.jpg
Photo By M.Violante – Own work, CC BY 2.5, Link

Only while writing chapter 1 did I become aware of popular piety today focused on the Tomb, ranging from southern Italy to Venezuela. One of the real challenges was to link that kind of widespread devotion to the highly complex textual poetics and musical gestures of this seventeenth-century repertory of Viennese “sepolcri”. In many ways, the pieces presumed high theatrical and musical taste among the Austrian royals, a cultural “register” that I attempted to elucidate at various points.

As we move towards another Holy Week in spring 2019, I’m planning on keeping my antennae out for other kinds of musical devotion around the Tomb. I am also looking forward to an upcoming release on New Focus Recordings of one of the pieces discussed in the book, a work on painful memories: the 1678 Le Memorie dolorose. After very nice performances last spring by the New York-based ensembles Tenet and Acronym, the recording is scheduled to come out at some point in 2019.

One other long-term goal is to study the repertories connected to similar events in other traditions, for instance the Shi’ite Mourning of Muharram, practiced even here in Chicago’s Shi’ite community. In any study grounded in historical anthropology, there are always the conflicting desires between getting all the historical details correct, on one hand, and using cross-cultural ethnographies to shake up one’s own views on cultural practice, on the other. I am no exception.

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