Early Modern Conversions at the Montreal Baroque Festival




All events will take place at McGill University, New Music Building
room A-832 (on the 8th floor)

527 Sherbrooke Street West (corner of Aylmer Street)
Montreal, QC H3A 1E3 (click to view on google map)

Please note that these events are free and do not require any tickets!


LECTURE: “Alchemy at Meissen, Or How China Became china (and Europe Transmuted the World)”
Ben Schmidt (University of Washington, Seattle)
see above for location
Saturday, June 27th, 12:30pm

In January 1708, Europe triumphantly discovered China/china.  That is, nearly a half millennium after the departure of the Polo brothers for the East and the ensuing, energetic, enterprising pursuit by Europeans of China, an alchemist sequestered in a dungeon in Dresden managed to produce hard-paste porcelain, thus solving the ancient arcanum of Asian ceramics.  This discovery marked a critical change in material arts and the production of china, of course; yet it also sparked a fundamental shift in Europe’s conception of China—and, ultimately, of the world.  This lecture looks at the alchemical moment of Meissen (as the new porcelain would be called) in the context of evolving European conceptions of its place in the world.  It draws connections between material arts and geography, and it argues that an essential shift in global imagination took place in sync with the technological innovations, material productions, and decorative strategies developed in Meissen.  It narrates, in short, an alchemical drama that changed the world.
Ben Schmidt


ROUND TABLE: “Coin, candle, china, skull: Objects of conversion”
Paul Yachnin, Stephen Wittek, Ben Schmidt and Jane Daphne Hatter; Respondent: Julie Cumming
see above for location
Sunday, June 28th, 12:30pm

In this cross-disciplinary panel presentation, scholars examine the conversional power of material objects in the Early Modern Period. From our first entrance in, even to our final end, our existence is bound up in matter.  Beeswax candles blessed during Candlemas liturgies were used regularly in Renaissance child birth ceremonies, as souls entered the world. Likewise, the materiality of humans bodies, even in death, preoccupied the early modern psyche, as the prevalence of memento mori in Renaissance art attests. This panel considers how seventeenth-century objects, such as coins, candles, china, and (yes, even) skulls, changed, affected, and converted their bearers.


WORKSHOP: “’Resveillez vous’: chantons l’air”
Alexis Risler and Zoey Cochran
see above for location
Sunday, June 28th, 5:30pm

Resveillez vous chascun fidele,
Menez en Dieu joye orendroit,
Louange est tresseante, et belle
En la bouche de l’homme droit:

Sur la doulce harpe
Pendue en escharpe
Le Seigneur louez,
De Luz, d’Espinettes,
Sainctes chansonnettes
A son Nom jouez.

The power of music and poetry to convert an auditor was perhaps never so important in Western history, nor so skillfully employed as during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.  When Catholic and protestant churches competed to save souls, both turned to music as a means of converting sinners to a new and holy life, and no Christian text was more powerfully transformative, nor so popular for musical setting, as the psalms of David.  In this workshop, Alexis Risler (McGill) and Zoey Cochran (McGill) discuss a number of musical settings of psalms from the 1560s and teach participants to read and sing from the original mensural notation of the Genevan Psalter. Participants will sing in harmony to experience first hand how this music and poetry was meant to affect the psyches of the people who sang these psalms together, building community through musical conversation and conversion. This workshop will be held in French.

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Learn more about events at the Montreal Baroque Festival here.