A specialist in medieval music, sound, and manuscripts, Emma Dillon’s research focuses on French musical culture from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. Her work ranges widely in terms of repertories,sources, and methodological approach, and broadly speaking falls at the intersection of musicology, sound studies, medieval studies, and the history of material texts. She has published and presented on issues of transmission and reception of music in the material form of the book, on tensions between audible and inaudible meaning in the Old French motet, on the relationship between musical and non-musical sound, and on the sense of sound as depicted in prayer books.
The title and abstract for Professor Dillon's talk are as follows: "Remembering to Forget: Music, Conversion, and the Early Cistercian Experience"
The Cistercian order was founded at the end of the eleventh century, purportedly as a reaction against the decadent excesses associated with the Cluniac tradition. According to the foundational writings of the order, to be Cistercian was to convert; and to convert was to actively forget the trappings of a former religious or secular life.The narrative of conversion and reform appears to correspond to other evidence that early Cistercian foundations promoted a reactionary austerity, eschewing decadent material trappings of devotion in favor of a simpler and less distracting devotional environment. That impulse was seemingly true of music: Cistercian liturgy is frequently mentioned for its reforms, manifest, for example, in an expunging of melodic ornament and a ban on polyphony. However, a closer look at the evidence of contemporary writers, music theory and extant manuscripts suggests a more complex picture, one in which there was potentially a virtue in remembering what one was supposed to forget. Professor Dillon’s paper revisits a famous diatribe against polyphony in Aelred of Rievaulx’s Speculum caritatis, written around 1142 in the chilly North Yorkshire Abbey of Rievaulx. So vivid and precise is Aelred’s account of music-making that the writing itself seems to make music present again. Music’s immediacy is further reinforced by the highly affective language and theology by which Aelred expresses his anxiety about music’s power. It begs the question: why would Aelred so carefully record the sound and effect of what was apparently so dangerous? In exploring potential answers, Professor Dillon will locate Aelred’s text in a broader contexts of Cistercian musical reform and the theological tenets of conversion. While writers like Bernard of Clairvaux and Aelred advocated the value of remembering to forget in the monk’s experience of God, Dillon will suggest that daily practices of singing offered the community an embodied experience of the spiritual ideals of Cistercian reform and conversion.