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Winner of the John Nicholas Brown Prize

2019 John Nicholas Brown Prize

Anna Zayaruznaya, The Monstrous New Art: Divided Forms in the Late Medieval Mote (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Anna Zayaruznaya, in her learned, witty, rigorously argued, and concise The Monstrous New Art: Divided Forms in the Late Medieval Motet, identifies a collection of unusual fourteenth-century motets about monstrous beings and argues convincingly for a new approach to the genre. First quoting writers known to medieval musicians, the author defines motets as ‘songs alive’ with personalities and agencies. Next, with arguments rich in citations of texts from the Bible and antique and medieval literature, she analyzes motets as representations of monstrosity through formal divisions including isorhythm, alternating sound blocks, and layering, which become allegories for dismemberment or disjunction. Her analytical strategy is then applied to motets about other divisible unities, including the Trinity and Goddess Fortuna, leading her to propose a new ontology of the motet as ‘creature concept,’ an entity with a shape and an inclusive autonomy, even, when widening her purview to include all motets, as a ‘form-idea.’ The motet, here no longer just an inscrutable mind game for musicians, becomes part of a wider culture of anthropomorphism, zoomorphism, and intellectual division, and of ideas passing between writers and musicians. Previous analyses of motets have emphasized their formal features or theological narratives; this book re-centers attention on no less than the ontology of the genre, with broad consequences for our understanding of late medieval thought and creativity.

Of the many books submitted for the 2019 John Nicholas Brown Prize, including some singularly important contributions to their fields, The Monstrous New Art, an entirely fresh interpretation of a musical genre that has challenged major musicologists for more than a century, was judged by unanimous decision of the committee as most worthy for its quality in every respect: pathbreaking thought, rigorous and precisely expressed argumentation, lively and engaging writing, and meticulously produced examples and tables.

 

Christopher Baswell, Chair (Barnard College and Columbia University)

Barbara Haggh-Huglo (University of Maryland, College Park)

Gail McMurray Gibson (Davidson College)

 

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