Sounding (Out) 19th-Century Italy is a 12-month project, running from April 2019 to March 2020, funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award and based at the University of Cambridge. The project aims to establish an interdisciplinary network of junior and senior scholars working on Italian sonic cultures of the long 19th century, as well as to facilitate open discussion with practitioners, performers and audience members.
Opera has traditionally acted as the ‘soundtrack’ of modern Italy. The genre has been closely associated with the so-called Risorgimento and the country’s birth as a nation-state in 1861, while at the same time vocal sound has more broadly stood as the chief aural marker of Italy and Italianness. Recent investigations by musicologists and cultural historians have convincingly shaken the myth that sees operatic works and composers as key players in the country’s political unification during the mid-19th century. Yet only a few contributions have explored the intersection of sound and listening with Italy’s various geographical contexts, changing technological landscapes and broader sensory regimes between the late 18th and early 20th centuries.
Sounding (Out) 19th-Century Italy aims to examine the multifaceted phenomenon of sound during Italy’s long 19th century from social, cultural and historical-scientific perspectives. The project will attempt to expand the spectrum of sounds traditionally taken to encapsulate Italy and Italianness, attending to underrepresented geographical areas (such as the islands and the countryside) and media environments extending beyond, as well as ‘behind’, the operatic stage. It will seek to broaden the range of voices that have so far been most influential in shaping the sonic discourse on italianità, foregrounding questions of power and bringing the views of travellers, critics and musicians into dialogue with the concerns of linguists, scientists and engineers.
Two main forums will generate dialogue across disciplines and between distinct groups of participants: an academic workshop, and a public engagement event and live performance. Further events and spaces for discussion will include a launch talk, a reading group, and a small archive of blog posts and multimedia material.
The photograph is a detail of 'Le maestranze della fonderia' (The foundry's workers), 1908.
Reproduction courtesy of the Pontificia fonderia di campane Marinelli.