On the evening of July 3, 1620, the son-in-law of a former Tuscan first secretary was arrested in the apartment of a woman reputed to be the best singer in Florence. Because she was also a cloistered nun in the community of Santa Verdiana, the man in her apartment was charged with the capital crime of "sacrilegio stupro." His (successful) defense was based on the claim that he derived his erotic satisfaction not from carnal contact but by listening to (and talking with) virtuoso singers.
In what kind of world could a man whose life was at stake consider mounting such a defense, and in what kind of world could it have sown enough doubt about the crime that the judges would resist pressure from Tuscany's new regent Grand Duchesses that he receive the harshest penalty? This project seeks answers to both questions (and some others) by applying to the scandal's voluminous documentation anthropologist Steven Feld's notion that sound is a register of human epistemology that yields answers not easily available through other registers. The present talk will focus where my work this semester does, on the acoustical ecology (or acoustical regime) of the community of Santa Verdiana.
Suzanne G. Cusick, Professor of Music on the Faculty of Arts and Science at New York University, has published extensively on gender and sexuality in relation to the musical cultures of early modern Italy and of contemporary North America. Her 2009 monograph Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power (largely drafted at Villa I Tatti) received the "Best Book" award of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women. Since 2006, she has also studied the use of sound and sexual shaming in the detention and interrogation of prisoners held during the 21st-century’s “war on terror.”