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24 Nov - "What opera tells us about language, speech, music" Lecture by Costantino Maeder, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium

The visit of Costantino Maeder is organised in collaboration with Lucio Spaziante from the Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies.

Nov 24, 2020 from 05:30 PM to 07:00 PM

Where Online on Microsoft Teams (link in the description)

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To put it simply, opera is a drama that is sung and relies on orchestral accompaniment. It renders through music, performance, literature, and language, human communication with all its entanglements, contradictions, paradoxical aspects, studied in pragmatics, linguistics, cognitive sciences, psychology, to name a few. In this context, the human voice as such plays an important role. It is a powerful tool for communication. It ranges over pitch, duration, loudness and timbre, allowing us to communicate a whole spectrum of lexico-semantic, syntactic, and affective-emotional content. The vocal organ is able to generate sounds with minute transitions between different positions in pitch and timbre space and to modulate them using temporal and dynamic modulations in a continuous way. This holds true for speech but also for music. Yet there is an apparent distinction between the two: speech relies more on language as a system with a lexicon of words and syntactic instructions of combination as well as pragmatic rules. Music also relies on discrete elements, such as pitch, chords and duration, but contrary to language, there is usually no established lexicon. Language is centrifugal and referential: attention is being directed away from the text in order to grasp the meaning outside the written text, where music is often centripetal, with a focus on the auditory material that refers mainly to itself. The case of vocal music, however, challenges this dividing line. Speech as well goes beyond what is said through « dictionaries » and « grammar ». The affective, « musical » dimension of language is often underrated. The study of Italian opera, as well as of most other representational forms in Western Music that are influenced by Italian opera (Musical, rock opera, visual albums, etc.), offers interesting insight on how communication, music, and language were and are defined in our socio-cultural context. While many claimed that music dominated text (19th century), or text dominated music in opera (18th century), we claim that music, in this context, has a metalinguistic function, while text has a metamusical function. These metamusical and metalinguistic dimensions, although they can take the most varied forms, remain exceptionally similar for almost four centuries. From the operas of the dawn of the Florentine Camerata Fiorentina to Idroscalo Pasolini, a recent chamber work by Taglietti and Pasquini, the depiction of communication, language, music and its functions and purposes remains virtually unchanged, revealing a particular idea of what language and its purposes are.

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Since the very beginning of his studies, Costantino Maeder combined, in a transdisciplinary way, musicology, theoretical approaches to literature and to theoretical linguistics, fascinated by our ability to parallel process the seemingly most disparate semiotic systems in everyday live and in the arts. Maeder started his academic career as a research assistant in Artificial Intelligence, and later as an assistant in Italian literature, always trying to combine the study of music, literature, and linguistics. In his further career in Amsterdam and now at the Catholic University of Louvain, Maeder has taught and researched Linguistics, Didactics as well as Literature, without neglecting musicology. At first mostly influenced by Pragmatics and French and Italian Structuralist Semiotics, he has since explored other forms of semiotics and to the Cognitive Sciences. In many of the conference Maeder has organized, the idea of interlinking knowledge and offering a meeting point to scholars from different disciplines where exchange and discussion are central, was of primary importance. His publications reflect this as well: Maeder has published articles and books on Italian Opera, performing arts, song cycles, poetry, literature, often combining cognitive, semiotic, and linguistic approaches. This very interest in exchange and dialogue can be seen as well in his frequent interchange with philology and other approaches to literature and music. The following conferences were organised in order to promote exchange and dialogue between different disciplines: - International Conference: Identità e diversità nella lingua e nella letteratura italiana. XVIII Conference AISLLI (KULeuven – UCLouvain, University Antwerpen – Université libre de Bruxelles, July,16-19, 2003 [événement inscrit dans le cadre d’EUROPALIA et de la présidence italienne de l’Union européenne]. -XIIth Congress on Musical Signification: « Music, Semiotics and Intermediality. (April 2-6, 2013), organized with Mark Reybrouck and André Helbo. At the present moment, his Research Center is affected to ISPOLE a research institute that gathers mainly scholars from Political Sciences. In this case as well, the transdisciplinary exchange of knowledge is key. A new project is to study how artistic artefacts that rely on music as well or only on music alone interact with politics, how do humans connect music to politics, how and through which means music conveys political statements.