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Release: May 25, 2001

UI music professor, Elizabeth Aubrey, has new publication on women poet-composers

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Elizabeth Aubrey, professor of musicology at the University of Iowa School of Music, is co-author of a new book, "Songs Of The Women Trouveres," recently published by Yale University Press.

Aubrey, who edited the music in the book and wrote parts of the introduction, collaborated on the book with Eglal Doss-Quinby, professor of French at Smith College; Joan Tasker Grimbert, professor of French at the Catholic University of America; and Wendy Pfeffer, professor of French and chair of classical and modern languages at the University of Louisville.

Trouveres were poet-musicians found in the cities and courts of the north of France in the 12th and 13th centuries. They represented the same class of musicians that in the south of France were known as troubadours, a word that today has come to mean any wandering minstrel. In scholarly writing about the Middle Ages, however, both words refer to specific groups of composers whose poetry and music developed into very sophisticated art forms.

Flourishing in a courtly society, the troubadours and trouveres represent one of the most important medieval musical traditions that has been recorded. Their songs are viewed today as the most important early step in the development of modern lyric poetry.

The new book is an important contribution to women’s studies, as it refutes a widespread belief that there are no extant Old French lyrics by women from this period. Aubrey and the other editors bring together for the first time the works of women trouveres, including songs attributed to eight named female trouveres and a varied selection of anonymous compositions whose texts are in the feminine voice.

In a pre-publication review, Joseph J. Duggan of the University of California at Berkeley wrote, "This outstanding book brings the corpus of women trouveres poetry squarely to the forefront and will change thinking about the trouveres."

"This was a rewarding project for me," Aubrey said, "because it gave me an opportunity to work with three fine scholars of medieval literature." The four co-authors exchanged almost daily
e-mail over the course of many months, Aubrey explained, and each member of the interdisciplinary team learned a great deal from the others.

"I gained a new appreciation for the plight of women in medieval Europe as they expressed their thoughts, feelings, and desires in sometimes very intense and emotional poetry," Aubrey said. "My appetite was whetted to perform some of the songs, which I plan to do soon."

Aubrey has specialized in the study and performance of the music of the trouveres and troubadours. Her first book, "The Music of the Troubadours," was published in 1996 to enthusiastic reviews. The Times (London) Literary Supplement wrote that it is "a down-to-earth treatment which should ensure that (the book) remains of value for many years to come." The Music Library Association journal Notes called the book "a monument in musicology, one no music library should be without. It should be required reading for all students of music history and the Middle Ages."

A faculty member in the musicology area in the UI School of Music, Aubrey is known internationally as a scholar of medieval music and literature. She has published articles and reviews in scholarly journals including Early Music History, The Journal of Musicology, Acta Musicologica and Historical Performance. She is a contributor to the revised edition of "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians" and to the new edition of the German music reference work "Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart" (Music in history and the present).

Aubrey is also widely known as a performer of early music. She has presented solo recitals in medieval songs in the United States, Canada and Europe, and she performed professionally in the Washington, D.C., area, before joining the UI faculty. She is the director of Musick’s Feast, an early music ensemble that recently concluded its first season of concerts. A charitable organization, Musick’s Feast donates all concert proceeds to charities that help alleviate world hunger. During the 2000-2001 concert year, Musick’s Feast raised more than $5,500 for hunger-relief charities.

Aubrey has served on the Council of the American Musicological Society, the board of directors of the International Machaut Society, the editorial board of the journal Historical Performance, and a term as president of the Midwest Chapter of the American Musicological Society. She has received grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Aubrey received her bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College, and both masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Maryland. She has been on the faculty of the UI since 1982.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts.

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