In the decades leading up to and during the first years of the Wars of Religion, Huguenots and Catholics waged audible battles over sonic territories using songs as spiritual weapons. Huguenots memorized and communally sang metrical psalms in the vernacular as sonic markers of the Reformed faith. Catholics interpreted these same sounds as pollution in need of eradication. Artus Desiré, for example, responded by producing polemical contrepoison, musical antidotes created by composing new countertexts to Marot’s Psalm tunes to “cleanse” them of their perceived heresy. While scholars have long recognized both the destructive nature of iconoclastic attacks on religious buildings, artworks, and musical instruments, and the deployment of song in the confessional conflicts of sixteenth-century Europe, we still lack an analysis of the techniques of erasure employed by Catholics and Huguenots as they struggled to control, shape, and dominate sonic spaces. Some types of singing in the context of confessional politics, I argue, were heard as sonic pollution, and soundscapes—the complex relationships, mediated through sounds, between humans and their environment— needed to be purified by erasing texts to cleanse melodies, by drowning out opposing singers, or by exterminating the offending voices. For the people who lived through these tumultuous and violent times, songs were charged with emotional significance and were more than symbolic; they were markers of identity and at times could function as a call to arms to defend one’s faith. I argue that in some cases sonic purification prefigured corporeal violence as spiritual song ratcheted up confessional tensions.

Author Biography

John Romey is an assistant professor of musicology at Purdue University Fort Wayne. He has published articles in Early Modern French Studies, The Journal of Musicology, and Cambridge Opera Journal; book chapters in A History of Women and Musical Salons (CUP, forthcoming), Tanz Musik Transfer (Leipzig University Press, 2018), and Haydn and His Contemporaries II (Steglein Press, 2015); and two annotated bibliographies in Oxford Bibliographies in Music.

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