Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Birth order and consequences

This very long review of a couple of new books about the history of the Castrato contains a lot of information.  Here are a couple of paragraphs, noting which boys got to draw the short straw, so to speak:

It began, it seems, because women were not allowed to sing in church,
and, in the Papal States, were banned from singing at all. ‘It is
important to bear in mind,’ Feldman writes, ‘that castrations for
singing, beginning well before 1600, took place only in Italy,
geographic heartland of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.’
While London warmed to castrati, and paid them fortunes, the English did
not castrate their own. One contemporary of Handel’s commented on this:
‘You Englishmen complain that castrati are too costly, so that too much
money ends up in Italian lands, but if you want to make all this use of
them and [still] make savings, it’s amazing that for such a profit you
still can’t castrate there.’
Castrati, for Feldman, can be understood as the second sons of Italian families who, instead of goinginto the military or the church, took up singing, and in order to excel
had to make a sacrifice. She notes that castration arose at a time in
Italy when the eldest son got most or all of the inheritance. For one of
the others, getting castrated was a way to deal with the problem of
making a living. She writes rather well about this notion of sacrifice,
quoting Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, two late 19th-century writers on
the general subject of sacrifice. They wrote, according to Feldman, that
the victim ‘somehow has to be ravaged in a solemn but devastating way …
The end goal is to sanction the victim so as to authorise him for a
special purpose, removing him … from ordinary life … by radical
alteration that leads to a kind of rebirth. Thereafter the victim, now
improved, mediates between sacred and profane worlds.’

No comments: