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Spring Talks in Music History: Cesar Favila, UCLA: "Resounding Virginity in New Spanish Convent Sources"

Thursday, April 14, 2022 - 4:15pm
Musicologist Cesar Favila

The University of Washington Music History Program hosts this series of afternoon talks featuring distinguished musicologists sharing their research on a range of topics. The April 14 talk features Cesar Favila, Assistant Professor of Musicology at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, presenting "Resounding Virginity in New Spanish Convent Sources."

Masks are recommended in all indoor spaces on the UW campus. Patrons must show proof of vaccination or recent negative provider-administered COVID-19 PCR test for entry to in-person events at the Music Building. Details of ArtsUW Covid-19 protocols are available here.


If virginity had a sound, it would most likely sound like the Virgin Mary, according to some devotional sources intended for the indoctrination and spiritual contemplation of cloistered nuns in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New Spain. This paper traces that allegory from its inception in reflections on biblical narratives of Mary's life, including the Annunciation and the Visitation, while also highlighting some of the most complicated theological musings on the nature of the Virgin Mary's soul in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. While liturgical and devotional music honoring the Virgin Mary is ubiquitous across the early modern Catholic world—often amplifying the soundscape of local politics—this source study reveals that Mary herself could resound and be echoed. This rhetoric taught nuns that the Virgin of virgins was also the voice of all voices that the nuns themselves could resonate with within their cloisters. But what did the Virgin Mary sound like? Convent chronicles, sermons for nuns’ professions and for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception reveal that Mary resounded in God's life-giving breath at the Creation as an improvised fantasia or an echo in mode 8. The Spanish devotion to the Virgin of the Expectation also mapped the Virgin’s pregnant body to the O of the great O antiphons for the final days of Advent. The rare music manuscripts, literature, and visual art from the early modern Spanish world that come to the fore are situated through the lens of colonial Mexican and Latin American studies on the history of gender and race relations as well as issues in voice studies. This paper problematizes the ambiguity with which the socially constructed insignia of virginity was deployed with sonic theologies of Mary's essence imposed on women religious by male clergymen.

Biography: Cesar Favila

Cesar Favila is a native of rural Northern California and was a first-generation college student. After receiving a BA in music from UC Davis, he earned an MA and PhD in the history and theory of music at the University of Chicago. His research and teaching focus on Mexican music from colonial New Spain to the contemporary Chicano experience. His work resides at the intersections of music, religion, gender, and race. Favila’s work is published in Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, the Bulletin of Spanish Studies, the Journal of the Society for American MusicMexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, and Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture. His book, Immaculate Sounds: The Musical Lives of Nuns in New Spain, is under contract with Oxford University Press’s Currents in Latin American and Iberian Music Series. It will be the first book on women’s contributions to music making in Latin America.

His research has been supported through generous funding from the Academy for American Franciscan History, the American Musicological Society, the American Philosophical Society, the Hellman Fellows Program, the Society for American Music, the Fulbright Program, and UC MEXUS. In 2018, Favila was a Thoma Visiting Scholar in Latin American Colonial Art at UT Austin’s Blanton Museum and Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. In 2021, UCLA Undergraduate Education honored him with an Undergraduate Faculty Mentor Award.

Favila is affiliated faculty member of the UCLA Latin American Institute. He serves on the faculty advisory committees for the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Center for 17th& 18th– Century Studies, the Chicano Studies Research Center, LGBTQ Studies, and the Center for the Study of Women. He is an elected member-at-large of the American Musicological Society Council and was appointed to the AMS Committee on Cultural Diversity.

Upcoming Events in this Series

Thursday, May 19: Lester Hu, Assistant Professor of Musicology, UC Berkeley

All talks are at 4:15 p.m. in the School of Music Fishbowl (Room 101).