Law and music, a history of norms and sensitivity

droitetmusique-smallWords from completely different domains can be used without even noticing their origin. Scholars conduct research but seldom think of conductors leading an orchestra or choir. A two-day conference in Aix-en-Province (June 30 and July 1, 2016) offers a rare chance to bring the two domains of law and music together. The title Droit et musique: Entre normes et sensibilité, “Law and Music, Between norms and sensitivity”, seems aptly chosen, even though anglophone readers should immediately be at their qui-vive to distinguish between sensibility and sensitivity.

In this post I will give you an impression of the themes to be addressed at this conference held at two locations in Aix-en-Provence, on June 30 at the Amphitheâtre Favoureu of the Faculté de droit et science politique, and on July 1 at the Musée Granet. I found the announcement about this conference at the events calendar Nomôdos, since last year a part of the French Portail universitaire du droit, where you can find also a section for law and culture (Droit et culture).

Two spheres

The two-day conference has two mottoes which link law and music to each other. Danielle Montet formulated reflecting on ancient history and philosophy the thought that both spheres, law and music, deal with composition. The law poses order on society, just like music supports a good disposition of things in the mind and in a city. The second motto stems from Norbert Rouland who wrote law is not the work of a legislator, enlightened or not, but an unconscious collective construction of the Volksgeist, mediated and interpreted by a lawyer. Composition and interpretation seem indeed shared features of law and music.

Let’s look at the program of the conference in Aix-en-Provence. The first day has as its central theme La musique revisitée par le droit, music revisited by law. In particular the section on philosophy and history has space for legal history. Maria Paolo Mittica looks at music and law in ancient Greece. Fouzi Rherrousse will speak about a musical movement within Islam. The Catholic codification of liturgical music in the nineteenth century is the subject of the contribution of Blandine Chelini-Pont. Emmanuele Saulnier-Cassia will present the musical interpretation of the fundamental rights of condemned people. Vassili Tokarev looks at the twin theme of musical criticism and legal criticism in Nietzsche’s work. Patricia Signorile will discuss the philosophical foundations of the connections between law and music.

In the other sections legal history does make less often an appearance. Marc Pena will take Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as a starting point for a paper about the realities and representation of Venice’s territory. Ugo Bellagamba looks at the uses of dissonance and musical resolution in operas about Tancredi from André Campra to Gioacchino Rossini to distill views and perspectives on the First Crusade. Interesting, too, is a paper by Antoine Leca about the judge Jean de Dieu d’Olivier, author of a treatise about the art of legislation, and his views on legal composition. It makes certainly curious about his Essai sur l’art de législation and its influence on French revolutionary and Restoration law. In Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, you can consult the editions of his work published in 1800 and 1815. Christian Bruschi will deal with Montesquieu and his views concerning music and society. Tchaikovsky as a failed lawyer and a succesful composer will be the subject of a paper by Anatoly Kovler.

Other contributors will take a more comparative point of view. Giorgio Resta will consider the way lawyers use musical metaphors. Alizée Cirino will discuss the problems of co-authorship of musical works, the possible clash of interests and the way rights are shared. André Roux looks at the relation between the French constitution and the national anthem. I remember the anecdote about the orchestral arrangement made by Hector Berlioz in 1830 of La Marseillaise which allegedly was banned by the French government because it was considered to be too rousing. At a concert in Utrecht decades ago with French revolutionary music by Méhul and Gossec Berlioz’s work indeed made a terrific impression.

It is possible to allude here to a Dutch link to the twin sisters law and music. At least one Dutch legal historian has all rights to feel himself familiar with music and the tasks of conducting, Not only is Jop Spruit the son of the Dutch conductor Henk Spruit (1906-1998), he actually worked a few years for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The way Spruit led a team of Dutch legal historians translating the various parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis does in a way resemble the activity of a conductor. In my view it is not entirely a coincidence Jop Spruit started this project, and more importantly, conducted it to a resounding end. You can read more about his life and career in an interview by Louis Berkvens and Jean-François Gerkens, ‘Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen (13). Interview met J.E. Spruit’, Pro Memorie 17//1 (2015) 3-47.

The choice of themes and even a strong preponderance of French subjects at the conference in Aix-en-Provence should work as an invitation to explore this theme yourself. There is more to find out beyond for example the musical background of Anton Thibaut, the German lawyer advocating the codification of German law. He had to face the powerful rhetorical and legal skills of Friedrich Carl von Savigny whose views against legal codification prevailed for many years in the early nineteenth century. This contribution can be only a prelude to the real music. Interpreting law and subjects in legal history is such a common practice that it is most welcome to reflect on this core activity from an unexpected angle.

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