Kate van Orden

Kate van Orden

Dwight P. Robinson Jr. Professor of Music
van orden
  • Region(s): France; Europe; Mediterranean
  • Time Period(s): 16th century; 17th century; 18th century
  • Theme(s): Musicology; Music Theory; Music History; History of the Book





Research Interests

My research favors the ephemeral and works to recover histories only marginally legible in the documents of high culture. My current projects grapple with questions of cultural mobility, human mobility, and migration and aim to develop models for connected histories of music in the sixteenth century. Polyglotism and heteroglossia are central themes in my present book project, Songs in Unexpected Places, which concentrates on minority communities and “foreign” songs in European cities such as Lyon, Venice, and Rome. Meanwhile, my new edited volume outlines promising research trajectories at the larger scale of global music history: Seachanges: Music in the Mediterranean and Colonial Worlds, 1550-1800, I Tatti Research Series (2021).

My most enduring scholarly interest has been the French chanson, and beginning with my edited collection, Music and the Cultures of Print (New York, 2000), I have developed critical approaches that leverage the popularity, broad circulation, and vastness of the chanson repertoire to chart new histories of musicking in the sixteenth century. Music, Authorship, and the Book in the First Century of Print (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2013) contests celebratory accounts of the rise of the composer as author. Materialities: Books, Readers, and the Chanson in 16th-c. Europe (Oxford and New York, 2015) is the first major study to situate music in the histories of reading, literacy, education, and collecting.

My first book, Music, Discipline, and Arms in Early Modern France (Chicago, 2005), studied French military nobles and the regulating force of music in their culture of physical action, with special attention to court ballet, fencing, pyrrhic dance, and equestrian ballet.


I see classes as opportunities to experience music together and confront unfamiliar values in real time. For instance, my course on California in the 60s works from the precept that listening to “feel-good” surf rock, “mind-blowing” acid rock, and “zen” minimalism exposes us to a series of countercultural attitudes prevalent during that tumultuous decade. For fans of the Renaissance, I teach a course in which students learn to play the viola da gamba using early lesson books and partbooks. Here contact with a historical instrument, the physical behaviors it imposes on the player, and the community built by consort playing create a uniquely early modern experience in the classroom. If you’re currently in one of my classes, just remember that my favorite course is inevitably the one I’m teaching at the moment.

Biography, Awards, Service

After receiving a Ph.D. in Music History and Theory at the University of Chicago in 1996, I held fellowships at the Warburg Institute in London and the Columbia Society of Fellows in the Humanities. I taught at the University of California, Berkeley from 1997 until I joined the Harvard faculty in 2013. In 2016, I was named a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow in recognition of Materialities.

My work has been supported by two AAUW Fellowships (1994, 1999), two President’s Fellowships from the University of California (1999, 2006), and a fellowship from the ACLS (2010). From 2003-2005, I held a Studium Fellowship from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, which allowed me to work at the Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance in Tours, France, and in 2017-18, I was a Marta Sutton Weeks Senior Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. National awards include the Paul Pisk Prize, the Noah Greenberg Award, and the Lewis Lockwood Award, all from the American Musicological Society, as well as the Nancy Lyman Roelker Prize from the Sixteenth Century Society for my article “Female Complaintes” (Renaissance Quarterly, 2001) and the Richard S. Hill Award from the Music Library Association for my discovery, with Alfredo Vitolo, of a large Renaissance music library, the Pagliarini Collection (Early Music History 2010). International distinctions include the bi-annual book award from the Society for Renaissance Studies for Materialities (2015) and the Medal of Honor from the city of Tours, France (2016), for outstanding contributions to our understanding of the Renaissance.

I currently serve as Editor-in-Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Music and co-edit the series Musics in Motion with Kay Kaufman Shelemay at the University of Michigan Press. I also serve on the editorial boards of Early Music History and the series The New Cultural History of Music (Oxford) and the advisory board of several journals; I was Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Musicological Society from 2008 to 2010. My service to scholarly societies includes acting as Discipline Representative for Music for the Renaissance Society of America (2012-14) and serving on the Board of Directors of the American Musicological Society (2012-14). I am President-elect of the International Musicological Society and will serve from 2022 to 2027.


As a performer, I specialize in historical performance on the bassoon. After studies in Amsterdam and The Hague, I began my career performing and recording with early music ensembles such as Les Arts Florissants (dir. William Christie), Collegium Vocale Ghent (dir. Philippe Herreweghe), Anima Aeterna (dir. Jos van Immerseele), and La Petite Bande (dir. Sigiswald Kuijken). Since returning to America, I have performed primarily with Tafelmusik (dir. Jeanne Lamon), Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (dir. Nicholas McGegan), and American Bach Soloists (dir. Jeffrey Thomas), and have appeared at the London Proms, Utrecht Festival, Salzburg Festival, and in concerts across the North America and Europe. You can hear me on Sony, Virgin Classics, Glossa, Teldec, and Harmonia Mundi and as a soloist on a recording of Michel Corrette’s Les délices de la solitude on ATMA Baroque (2006) with Les Voix Humaines, Montreal.

In my research, the exchanges between history and performance go both ways—not only can history inform performance, performance inflects my writing of history. The most spectacular intersection of these ways of knowing came during my research for Music, Discipline, and Arms, which enabled me to reconstruct the famous equestrian ballet performed for the engagement of Louis XIII in 1612. With an army of musicians, costumers, horses, and riders, we gave the work its modern premiere at the Berkeley Festival of Early Music in 2000 to the acclaim of the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.


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