Charlemagne: The Father of Western Europe

Moderator: Fred Astren, San Francisco State University

Charlemagne: Myth, Reality, and Legacy / Geoffrey Koziol (UC Berkeley). Even in his own time Charlemagne was known as “the father of Europe.” For once, reality lives up to legend. Charlemagne created a Western European empire, one of the few real empires Europe has ever had. It was often a nasty, violent, and ruthless enterprise, and it ended almost as soon as it had begun. But out of the need to first justify his empire and then save it, Charlemagne created a political ethics different from any before, whether Greek, Roman, or Christian. That legacy is with us still. It is the “Social” in European Social Democracy.

Performance / The men of the a cappella vocal ensemble

Clerestory present Love and the Knight, a tribute to the music-loving Frankish king Charlemagne and his musical legacy in Europe. Beginning with Gregorian Chant and the mystical songs of Hildegard von Bingen, and continuing through the Continental Renaissance and the Romantic masters, Clerestory will lend its clear voices–from countertenor to bass–to songs both sacred and amorous. Flemish polyphony, the French troubadors, the German Männerchor; all these trace their history to the great knight-king who celebrated music in his own age. Introduced by Clifford (Kip) Cranna, San Francisco Opera.More information.

Humanities West Board Fellow Dimitrios Latsis has archived selected program materials, including audio of lectures and performances if available, at the non-profit Internet Archive here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015, 10:00 am – noon and 1:30-4:00 pm

Art Around Charlemagne / Lawrence Nees (University of Delaware). Charlemagne figures prominently in every history of art, and the artistic developments of his time set new directions that would be followed for centuries. The great palace chapel that he built at Aachen survives, but many of the gorgeous illuminated manuscripts and ivory carvings and buildings associated with him were probably not products of his direct patronage. Perhaps it is not in spite of, but because of, his limited personal role that new artistic ideas and practices spread so widely and effectively, through a wide and shifting network of officials stemming from all over Western Europe. Their varying backgrounds enriched not only works produced at and for the court, but promoted rich exchanges of people and ideas that also stimulated responses across Europe. The royal and imperial court of Charlemagne thus played a crucial but limited role in creating and promoting art, and thereby enhanced its impact.

Charlemagne’s Christianity and the Carolingian Renaissance/ Martin Claussen (University of San Francisco). The Christian churches in the middle ages were rich and sometimes powerful institutions, controlling land, treasure, belief, literacy, and education. Like most kings in the period, Charlemagne understood the uses to which churches and religion might be put: propaganda could be disseminated, wealth appropriated, and personnel drafted, all in the service of rulers. Charlemagne himself, coming from a long line of powerful men who acted in this fashion, did just that. But unlike many other kings, as his reign progressed, Charlemagne began to take religion more and more seriously, and he has left us a record of his deepening devotion to the tenets of Christianity. During his long reign (768-814), we can see the effects of his increasingly serious beliefs not only in his personal life, but throughout the vast territories he controlled, as he sponsored or supported a renewal of religion that has come to be known as the Carolingian Renaissance.

Performance: A Lover, Not a Fighter / Kip Cranna (San Francisco Opera) traces the literary transformation of Charlemagne’s legendary warrior Roland from hot-headed fighter to jealousy-crazed lover, as recounted in the Chanson de Roland (1140), Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1532), and Handel’s Orlando (1731). Clifton Massey (countertenor) will be accompanied by Dwight Okamura (piano).

Women and Textiles in the Carolingian World / Valerie Garver (Northern Illinois University).  Both women and the textiles played crucial social, political, and religious roles in the Carolingian world. Fabricating cloths and clothing helped give women a prominent place in Carolingian culture and allowed them to fulfill male expectations that women act morally and care for their households. Women participated in the lasting efforts of Carolingian leaders, not least Charlemagne, to delineate differences more sharply among peoples and spaces because they made the textiles that helped put these ideas into practice. As a result textiles and clothing came to mark status, identity, gender, and religious estate in ways that we can sometimes still see in our own world. Because scholars have only relatively recently come to appreciate the importance of women and textiles in the early Middle Ages, using these subjects to examine Charlemagne’s era provides some new perspectives on this influential European empire.

Panel Discussion/Q&A with All Presenters

Moderated by Fred Astren


Clerestory features Jesse Antin, Kevin Baum, John Bischoff, Dan Cromeenes, Chris Fritzsche, Corey Head, David Kurtenbach, James Monios, and Justin Montigne. Clerestory is the Bay Area’s acclaimed classical a cappella ensemble. Veterans of SF’s finest professional vocal groups, Clerestory’s singers, from countertenor to bass, remain members of the Bay Area choral community and pride themselves on providing unparalleled performances to local audiences. Clerestory is named for cathedral architecture whereby upper windows let in daylight. The ensemble tells the “clear story” of the music it performs through sophisticated performances grounded in decades of experience singing together. Clerestory has been described as “distinctive voices blending in a gorgeous sound” by San Francisco Classical Voice, and “a model of what a great choral concert should be” by BBC Magazine columnist Chloe Veltman. Clerestory’s website features free archived concert recordings and a private e-mail list sign-up. Clerestory is a tax-exempt non-profit that relies on the generosity of its community to sustain its progressive mission.

Martin Claussen (Professor, Saint Ignatius Institute, and Professor of History, University of San Francisco) received his PhD in late antique and early medieval history from the University of Virginia. He has published articles about religion and belief in both these periods, and is the author of a book on early Carolingian church reform.

Clifford (Kip) Cranna, Dramaturg at San Francisco Opera, has served on the staff since 1979. He has a BA in music from University of North Dakota and a PhD in musicology from Stanford. He has served as vocal adjudicator for numerous groups, including the Metropolitan Opera National Council. For 30 years he was Program Editor and Lecturer for the Carmel Bach Festival. He lectures and writes frequently on music, teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory, and often moderates panel discussions such as the Opera Guild’s “Insights.” In 2008 he was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal, the company’s highest honor, and in 2012 he received the Bernard Osher Cultural Award for distinguished efforts to bring excellence to a cultural institution. Dr. Cranna was a longtime member of the Board of Trustees of Chanticleer, a professional vocal ensemble. He is currently on the board of Humanities West and the Advisory Board of the contemporary music group Opera Parallele.

Valerie L. Garver (PhD, University of Virginia) is Director of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Professor of History, Northern Illinois University.  Her research interests center upon the early Middle Ages, particularly the social history of the Carolingian Empire. She is most engaged in questions concerning the history of women, gender, childhood, and family and the historical and interdisciplinary study of material culture. Her publications include Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World (2009). She is currently working on a second book titled “The Meanings and Uses of Textiles and Clothing in the Carolingian World,” which examines a crucial form of early medieval material culture. Her research has been supported by a Solmsen Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Fulbright Program, the American Philosophical Society, and by grants from Northern Illinois University, University of Virginia, and University of Notre Dame.

Geoffrey Koziol (PhD, Stanford) is Professor of History at UC Berkeley. His interests include   politics and ritual in late Carolingian and Capetian France; Carolingian and post-Carolingian monasticism; political power and religious discourse; diplomatic (the study of charters and diplomas); and historiography. He teaches courses ranging widely from northern European culture from the Merovingians to the eve of the Hundred Years’ War, but especially kingship, historiography, archaeology, women, monasticism, the cult of saints, ritual, liturgy, propaganda, political theory, and the transformation of political communities from kingdoms to states, as well as contemporary political mythologies of medieval history. His published work includes The Politics of Memory and Identity in Carolingian Royal Diplomas: The West Frankish Kingdom (840-987) (2012) and Begging Pardon and Favor: Ritual and Political Order in Early Medieval France (1992).

Clifton Massey (countertenor) has been praised for “impeccable phrasing and intonation,” as “an expressive marvel” by San Francisco Classical Voice, and for “depth of tone” by Dallas Morning News. Clifton has appeared as soloist with notable period-instrument groups including Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Concert Royal NYC, American Bach Soloists, and the Dallas Bach Society. He has sung with Ensemble viii, Spire Chamber Ensemble, Clerestory and with the award-winning ensemble Chanticleer with whom he performed over 200 concerts, including the Tanglewood Music Festival, Ravinia Festival, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tokyo Opera City and some of the world’s finest concert halls. Clifton works with area choral groups and currently directs the high school group Ecco of the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, internationally known for their commitment to training the finest musicians of tomorrow. He holds degrees from Texas Christian University and the Indiana University Early Music Institute, where he studied with Paul Elliott, Alan Bennett and Paul Hillier.

Lawrence Nees (PhD, Harvard) is Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Delaware since 1978. His books include The Gundohinus Gospels (1987), A Tainted Mantle: Hercules and the Classical Tradition at the Carolingian Court (1991), and Early Medieval Art (2002); he recently submitted for publication a book manuscript Perspectives on Early Islamic Art in Jerusalem, and is currently completing two other books. He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Mellon Foundation, and residential fellowships at the American Academy in Berlin, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. He served from 2008-2014 as Vice-President and then President of the International Center of Medieval Art.

Dwight Okamura
 has been the orchestral pianist for the Berkeley Symphony, the California Symphony, the Skywalker Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. He has accompanied various Bay Area vocal ensembles including Chanticleer, Musae, Young Woman’s Choral Projects, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, and the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Dwight is a keyboardist with the Best of Broadway series, and has played for the pre- Broadway premiers of “Beautiful”, “Wicked”, “The Mambo Kings”, “Lestat”, “Legally Blonde” and “Mamma Mia”, in addition to “The Lion King” and the revival of “A Chorus Line”, where he also played on the cast recording.