Andrew A. Cashner


Research Interests


Full curriculum vitae (PDF)

Most Recent


Hearing Faith: Music as Theology in the Spanish Empire

Leiden: Brill, 2020

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  • Abstract

    Hearing Faith explores the ways Roman Catholics in the seventeenth-century Spanish Empire used music to connect faith and hearing. From the Royal Chapel in Madrid to Puebla Cathedral in colonial Mexico, communities celebrated Christmas and other feasts with villancicos, a widespread genre of vernacular poetry and devotional music. A large proportion of villancico texts directly address the nature of hearing and the power of music to connect people to God. By interpreting complex and fascinating examples of music about music in the context of contemporary theological writing, the book shows how Spanish Catholics embodied their beliefs about music, through music itself. Listening closely to these previously undiscovered and overlooked archival sources reveals how Spanish subjects listened and why.

  • Reviews
    • Review by Andrew Dell’Antonio in Church History, vol. 90, no. 4 (2021), 956–957 (PDF)

      Cashner’s book is the most comprehensive and accessible overview to date in English of the importance and sophistication of the [villancico] genre during the seventeenth century. [...]

      Cashner’s arguments here are carefully and thoroughly documented through primary materials closely associated with Spanish religious writing; his stylistically insightful musical analysis explicates how composers deployed sophisticated musical-expressive devices to shape their villancicos through sometimes subtle variants to established genre-convention. [...] He is careful to frame his close readings with clear and compelling introductions and conclusions to his case studies, which effectively convey the significance of each instance and help the reader understand how these disparate cases share essential characteristics.

      I will eagerly use this book in my teaching and will encourage rising scholars to draw on it as a model of careful and compelling interdisciplinary work.

    • Review by Carolina Sacristán Ramírez in the Yale Journal of Music & Religion, vol. 7, no. 2 (2021), 102–104 (PDF)

      A concise and polished book with an interpretive approach to music, Hearing Faith will be especially appealing for experienced musicologists in the field of villancicos and for scholars interested more broadly in Latin American colonial music or curious about the fascinating intersections between music and religion. The book provides an insight into musical composition and performance as a way to enhance the faithfuls’ understanding of theological notions and thus achieve spiritual transcendence.

      Hearing Faith proposes a fresh perspective on the intellectual and serious side of the repertoire, which has been less examined than its comic or transgressive aspects. Among the book’s strengths is that it brings attention to the relevance of hearing for Catholicism in the seventeenth century. [...] It has been argued that hearing was the center of worship for Protestants [...]. Instead, sight and touch were the privileged senses for Catholics [...]. Hearing Faith calls this assumption into question by offering a glimpse into the sophisticated aural culture of Spanish and colonial Mexican Catholics, which was firmly rooted in Christian Neoplatonic philosophy.

    • Review by Michael P. Noone in the Journal of Jesuit Studies, vol. 8 (2021), 311–340 (PDF)

      Musicology has largely ignored the villancico, a few notable exceptions notwithstanding [...]. The genre’s sources are widely dispersed and poorly catalogued, and critical editions, performances, and recordings are relatively scarce. The interpretative rewards however, as skillfully demonstrated in Cashner’s intense and polished study, are rich.

      Since Cashner’s book is substantially based on these otherwise inaccessible works, the online edition [in the Web Library of Seventeenth-Century music] serves as an invaluable companion to Cashner’s monograph. Hearing Faith expands the online corpus and subjects their texts and musical settings to intense scrutiny, always relating the works and their performance to the broader theological climate from which they emerged and to which they may have contributed.

      Cashner exposes the precise mechanisms employed by poets and composers in the creation of their works. It is as if he takes us into their studios and allows us to observe their creative decisions. The villancicos emerge as surprisingly complex works that depend on the twin discourses of theology and music as complementary ways of knowing. [...] Cashner combines forensic musical and textual analysis to reveal the villancico as an unexpected site for theological discourse and in doing so opens the way for the much more comprehensive study of music as theology in the vast Spanish empire that his title invites.

    • Review by Lisa Marie Chaufty in Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 76, no. 1 (2023), 323–324 (PDF)

      This rich and fascinating monograph is a unique study of a selection of sacred villancicos with texts about music. The generously scoped title invites readers into a very focused study with a breadth of implications toward a greater understanding of Spanish Catholics and their world around 1650. [...]

      Cashner argues in part that worshipers who listened to villancicos received what could be called theological ear training, engaging in a practice that would develop their listening skills with the purpose to increase their abilities to understand the theological ideas carried through the poetic and musical texts. [...] Multiple musical settings of the same villancico text on the subject of music, especially, not only illuminate the networks between composers of villancicos but also display the variety of practices for representing the musical ideas of the texts, with composers thus demonstrating their mastery of musical-theological tropes. [...]

      Cashner’s detailed and thorough presentation of the seventeenth-century villancico truly offers refreshing insight into how we can listen and try to understand villancicos through historic ears.

Digital-Humanities Projects

Songs at the Woods’ Edge: The Earth Songs of the Seneca Nation (with Bill Crouse,

Supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for Digital Publication, 2023–2024

Arca musarithmica: A Device for Automatic Music Composition from 1650 (


Kircherizers and Trisectors: Athanasius Kircher’s Automatic Composition System in the Spanish Empire

Anuario musical no. 77 (2022), 51–75

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  • Abstract

    Athanasius Kircher (1602—1680) described in Musurgia universalis (1650) a device for automatic music composition called the Arca musarithmica, and at least three physical implementations of the Arca survive in the UK and the rest of Europe. While Kircher’s general influence on the lettered elite of the Spanish Empire, including Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, has been well established, this article presents the first evidence that anyone in the realms of Spain actually tried to use the Arca. Two manuscript miscellanies—one created in Puebla around 1695 and the other in Madrid around 1785—include abridged versions of the Arca musarithmica. The source from Puebla’s Biblioteca Palafoxiana, I argue, constitutes a partial but functional implementation of the device—a fourth surviving Arca. The collection also opens a window into the preoccupations of Kircher enthusiasts in New Spain: it includes geometrical notes on trisecting the angle alongside accounting records for the Church’s tithe tax (diezmos) and writings on engineering, alchemy, ancient chronology, architecture, and other topics that were seen at the time as aspects of mathematics. But if the Arca in 1690s Puebla furthered a quest for universal knowledge, the Madrid source from a century later reflects an amateur’s bungling effort to make sense of Kircher’s complex system, and suggests that by the end of the eighteenth century the Arca was seen as more of a curiosity.

Athanasius Kircher’s Arca musarithmica (1650) as a Computational System

Part of the digital-humanities project Arca musarithmica: A Device for Automatic Music Composition from 1650, (2022)

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  • Abstract

    In book eight of Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis (Rome, 1650), this Jesuit polymath describes a computing device for automated music composition, called the Arca musarithmica. A new software implementation of Kircher’s device in Haskell, a pure-functional programming language, demonstrates that the Arca can be made into a completely automatic computational system. Moreover, the project also demonstrates that in its original form, the Arca already constituted a computational system optimized for a human user, and almost completely automatic: as Kircher advertised, a completely amusical user could generate music simply by using the device according to his rules. The device itself served as a microcosm of Kircher’s goal in the Musurgia to encapsulate and codify all musical knowledge, and demonstrate that music manifested the underlying mathematical order of the Creation and its Creator. This article analyzes the concepts and methods of computation in Kircher’s original system, in dialogue with the interpretation of his system in software. The Arca musarithmica, now available on the web, makes it possible actually to hear how well Kircher was able to reduce seventeenth-century music to algorithmic rules. The successes of the system are inseparable from many paradoxical elements that raises broader questions about how Kircher and his contemporaries understood the links between composition and computation, mathematics and rhetoric, traditional harmonic theory and emerging tonal practice, and concepts of invention and authorship.

Bringing Heavenly Music down to Earth: Global Exchange and Local Devotion at Segovia Cathedral, 1678

Music & Letters vol. 103, no. 1 (2022), pp. 27–59

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  • Abstract

    A few months before Christmas in 1678, Miguel de Irízar, the thrifty chapelmaster of Segovia Cathedral, made a notebook out of a pile of his received letters, drafting music on the margins of letters from other musicians about the exchange of music and poetry. This article examines Irízar’s output of villancicos for Segovia, including works written for specific local devotional practices, and, through a codicological analysis and sketch study of his letter-notebook of 1678, reconstructs the chapelmaster’s compositional process. Irízar adapted and rearranged the texts he received in correspondence to tailor a coherent cycle for his own community. Based on a new edition of the first villancico in the 1678 cycle, the article analyses Irízar’s use of musical conventions and practical craftsmanship in producing music that suited his ensemble and congregation. Villancicos served as a point of intersection for local and global aspects of both music and devotion.

Imitating Africans, Listening for Angels: A Slaveholder’s Fantasy of Social Harmony in an Ethnic Villancico from Colonial Puebla (1652)

The Journal of Musicology, vol. 38, issue 2 (2021), pp. 141–182

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    • Download PDF of full text1
    • Recording of my edition of Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla's Al estáblo más dichoso by the Newberry Consort
  • Abstract

    Church ensembles of Spaniards across the Spanish Empire regularly impersonated African and other non-Castilian characters in the villancicos they performed in the Christmas Matins liturgy. Although some scholars and performers still mistakenly assume that ethnic villancicos preserve authentic Black or Native voices, and others have critiqued them as Spaniards’ racist caricatures, there have been few studies of the actual music or of specific local contexts. This article analyzes Al establo más dichoso (At the happiest stable), an ensaladilla composed by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla for Christmas 1652 at Puebla Cathedral. In this performance his ensemble impersonated an array of characters coming to Christ’s mangers, including Indian farm laborers and African slaves. The composer uses rhythm to differentiate the speech and movement of each group, and at the climax he even has the Angolans and the angels sing together—but in different meters.

    Based on the first edition of this music, the article interprets this villancico within the social and theological context of colonial Puebla and its new cathedral, consecrated in 1649. I argue that through this music, members of the Spanish elite performed their own vision of a hierarchical and harmonious society. Gutiérrez de Padilla was himself both a priest and a slaveholder, and his music elevates its characters in certain ways while paradoxically also mocking them and reinforcing their lowly status. Building on Paul Ricoeur’s concept of the three worlds of the text, the article compares the representations imagined within the musical performance with archival evidence for the social history of the people represented and the composer’s own relationships with them (the world behind the text). Looking to the world projected in front of the text, I argue that these caricatured representations both reflected and shaped Spaniards’ attitudes toward their subjects in ways that actively affected the people represented. At the same time, I argue that Spanish representations mirrored practices of impersonation among Native American and African communities, especially the Christmastide Black Kings festivals, pointing to a more complex and contradictory vision of colonial society than what we can see from the slaveholder’s musical fantasy alone.

Playing Cards at the Eucharistic Table: Music, Theology, and Society in a Corpus Christi Villancico from Colonial Mexico, 1628

Journal of Early Modern History, vol. 18, no. 4 (2014), 383—419

Selected for the 2015 Alfred Einstein Award of the American Musicological Society

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    • Download PDF of full text2
    • Performance of surviving parts on organ by Andrew Cashner (recorded in Fulton Hall, University of Chicago, 2011):

  • Abstract

    As part of the festivities of Corpus Christi in 1628, a cathedral choir in colonial Mexico sang about the Eucharist through the metaphor of a card game. This music is a previously unstudied, fragmentary villancico, composed by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla for the cathedral of Puebla de los Ángeles, and it opens a window into the social history of card-playing and gambling in the Spanish colonies. It stems from a broader tradition of divinizing cards, including poetry and drama by Lope de Vega and González de Eslava. The article explores the theological and social implications of using liturgical music to present Christ as a rogue card player, winning humanity back from the devil by laying down the trump card of his own body on the table. Includes an edition of the surviving music. The online version includes a recording played on the organ by the author.

Critical Music Editions

Villancicos about Music from Seventeenth-Century Spain and New Spain

Dissertations and Theses

PhD Dissertation: Faith, Hearing, and the Power of Music in Hispanic Villancicos, 1600—1700

University of Chicago, 2015 (Advisor: Robert L. Kendrick)

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    • The dissertation is available through ProQuest Dissertations, but it is now superseded by my monograph, edition, and additional publications listed above, which correct its errors.
  • Abstract

    In seventeenth-century Mexico and Spain, many villancicos (the predominant genre of vocal sacred music with vernacular words) used music to represent itself, with topics of singing, dancing, and music of the spheres. This study draws on such pieces as sources for understanding early modern Catholic beliefs about music. The central question concerns music’s role in the relationship between hearing and faith, particularly as used by the Spanish church and state. In a series of case studies, the project traces lineages of “metamusical” villancicos on the subject of heavenly music through networks of interrelated musicians. The study balances a global perspective with local case studies, with particular focus on Puebla de los Ángeles in Mexico and Montserrat, Segovia, and Zaragoza in Spain.

Master’s Thesis: The Reception of Paul Gerhardt’s Hymns in the Seventeenth Century

University of Notre Dame, 2009 (Advisor: Mary E. Frandsen)

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  • Abstract

    Despite the prominence of the hymns of Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) in the liturgical works of J. S. Bach and in churches today, scholars like Irmgard Scheitler and Walter Blankenburg have argued that Lutherans in the seventeenth century used new hymns like Gerhardt’s only for private devotion, and did not sing them in public liturgies until the eighteenth century, under the influence of Pietism. In contrast, Christian Bunners argues that church choirs introduced the liturgical use of these hymns before Pietism. This thesis explores the role of Gerhardt’s hymns in Lutheran communities in the three spheres of home, school, and church. It critically examines numerous hymnal publications, and presents new evidence from school and church manuscript collections and inventories, not considered by the other scholars, arguing that Gerhardt’s hymns were not relegated to domestic use, but were also sung in church in many places by school choirs and perhaps also congregations.