Jessie Ann Owens
Distinguished Professor of Music
Graduate Advisor, Musicology and Ethnomusicology
Owens earned her Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1978 with a dissertation that explored a cultural artifact of the Bavarian court—a lavishly illuminated manuscript of motets by the Flemish composer Cipriano de Rore, with a commentary by humanist Samuel Quickelberg. Her early work focused on archival research about Italian Renaissance music. Fellowships from the Villa I Tatti—the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence—and the American Council of Learned Societies enabled her to explore music at the Este court in Ferrara during the mid-sixteenth century. Owens edited the thirty-volume series The Sixteenth-Century Madrigal with Garland Publishing, the first modern edition of a number of madrigal books. Another interest is historiography, especially as it relates to our understanding of a musical Renaissance. She also served as series editor of Criticism and Analysis of Early Music (Garland, now Routledge).
Analytical work on early music led Owens to a study of mode and key as organizing principles in music and the investigation of musical structures through a study of compositional process. Her book Composers at Work: The Craft of Musical Composition 1450–1600 (Oxford University Press, 1997) received the 1998 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. It is the first systematic investigation of composers’ autograph manuscripts from before 1600 and offers a view of the conceptual foundations of musical language. She is now continuing her investigation of tonal language by examining English music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She is making the key texts available as series editor of Critical Editions of Music Theory in Britain 1500–1700 (Ashgate).
Before coming to Davis, Owens had served as Louis, Frances and Jeffrey Sachar Professor of Music and Dean of Arts and Sciences at Brandeis University, where she had taught since 1984. She had previously taught at the Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester) and Columbia University, as a Mellon Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities. Owens was a long-term Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1998-1999, and a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, in 2006. She served as President of the American Musicological Society from 2000 to 2002 and as President of the Renaissance Society of America from 2002 to 2004. In 2003 she was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.