Jessie Ann Owens

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Music, University of California at Davis

Fellow, SOF/Heyman, Columbia University (1977–1979)

Jessie Ann Owens is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of California, Davis. She came to UC Davis in July 2006. Owens was trained as a classicist, with a major in Latin from Barnard College (B.A. 1971). She describes her junior-year experience at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome as transformational: the literature she had been reading in a vacuum came alive and acquired a cultural context and a history. A Fulbright year in Parma after her graduation deepened her passion for Italy and Italian culture.

An organist and choral singer, Owens combined her love of music with her interest in history and chose to pursue an academic career in musicology. She received her M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University, in 1975 and 1978, respectively. Her dissertation was a close examination of a cultural artifact from the Bavarian court, an illuminated manuscript of motets by the sixteenth-century Flemish composer Cipriano de Rore.

Fellowships from the Villa I Tatti (the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence) and the American Council of Learned Societies in 1979–80 and 1983–4 enabled Owens to explore music at the Este court in Ferrara during the midsixteenth century. A particular interest is the music of Cipriano de Rore, a pivotal figure in the development of early modern music. Editor of the thirty-volume series The Sixteenth-Century Madrigal, Owens has published articles about the madrigals of Marenzio and Wert, Monteverdi, and de Rore.

Analytic and theoretical work on early music led Owens in two other directions: 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), for which she received the 1998 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, was the first systematic investigation of composers' autograph manuscripts from before 1600; it 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.

Before coming to UC 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, and in 2008, Honorary Member of the American Musicological Society.

What drew a life-long resident of the East Coast, someone whose only educational experience had been at private institutions, to move 3000 miles to work at one of the nation's premier land-grant institutions? In UC Davis she found an institution committed to access—some 40% of the undergraduates are the first in their families to go to college. The division has an unusually rich blend of faculty—from social scientists to humanists and artists— committed to cross-disciplinary collaboration. "I am proud," Owens writes, "that UC Davis does a distinctive kind of humanities, firmly grounded in our region and engaged with the questions that face our society."