“…Secure at least $50,000 per annum. Beyond this never earn—make no effort to increase fortune, but spend the surplus each year for benevolent purposes. Cast aside business forever, except for others.”
- Andrew Carnegie, note to self (1868)
As we launch a new effort to fund our next three recordings, we hope our readers will visit our Support Our Tropes campaign—if for no other reason than to view the spiffy new video Donna has created. We take note here of historical motivations for philanthropy, and the lasting benefits we have seen from the likes of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was certainly a focused individual, and built his industrial empire at great cost to his workers and the environment. But he was just as focused in his dedication to paying our society back in terms of cultural dividends.
For those of us who have been paying attention, world events have taken a very strange turn since the dawn of the new millennium. Everyone has been affected by the squeezing of funds and the reduction of disposable income as the cost of living normal life has far outpaced our power to earn. Except for those dwelling in the top income bracket, we have all had to tighten our belts and adjust our expectations of what is necessary and what is less important.
Market forces have always had an overriding influence on the general tone, portals of access and overall availability of the arts to the public. Market forces today have seriously undermined the value of aesthetic pursuits, favoring public indulgence in more tangible trappings and tasteless trinkets that are outmoded and obsolete as soon as they are plucked from the shelves of the real or virtual gadget shops – particularly in the US. In yet another blow against real and personal interaction, we read this week that Amazon will soon be delivering gadgets from their oxymoronically-named “fulfillment centers” via unmanned drones, striking yet another blow against human involvement in routine commerce.
In our gadget-centered lives, can we even identify the important shreds and shards of our cultural past that we should hold onto to recall and reinforce our humanity? What can we indulge in and cling to that will preserve a long history of artistic achievement and cultural identity? What sort of legacy can we leave to future generations of open and inquiring minds; young people who are jaded by a surfeit of technological toys and bereft of cultural heritage?
We’re here to tell you that knowledge of historical music is essential to retaining our humanity. Stories are told in song. Polyphonic music fosters non-verbal communication and interdependent creativity. Musical-mathematical understanding lends a framework of logic and an interpretive cultural guide to an otherwise chaotic world. If we lose these things, we don’t merely step over outmoded styles and unfashionable associations: We lose skill-based emblems of cultural achievements that are forsaken for insubstantial jingles, drum machines, faked images and electronic noises.
Our lives are dedicated to putting real people in touch with real music in ways that we hope help us all remember our humanity in these times when authentic human contact is a vanishing element. This blog, faithfully maintained for the past three years, and for which we receive no revenue from adverts that may appear, is just one example of our commitment to preserving the things that define us as kind and cultured human beings.
We hope our readers will support our campaign to fund our next three recordings, and pass the word of our work to family and friends. Support our tropes.
Versatile performers who indulge in an abundant variety of repertory can sometimes induce a “whiplash” effect in their concert audiences by presenting a surfeit of diversity. Concertgoers can experience performances of early music that leap from Gregorian chant to Bach to Monteverdi to Josquin to Dowland, ending with a torch song by Jerome Kern. Over the course of an evening’s concert of early music, tone colors emanating from a surprising variety of string or wind instruments can create the misapprehension that early music was more like a variety show or even a relay race than a thoughtful and intimate domestic pastime.
On the other hand, performers can effectively integrate music of different styles from different eras through a thematic approach, secure musicianship, and a centered sense of interpretive style. We always appreciate performers who are mainly focused on musical interplay and communication of texts, inviting the listener into the sound-world and the story rather than dazzling with an off-putting display of virtuosity. This is our aim as a duo.
We were delighted to hear reinforcing and positive comments after a holiday concert last evening. Our holiday concert featured 14th-century Cantigas, macaronic German-Latin texts, intabulations of 16th-century motets by Morales and Victoria, traditional Scots and Irish Christmas carols, and even songs by Stephen Foster and the Carter Family. Afterward, several kind members of our audience remarked on how fluidly we moved from one style to the next. We had to respond that it was not difficult at all because the music was all domestic music, and the songs were all sung engagingly and invitingly with the express purpose of telling a story.
We have discussed in several posts how singing with a natural voice is an important component of an effective performance of lute songs. That is not to say one can’t or shouldn’t use the voice they have available. But unless you are aiming for a different aesthetic and anachronistically attempting to rattle the rafters of a large auditorium, there is no need to sing the subtle and deliberately domestic repertory of lute songs with the volume and power of a produced voice.
Why did the lute and lute songs go out of fashion? The received story is that the instrument could not live up to the demands of more extrovert baroque continuo songs, and the nuance of polyphonic interplay was no longer necessary. We like to think that the lute never really went out of fashion, but that the quiet and intimate instrument was dismayed by growing lack of appreciation for the finer things, and the lute went into a cloistered seclusion simply because it didn’t like being shouted at.
As Thomas Mace indicated in a charming dialogue with his beloved instrument, the lute has quietly been waiting for the right time, the right place and the right performers to reawaken the soft strings with a proper sense of serenity.
What is the Cause, my Dear-Renowned-Lute,
Thou art of late so Silent, and so Mute?
Thou seldom dost in Publick now appear;
Thou art too Melancholly grown I fear.
What need you ask These Questions why ’tis so?
Since ’tis too obvious for All men to know.
The World is grown so Slight; full of New Fangles,
And takes their Chief Delight in Jingle-Jangles…
- Thomas Mace, Musick’s Monument (1676), p. 33.
- The Holy Shopping List, from Walter Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz, J. B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia (1959).
We greatly appreciate the work of scholars who nobly dedicate their lives to rifling through dusty archival records in an attempt to trace and document the movements of obscure musicians of the remote past—like, for instance, the unfortunately-named fiddler, Rowland Rubbish. Such archival information can at times illuminate important aspects of historical music and save us endless hours of unintentional pilgrimage, wandering aimlessly up and down the virtual aisles of the big-box supermarket internet library searching for that elusive can of enlightening kraut.
But scholars can indeed get it wrong sometimes and, as in the odd example of the sainted Leibowitz from Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz referenced above, random snippets of information can be misconstrued and misapplied. Such is the case with the ensemble dance piece that has been recorded several times under the title “Pavin of Albarti” and attributed to one Innocenzio Alberti (c. 1535–1615) by Paul Doe, editor of Musica Britannica 44: Elizabethan Consort Music I, Stainer and Bell, London (1979). Several recordings of the pavan/galliard pair are available including Elizabethan Consort Music: 1558-1603, Hesperion XX, Jordi Savall (Alia Vox AV 9804), Elizabethan Songs and Consort Music, Rose Consort of Viols, Catherine King (Naxos 8.554284), and ‘Musique of Violenze’: Dances, Fantasias and Popular Tunes for Queen Elizabeth’s Violin Band, Peter Holman / Parley of Instruments Renaissance Violin Consort (Hyperion CDA66929).
The tune for the instrumental dance seems to be related to an earlier chanson, ‘Si je m’en voy’, attributed to Claude Gervaise (1525–1583), a composer/ arranger known for his association with the music printer Pierre Attaingnant (c. 1494–1552). The same tune is also found intabulated for lute as ‘Pavane si je m’en voy’ with ‘Galliarde of the precedent pavane’ on pages 58 and 62 of Adrian LeRoy’s A briefe and easie instruction to learne the tableture, English translation published in London, 1568.
The source of the pair of dances transcribed by Doe in Elizabethan Consort Music I is Roy. App. 74 (folios 41 and 40), from a set of music manuscripts collectively called the Lumley Partbooks. Interestingly, Paul Doe attributes the pair of dance pieces to Innocentio Alberti, based on the title ‘Pavin of Albarti’ and a stray marking, ‘Innocents’ found on one of the noodly inner parts for a completely unrelated galliard on folio 39.
Peter Holman, who penned the notes to both the Hesperion XX and Parley of Instruments recordings mentioned above, proposed an alternative composer in one Albert of Venice (died 1559), a founding member of the Jewish-Italian violin band first established by Henry VIII. A fascinating history and description of the violin band, whose primary function was to provide dance music, is found in Peter Holman’s excellent book, Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court 1540-1690 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993).
There are a few problems with Doe’s and Holman’s conjectural attributions. First, as Holman gets right, it is more likely that the piece would have been ascribed to the fiddler’s first name as per the convention of the time, and doubt would have been removed had the tunes been ascribed to ‘Innocentio’ rather than ‘Albarti’ — and ascribed to the pieces in question rather than an unrelated piece a few pages earlier. Secondly, there is a clear attribution of the very same music in a published source of lute music – ‘Pavane d’Albert’ and its ‘Gaillarde’, as found as the final pieces (f.22v-24) in the Cinquiesme livre d’Albert, published by Guillaume Morlaye (1554) in his collection of music by the famous Italian lutenist, Albert da Rippe (c. 1500 – 1551), who was a highly-compensated musician to the French king François Ier (1494 – 1547).
Our particular Albert, the famous lutenist, was known to have traveled to England and, on 12 February 1529, he apparently performed before Henry VIII. It seems logical that so famous a musician would have left behind a piece or two as a souvenir of the visit. In the title pages to the series of published lute books featuring music of Albert da Rippe, Guillaume Morlaye describes the music as ‘Composées par feu Messire Albert de Rippe, de Mantoue, Seigneur du Carois, joueur de Leut, & varlet de chambre du Roy nostre sire’. It is probably not a coincidence that a pair of dance pieces by so famous a musician would have been arranged in parts as a consort piece by Henry’s dance band.
In A Canticle for Leibowitz, an entire religious ritual was based upon a misunderstood scrap of information and the irony is duly noted. While speculative attributions to rather light but pleasing historical dance tunes may not be quite so important, it is interesting to follow how, through commercial recordings cited above and scholarly tomes, this misinformation lives on. For example, “Chapter 5, International Influences and Tudor Music,” in A Companion to Tudor Literature, edited by Kent Cartwright, Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., Chichester (2010), p. 84, Ross Duffin repeats the Alberti attribution (Innocently and with Holman’s slant) as though it were gospel.
This is the sort of avoidable faux pas that occurs all too often when musicologists, through dismissive ignorance, disregard the greater strength of historical sources of lute music.
An article that describes more contextual background and includes a print of the lute setting for Albert da Rippe’s music, with an intabulation of the music from the Lumley books arranged for two lutes, can be found in a 2006 publication of the (UK) Lute Society (Ron Andrico, “A pavan by Albert da Rippe, in an unnoted concordance,” Lute News No. 79, October 2006).
For our lutenist readers who would like to try the music, you can find a pdf on our website here.
This week, the American Thanksgiving holiday offers a respite from the rat race and a rare moment of reflection. One wishes to be thankful for the many comforts and conveniences we enjoy in this modern age, and for the good fortune to enjoy the simple pleasures of a nourishing meal, a warm bed, and a lute song to improve one’s emotional outlook. Everything else, as they say, is gravy.
It hasn’t always been so easy for the multitudes that are now described as the “99-percent,” better known as those of us who endeavor to get by without bilking others out of their money, goods and chattel. But, for many, many good, honest people today, economic viability is no more than a fantasy with consumerist overtones. What is known in the US as Black Friday is an utter abomination, and shows every sign of becoming worse by the year. No longer content to entice consumers to spend the night after the holiday camping in the sleet in a parking lot for the holy grail of the Gizmo du Jour, the big box stores now require their underpaid employees to forgo the traditional family holiday altogether in order to get a jump-start on holiday consumerism.
Contrary to popular myth, our economic model is based not upon friendly competition that encourages innovation, but rather upon unfettered economic expansion free from governmental regulation and likewise free from moral constraints. The goal of our economic model is monopoly, and it is typically achieved and maintained through unscrupulous means.
“[Marx] treated monopolies not as essential elements of capitalism but rather as remnants of the feudal mercantilist past which had to be abstracted from in order to attain the clearest possible view of the basic structure and tendencies of capitalism.”
- Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order, Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1966, (p.4).
It is painfully clear to any thinking person who reads and heeds that our economic model is broken, and the very worst human element has risen to a position of great power. The only means of resistance to that power is through nonparticipation.
Don’t buy things today. Although we could certainly use the income, we walk our talk and do our bit to encourage economic awareness by offering the following tracks of holiday music at no cost.
“Only beginners in the study of music solmized, and the singer-composers working at the French Court and the Sixtine Chapel most probably sight-read their vocal parts even at the first rehearsal of a new piece of music; to say that the colleagues of Josquin, Claudin, and others harmonized by ear would be a highly surmised and unprovable assertion. But, like solfeggio to a modern singer, after sufficient training, solmization became an automatic subconscious process to a Renaissance music performer; it is therefore important for us to understand the workings of the Guidonian hand in the training of music reading by mental transposition which in conjunction with the notion of the species of perfect fourths and fifths allowed the identification of modulations not indicated by flat nor sharp signs.”
- Gaston Allaire, “Debunking the Myth of Musica Ficta,” Tijdschrift van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, Deel 45, No. 2 (1995), p. 111.
Joe Venuti is an example of a musician who, like musicians of 500 years ago, learned the rudiments of music and then learned to play from the heart. He wrote an excellent tutor on how to improvise, Violin Rhythm, a School of Modern Rhythmic Violin Playing, by Joe Venuti, Robbins Music Corp, 1937.
“Formal training? I think a cousin started to teach me when I was about four. Solfeggio, of course. That’s the Italian system under which you don’t bother much about any special instrument until you know all the fundamentals of music. It’s the only way to learn music right.”
- Giuseppe “Joe” Venuti (c.1903 – 1978)
Venuti was also a compulsive practical joker and is said to have once called every bass player in New York and asked them to meet with him on a particular street corner. More than 50 bass players arrived with their cumbersome instruments, creating a traffic jam. For his pains, Venuti was required by the musicians union to pay the bass players for their time.
Another musician who undoubtedly learned traditional solfeggio and subsequently performed without the need for notes was pioneering guitarist, Eddie Lang / Salvatore Massaro (1902 – 1933), Bing Crosby’s close friend and Joe Venuti’s musical collaborator until Lang’s premature death in 1933. The popular orchestra leader, Paul Whiteman, had this to say about Eddie Lang:
“Eddie played with our band over a long period of time during which I had less trouble with rhythm than at any other time…No matter how intricate the arrangement was, Eddie played it flawlessly the first time without ever having heard it before or looking at a sheet of music. It was as if his musically intuitive spirit had read the arranger’s mind and knew in advance everything that was going to happen.”
- Paul Whiteman (1890 – 1967)
Back from travels and back on track next week with an essay on a 16th-century Italian/French lutenist in England.
“We are participators in bringing into being not only the near and here but the far away and long ago. We are in this sense, participators in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past and if we have one explanation for what’s happening in the distant past why should we need more?”
- John Archibald Wheeler (1911 – 2008)
History can be no more than a collectively misremembered fantasy, and we seem to agree on a certain interpretation of past events and proceed accordingly. But those of us who love historical music to the point of wishing to recreate the soundworld of the past can learn much by probing a bit deeper and examining biographical information about famous musicians. There may be a few surprises.
Lute players today tend to be an entirely different class of person than musicians of the past, most of whom were clergy or servants. Of course there were the ubiquitous amateur dabblers of the noble class, but the reputation of these types was most likely exaggerated by the aforementioned servants in pursuit of patronage. Finding an instrument today is a challenge in and of itself, and the not inconsiderable cost of a lute can be a defining factor that separates the modern “haves” from the “have nots.” There is also the significant element of devoting endless antisocial hours learning the specialized techniques and attempting to understand the long-forgotten repertory, and the modern lutenist tends to be both socially awkward and nervous about dropping his or her expensive instrument.
One of the most elusive challenges for modern musicians attempting to play old music is truly grasping the unfettered passion that is characteristic of a life that always teeters on the edge of suffering and death. Today, most people who play the lute live fairly comfortable lives. Historical musicians did not.
Bartolomeo Tromboncino (c. 1470 – 1534)
Although Tromboncino was much favoured by Isabella [d’Este] and her husband [Francesco Gonzaga], his career in Mantua seems to have been a stormy one. He fled to Venice in June 1495, returning in July only at his father’s insistence, and in July 1499 he killed his wife Antonia after finding her with her lover. He was apparently pardoned for these two offences, for he is mentioned in Mantuan documents throughout the remainder of 1499 and in 1500, but he fled Mantua again in 1501. On 28 April of that year Francesco Gonzaga wrote to Verona that Tromboncino ‘has left our service in a deplorable manner and without permission, even though he was the best paid and had more favours and kindnesses and liberty than any of the courtiers in our house’. He added that Tromboncino ‘will be well advised not to leave the territory of St Mark’.
- William F. Prizer, “Bartolomeo Tromboncino,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980), 19:161.
There are other colorful historical personalities including lutenist Henri de L’Enclos (1592 – 1649), who apparently killed a nobleman in a duel and was forced into exile. Lutenist Jacques Gaultier (fl. 1617 – 1660) left his native France in 1617 after being involved in a murder and fled to England, where in 1627 he was imprisoned and tortured for having made scandalous remarks about the Duke of Buckingham (his patron), his lute student Queen Henrietta Maria, and even about the King Charles I.
In the category of famous musicians peripheral to the world of the lute, there is the well-known story about (the raving musical lunatic) Carlo Gesualdo, who married his first cousin, Donna Maria d’Avalos, whom he later murdered with great cruelty along with her lover Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria. Even Johann Sebastian Bach was known to have a very testy personality, and was said to have hurled offensive epithets and drawn his sword over perceived slights to his musical credibility.
The point is, it is impossible to grasp the inner passion of old music without having a passing acquaintance with an inconvenienced life. While it’s true that we all have our own particular cross to bear, the passion of old music cannot be truly felt by someone who has never known discomfort. As inherent in the old music, today we hear the most convincing music of any genre or style played by those who live the most passionate lives.
I (RA) once had a mandolin student of the investment banker-type personality who, when asked what he was hoping to gain from a lesson, responded that he wanted to learn to play like me. After a moment’s consideration, I told him that the first thing he must do is spend the night in a telephone booth during a February blizzard in upstate NY, and then he can perhaps begin to understand what it means to play like me.
In case anyone missed this piece of very important news, it has been definitively confirmed that tech giants Facebook, Google and Microsoft, in addition to active participation with NSA in questionable surveillance schemes, are firmly on the side of the Koch Bros. in support of their virulently anti-humanitarian agenda.
The story reporting on Facebook and Microsoft, with supporting information, can be accessed here. Google’s interference with copyright and the rights of authors to be paid for their work can be accessed here.
These important news items are relevant and worth posting here because the average person assumes that the services provided by these companies is of benefit to humankind. In point of fact, the companies exist for the sole purpose of enriching shareholders.
Posted as a public service.