Occasionally we run across interesting historical snippets scribbled by highly-opinionated observers of the contemporary culture of a different age, and we are compelled to share them despite the unpleasant reality check. Charles Burney’s dismissive remarks about John Dowland’s skill as a composer is an example that springs to mind.
Today’s quotes are drawn from the writing of an elusive figure associated with the court of Louis XIV, Michel Depure, and excerpted from his published collection of short essays, Idées des Spectacles anciens et nouveaux (Paris, 1668). The quotes that concern us are from a discussion of the all-important pastime of social dancing and the appropriate choice of instruments to accompany dance.
Du Ballet; Des Instruments
“It is a question of making a choice of the instrument that we judge to be most suitable to make one dance and, what is more, to dance well. The theorbo is suitable only to accompany a voice in concert, or to play Allemandes, Sarabandes, and other pieces where there is more majesty of melody than vigor of the dance. The same with the lute. Both are too solemn; and the great number of strings that are touched and the chords that are formed to charm the ear only hinder the feet. These are the instruments of repose, designed for serious and tranquil pleasures, whose languishing harmony is enemy of all action and demands only sedentary auditors.”
“…And as for the guitar, I can get on without it, and would use it only to ruin my ears or lacerate my insides. May that be said in passing and with no malice.”
Just reporting the facts…
UPDATE 16 June 2013
Responding to requests to clarify the source of the quotes, the original text is given below:
(Chapter on the Ballet begins p. 209, Section Des Instrumens begins on p. 271: quote derived from p. 273-274 and 275)
Il s’agit icy de faire choix de l’Instrument que nous jugerons le plus propre pour faire dancer, & qui plus est, bien dancer: Le Tuaurbe n’est propre qu’à accompagner une voix, qu’ aux Concerts, ou qu’a joüer efin des Allemandes, des Sarabandes & autres Pieces, où il y a plus de la majesté du Chant, que la vigueur de la Dance. Il en est de mesme du Lut. L’un & l’autre sont trop graves, & la grande diversité des cordes que l’on touche, & des accords que l’on forme à la fois à force de charmer l’oreille, ne fait qu’embaraser le pieds. Ce sont des instruments de repos destinez aux plaisirs serieux & tranquiles, & dont la languissante harmonie est ennemie de toute action, & ne demande que des Auditeurs sedentaires.
[Pour la Harpe on n'en veut point parmy nous:] & pour la Guitare, ie m’en passeray-bien, & ne m’en voudrois servir que pour m’arrcher le oreilles, ou pour me déchirer les entrailles. Cela soit dit en passant, & sans aucun malin vouloir.
We often see the Renaissance defined as the period that followed the Middle Ages, a period that saw a rebirth of art and culture through the rise of humanism and of expansion of the middle class. Of course this is an abundantly over-simplified definition, about which we have added a great deal of detail explaining the context for this rumored rise of a middle class, which really turns out to be the merchant class intent on emulating the nobility. The period saw a certain spike in distribution of wealth, as a result of consolidation of the banking industry, and also an increase both in the ostentatious display of wealth and in documentation on every front through the technological breakthrough of the printing press.
The seemingly enormous amount of music that was published in the 16th century leads us to believe that there must have been little time for any activity at the time other than domestic music-making. But since we are left to form our assumptions upon the crumbs of evidence that survive from that period, and since we are guided by modern historians who tend to present us with an idea of the chronological progression of sophistication in the development of human culture, we are left with an incomplete picture of the past.
Troubling to the anthropologist in me is [an] overriding concentration on historical development toward a later period, thus obscuring the “thing” itself (a piece of music, a style, a treatise, etc.) in favor of its place in a chronological sequence. What “lute music” actually was at a given time is likewise obscured. For, if one relies primarily on what survives in notation, the repertoire appears to consist only of what exists on paper. But music for lute was far more than that tiny tip of an enormous iceberg, the rest being built on what we cannot so readily see–oral tradition and improvisation. Indeed, much of the printed music for lute expressly pointed away from itself, being put forth as models for study and imitation. Our conclusions need to reflect how much of the repertory for lute at the time encompassed by this book was not static but ever moving–and not necessarily in the direction or according to the categories we may superimpose on it today.
- Beth Bullard, “Review of Douglas Alton Smith. A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance”, Renaissance Quarterly, 22 Dec. 2003.
A major focus of the collected essays here on our blog is in the interpretation of 16th century music, leaning heavily upon the evidence of musical activity through surviving printed scores and descriptive texts from the period. Since our concentration is in domestic music, we tend to view music of the period as a valued and integral domestic pastime, contextualized by what we see as a living tradition rather than an extrovert performance art. One can see that this approach may be somewhat problematic in an era that almost maniacally places the highest value on the newest technology and the rapid transmission of information.
A hallmark of our age is irony, which, in excess, is really a diversionary tactic that vainly attempts to cover a lack of depth.
“Life in the Internet age has undoubtedly helped a certain ironic sensibility to flourish. An ethos can be disseminated quickly and widely through this medium. Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.”
“Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior. She has not, so to speak, taken on the veil of irony. She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language. The most pure nonironic models in life, however, are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from irony, which exists only where the human dwells.”
Of course, irony is not new. Socrates used an ironic naivete to point out the flaws of conventional wisdom. It’s when irony is tinged with a cynical cast and delivered with sarcasm that we arrive at the unpleasant standard that seems to be acceptable today. We see irony as a defining characteristic in performance art of our age and probably one of the greatest barriers to the deep appreciation of historical ideals. We humbly ask for a little less irony, a little more depth of appreciation, and that you now turn off your computer and play your own music.
We have made mention of Thomas Morley (c. 1557 – 1602) in recent memory in the context of a composer of lute songs and as an astute and ambitious businessman who obtained and exercised a monopoly on music publishing from 1598 – 1602. An excellent discussion of Morley’s accomplishments and antics as holder of the monopoly may be found in Jeremy L. Smith, Thomas East and music publishing in Renaissance England (Oxford University Press, 2003), and a more recent thesis on Morley’s publishing activities by Teresa Ann Murray.
Morley’s book of lute songs, The first booke of ayres…published by Thomas Morley Bachiler of Musicke, and one of the gent. of her Maiesties Royall Chappel (1600), may be considered a nice try, and a novel counterpart to the more idiomatically conceived song books of John Dowland. The first booke would have been the source for our rendition of the song ‘Sleepe slumbringe eyes‘, but the book survives only in an incomplete copy and we were compelled to provide a reconstruction based on a manuscript source.
Morley’s The First Booke of Consort Lessons, made by diuers exquisite Authors, for six Instruments to play together, the Treble Lute, the Bandora, the Cittern, the Base-Violl, the Flute & Treble-Violl (1599) was our source for the music from which we have arranged the song ‘O mistress mine‘, with the text from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The score of his arrangement for lute and voice may be found in our edition, Shakespeare’s Lute Book, the subject of a recent blog post.
Today we refer to Morley’s compendium on musical composition, A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke, set downe in forme of a dialogue (1597), an incredibly rich and insightful source of information for those of us who care about interpretation of period music.
A facsimile of the original print may be found in a number of places. Our source is the print edition edited by Alec Harmon with a Foreword by Thurston Dart, for which the citation is Morley, Thomas, A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music. 2nd Ed. (Norton Library). W.W. Norton: n.p., 1973. Unfortunately, Norton does not seem to list the book as available in its rather impenetrable catalog, but the the print edition is available through all the usual bookseller sites.
Our quote today is not from Morley but rather from Thurston Dart’s Foreword, which offers interesting contextual information:
“In the early years of the [16th] century the performance of sacred and secular music was largely confined to the court, the musical chapels of the king and the greater nobility, and the larger monastic establishments. Most singers, composers, and players were professionals, and amateur musicians were extremely rare, though the king [Henry VIII] himself was one of the more outstanding ones. Musical notation was an arcane art, not to be revealed to all comers; musicians were reluctant, too, to tell all they knew, for the obvious and perhaps sordidly commercial reasons that their livelihood depended on their specialized knowledge and skill.”
Times have changed.
The journal Early Music (Oxford University Press) is now celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding, and they are generously making each and every article in the current issue available for free in electronic format.
The issue includes a wonderful collection of musings and reminiscences from an impressive roster of contributors who comment on issues real, speculative or imagined germane to the field of early music past, present and future. Reading the insights of so many luminaries who have shined a light upon forgotten musical traditions fills us with gratitude for their cumulative work, and for the existence of the journal that is a significant source of information for so many musicians who lark about in our chosen field.
But upon reflection one wonders whether making the articles available gratis is an act of desperation on the part of yet another publication that is seeing an alarming drop in subscribers. Or perhaps Early Music is benevolently acknowledging that those who would benefit the most from reading the journal are no longer working and simply can’t afford the subscription price. In point of fact, one wonders whether the phenomenon of the early music revival would happen at all if it began today.
The ongoing global obsession with the instantaneous transmission of information via the internet, and the inexplicable human hunger for a constant overturn of ‘news’, means that any new field of study in the arts that requires thoughtful research and a trial-and-error approach to interpretation of results would simply fizzle after the passing of a few 24-hour news cycles. By making so much information so readily available to so many people, and without the advantage of effective fact-checking, the internet has basically undermined our way of life. Well-intentioned researchers are choking on a glut of information that requires more time to organize and verify than the old way of simply sorting through paper documents. Is this progress?
Musicians as creative artists have become obsolete in the Janus-faced free culture movement, and some say that the internet has even decimated the middle class (read below). The uncomfortable fact is that all musicians are struggling to remain above water today. In a blog post entitled 45% Fewer Professional Working Musicians Since 2002, blogger David Lowery writes,
“The numbers are simple and staggering. The internet has not empowered musicians, it has exploited them.”
We frequently hear the same familiar question from friends who have stumbled upon and sampled our music, or from new fans who approach us appreciatively after a concert: Why aren’t we famous? The answer is multidimensional but has quite a bit to do with the fact that we don’t have professional artist representation, and we have very little interest in doing what it takes to be effective promoters – we prefer to put our energy into research and rehearsal to maintain our interpretive chops. But it also has to do with the fact that there is a glut of freely available music and a diminished appreciation for the value of real musicians performing live music. And income from recorded music is simply no longer viable as indicated by last month’s reported internet radio earnings: 1,074 airplays netted $9.43. Do the math.
We leave you with these quotes excerpted from an interview with Jaron Lanier entitled, The Internet destroyed the middle class:
“At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”
“The way society actually works is there’s some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That’s the thing we’re destroying, and that’s really the thing I’m hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.”
“Without context, what does my music mean? I make very novel sounds, but I don’t see any value in me sharing novel sounds that are decontextualized. Why would I write if people are just going to get weird snippets that are just mushed together and they don’t know the overall position or the history of the writer or anything? What would be the point in that. The day books become mush is the day I stop writing.”
To begin our third year of weekly Saturday morning quotes we step backwards in time and offer a small antidote to the surfeit of Dowland’s Elizabethan melancholy, from which we have all suffered for far too long. Besides, what alternative could possibly bring more pleasure than a discussion of 16th-century music theory?
Today we quote from Pietro Aaron (c. 1480 – 1545), a music theorist who was greatly concerned with accidental accidentals. We also revisit the music of Philippe Verdelot and, for your listening pleasure, we provide a link to our newly available recording of one of his early madrigals.
One of the more problematic obstacles to sight-reading modern editions of historical vocal music is the seemingly arbitrary application of accidentals, either completely absent or indiscriminately sprinkled about the page by certain editors like so much confetti. It turns out accidentals have always been problematic:
“It will now be considered whether the singer should or indeed can recognize at once the intent and secret of a composer, when singing a song he has not seen before. The answer is no, although among those who celebrate music there are some who think the contrary. They give the reason that every composer considers that his songs are to be understood by the learned and experienced, by a quick and perceptive ear, especially when imperfect fifths, octaves, twelfths, and fifteenths occur. I say that only God is master of such things, and such intelligence belongs to Him only and not to mortal man. For it would be impossible for any learned and practiced man to be able to sense instantly an imperfect fifth, octave, twelfth or fifteenth without first committing the error of a little dissonance. It is true that it would be sensed more quickly by one than another, but there is not a man who would not be caught. For this reason, I say that those who do not indicate the sign of b molle where it might naturally appear to be otherwise, commit no little error, because propositum in mente retentum, nihil operatur [an intention retained in the mind accomplishes nothing].”
- Pietro Aaron, Toscanello in Musica (1529 edition), Appendix: Aggiunta del toscanello a complacenza de gli amici fatta
Philippe Verdelot (c. 1480 – 1530, or 1550, or your wild guess is as good as that of the experts) is generally acknowledged to be among the first serious composers of the Italian madrigal. Verdelot is a favorite of ours whom we have mentioned frequently on this blog, and his Il Primo Libro di Madrigali, a collection of madrigals printed in four separate part-books, was presumably first published in 1533. Arrangements of the same music for solo voice and lute may be found in the near-contemporary Intavolatura de li madrigali di Verdelotto da cantare et sonare nel lauto, intavolati per Messer Adriano, published by Scotto in 1536. A second edition published in 1540 identifies the mysterious Messer Adriano as Adrian Willaert.
Typical of Verdelot’s music, there is a high degree of ambiguity as to the application of accidentals. Reference to the lute intabulations of the lower voice parts confirms the conventional cadential sharps, which can then be extrapolated to the cantus line when otherwise absent. But of course there is ample opportunity for introducing bizarre sonic moments if one does not follow the precepts of good taste and apply a judicious eye to spotting mistakes in the original prints.
An example of our approach can be heard in our newly available recording of Verdelot’s ‘Madonna per voi ardo’, originally recorded for our CD, Sfumato, but omitted because we simply had too much material. We make it available here for listening or download in a variety of digital formats at whatever price you choose. Please enjoy.
As the final post for our second full year of Saturday quotes, we tap into a few sources – old and more recent – that have to do with the experience of hearing music.
The more we perform, the more we are convinced that the phenomenon of recorded music should be over. Done. Put to rest. What follows is a manifesto of sorts in favor of live music, complete with supporting words from enlightened commentators.
“The discipline of music is diffused through all the actions of our life. First, it is true that if we perform the commandments of the Creator and with pure minds obey the rules he has laid down, then every word we speak, every pulsation of our veins, is related by musical rhythms to the powers of harmony. Music indeed is the knowledge of proper measurement. If we live virtuously, we are constantly proved to be under its discipline, but when we commit injustice we are without music. The heavens and the earth, indeed all things in them which are directed by a higher power, share the discipline of music, for Pythagoras shows that this universe was founded by and can be governed by music.”
- Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, “Of Music”, Fundamentals of Sacred and Secular Learning, circa 520 AD
Does music really affect our senses?
“The very world and the sky above us, according to the doctrine of philosophers, are said to bear in themselves the sound of music. Music moves the affections of men, stimulates the emotions into a different mood… It influences beasts also, serpents, birds, and dolphins, at its hearing…”
- Aurelian of Reome, The Discipline of Music, 9th century
How do we get some of that?
“To enjoy the effects of music fully, we must completely lose ourselves in it; to judge it, we must relate it to the source through which we are affected by it. This source is nature. Nature endows us with the feeling that moves us in all our musical experiences; we might call her gift instinct. Let us allow instinct to inform our judgments, let us see what mysteries it unfolds to us before we pronounce our verdicts…”
- Jean Philippe Rameau, Le Nouveau Systeme de musique theorique (1726).
What sort of person bothers to play music?
“There’s a sensual pleasure involved in making sounds, harmonious sounds, that I just can’t get, and I don’t think anyone can quite get, from acting.”
When did public concerts begin anyway?
“…here it was that the masters began to display their powers afore the wise judges of the towne, and found out the grand secret, that the English would follow musick and drop their pence freely; of which some advantage hath bin since made.”
- Roger North, An Essay of Musicall Ayre c.1715–20
What does it cost to attend a live concert?
“By setting prices at $170 (£110) for a cheap seat, $635 for a top seat or up to $2,000 for a VIP ticket, [the Rolling Stones] alienated blue-collar fans who have kept their tours profitable through the decades. Their 2005 tour grossed £350m.”
- Edward Helmore, The Observer, Saturday 4 May 2013
Can we get real?
Our concerts cost quite a bit less than the Rolling Stones, and we aren’t extremely old guys who wear spandex and pretend to be cool.
Live music is best. Recorded music is nothing more than an audible moment in time captured for posterity and, unless the musicians are ridiculous and unreasonable purists like us, it is usually severely messed with for commercial reasons. Attending live concerts enables the listener to experience real sounds as authentic sound pressure and it also encourages musicians to continue creative endeavors by enabling them to partake of nutrition and pay bills.
Our music is best experienced live. Check out the possibilities.
As the penultimate post for our second full year of Saturday quotes, we describe a connection between John Dowland and Thomas Morley, and also introduce our reconstruction of one of the best bits frustratingly missing from an important book of lute songs.
Thomas Morley (c1557 – 1602) is best remembered as an English exponent of the Italian madrigal style. He was also a man who was quite savvy about business matters and he parlayed his connections and collaborative relationship with music publishers to corner a monopoly on music publishing, which officially ran from 1598 – 1602. Like any successful capitalist, Morley sought to maintain his control of music publishing through restriction of resources, including an apparent attempted ban on manuscript copying.
Morley, for his part consistently emphasized the quality of product he could deliver as the helmsman of a national publishing industry. It was surely the royal music monopoly, awarded with the express purpose of promoting musical life in England, that inspired Morley’s qualitative stance as a competitive publisher. This first surfaced in the years 1596 -1598, when Morley was lobbying for the monopoly and therefore publishing the music of composers well known at court…Because he had to struggle for his position, Morley was much more interested in “rights to copy” than Byrd before him, who basically enjoyed an uncontested monopoly. Like his mentor, however, Morley, too, seemed to grasp well the benefits at hand when as author, rather than a mere trader, possessed the power to control the destiny of his art as it was prepared for dissemination among the public.
- Jeremy L. Smith, Thomas East and Music Publishing in Renaissance England, (Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 2003) p. 93.
We leave Morley waiting curbside for a moment and take a slight left turn with a quote from the same book cited above (pp. 107-108). Smith describes the fascinating story surrounding the publication of John Dowland’s Second Booke of Songs, and suggests an element of intrigue with connections to the Essex circle.
The texts in the Dowland set may well allude to Essex’s relations with the queen. The tone of several songs in this collection matches that of Essex’s letters to her. In both texts the apologetic agenda is unmistakable. Were these songs meant to allude to Essex’s plight or even to serve as a means of communication with Elizabeth? Unfortunately, neither hypothesis can yet be proven. Still, as much as the clear allusions to Essex in the history of Richard II may have threatened the queen, nothing would have better reflected Essex’s appeal in the form of a lover’s apology than the affecting texts and music of Dowland’s Second Booke. If anyone at the time cared to view the matter as such, the songs of Dowland’s set would have captured the spirit of Essex’s well-known attempts to plead for Elizabeth’s forgiveness just as obviously as the Richard II plays and books did so clearly refer to his alternative plan of reestablishing his position by the military force of a coup d’ètat.
The publication of Dowland’s Second Booke (1600) is very well documented because it was the subject of a protracted lawsuit between rival printers Thomas East and George Eastland. But an interesting aspect of the story is that Thomas Morley, who as holder of the music publishing patent had access to Dowland’s manuscript, seems to have rushed to print his own book of songs with lute, even setting the same text as the first song in Dowland’s book, ‘I saw my Lady weepe’, although it may actually have been Dowland who based his text on an earlier madrigal setting by Alfonso Ferrabosco, published in Musica Transalpina (1588).
Thomas Morley’s The first booke of ayres. Or Little short songs, to sing and play to the lute, with the base viole Newly published by Thomas Morley Bachiler of Musicke, and one of the gent. of her Maiesties Royall Chappel, also published 1600, included the song, ‘I saw my Ladie weeping’. Morley’s setting is slightly less successful than Dowland’s, which is truly transcendent and one of the best examples of the genre. But Morley confessed in his introduction TO THE READER:
“Let it not seem straunge (courteous Reader) that I thus farre presume to take vpon me, in publishing this volume of Lute Ayres, being no professor thereof, but like a blind man groping for my way, haue at length happened vpon a method: which when I found, my heart burning loue to my friends would not consent I might conceale.”
Morley’s First Booke of Ayres (1600) only survives in a frustratingly incomplete form that lists the contents in the TABLE CONTAINING ALL THE SONGS IN THIS BOOKE, but is missing numbers XV – XXIII, including the concluding instrumental Pauane and Galliard. One of the missing songs is ‘Sleepe slumbring eyes’ (XViij), which was fortuitously hand-copied with a cantus and bass into what survives as Christ Church, Oxford manuscript 439, in spite of Morley’s own attempts to restrict such practice.
‘Sleep’ is a rich and multidimensional theme commonly found in the texts of lute songs, and one of Dowland’s very best songs is ‘Come heauy sleepe’ from his First Booke (1597). The text of Morley’s ‘Sleepe slumbring eyes’ is anonymous but the words seem to allude to the sense of Psalm 132 (King James Bible), and the lines “ I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for the LORD”. There is also a reference in Proverbs 6,4 that is worth quoting:
Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.
Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.
A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.
He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers;
Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.
Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
We have created our own reconstruction of Morley’s missing ‘Sleepe slumbringe eyes’, reconstituting it into an attractive lute song in the style of Dowland, adding to the lute accompaniment movement and cadential figuration that is idiomatic to the style and the instrument. You can listen to the result here.