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.
For the past week we have been reading about the birthday and/or recorded death date of a certain prominent playwright and poet from Elizabethan England. The literary output of this legendary (some say mythical) figure is still the source of employment for many stage actors, theater directors and university lecturers, not to mention loggers – deforesting large swaths of countryside to generate enough paper stock for the annual crop of dissertations on our subject.
It turns out that a musical thread runs through the works of our playwright and poet, whether via stage directions indicating actual songs or simply by passing reference to once-familiar ballads mentioned in dialogue, and imagery woven into the soliloquies of some of his most colorful characters.
“Grim-visag’d Warre, hath smooth’d his wrinkled Front:
And now, in stead of mounting Barbed Steeds,
To fright the Soules of fearfull Aduersaries,
He capers nimbly in a Ladies Chamber,
To the lasciuious pleasing of a Lute.”
- William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Richard the Third (I: i).
During the short span of his brief and bitter reign, the recently exhumed Richard III had scant opportunity to luxuriate in “the lasciuious pleasing of a Lute”. But the words drawn from Richard’s opening soliloquy were retroactively loaned to him, purportedly penned 100 years later by a famous literary figure who frequently mentioned our favorite stringed instrument – one William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616). Of course, many of our best and brightest friends dispute whether the man from Stratford was indeed the author of what may be considered the greatest literary output ever scribbled by human hand. No matter who wrote the words, the beguilingly familiar mention in Richard’s soliloquy, made with such confident ease, only affirms the unmistakable eminence of “the most musicall instrument the Lute.”
In his dedicatory poem found in the First Folio (1623), Ben Jonson (c.1572 – 1637) wrote that Shakespeare “…was not of an age, but for all time“. But Shakespeare’s work was very much of its own time, and the plays reveal a great deal of contextual detail concerning Elizabethan life, customs, manners – and music. Outdoor productions at the Globe Theatre most likely did not feature music played on lutes, and it may be assumed that louder instruments were used and probably played with less delicacy than one associates with such a refined instrument. But indoor productions most certainly included lutes, if only to be broken over a character’s head.
Shakespeare scholars have had occasion to sift through and analyze every word of every play, and library shelves groan under the weight of the many dissertations that bedrape the author and his characters gaudily with anachronistic accoutrements, concepts like Freudian angst and gender (in-) sensitivity. But without specialist knowledge of the Elizabethan musical world, scholars are ill-equipped to effectively scrub away the contextual grime that conceals layers of meaning hidden within the texts of songs and ballads mentioned in the plays.
In order to convey any music effectively, it is the performers who must delve deeply into song texts, in possession of a thorough understanding of the language of the time conjoined with a working familiarity of appropriate musical idioms. Specialists in Elizabethan lute ayres are uniquely poised to recognize and understand familiar textual allusions and metaphors that were in such common use as to be instantly understood and placed in context by contemporary listeners. Fortunately for all, most surviving songs and ballads from Shakespeare’s time are so universally appealing that modern audiences seem to find a certain delight in any performance no matter how well-informed.
Not thinking it amiss to provide a useful musical resource, we are featuring our publication, Shakespeare’s Lute Book, a collection of songs, dances, and ballad tunes referenced in many of Shakespeare’s plays; nearly 70 pieces of music for voice (or melody instrument) and lute, lute solo, and lute duet formatted for ease of performance. The songs and instrumentals are conveniently arranged by the play in which they appear with a few hitherto unnoticed references described. A great deal of the material in the anthology is the result of personal research conducted specifically for lecture-recital presentations, converted from scribbled notes and hastily-copied music into a format that is clear, concise and useful to others. Professional and amateur performers no longer need make inappropriate choices for music in staging Shakespeare plays with this small collection of good, historically meaningful music that may be used by singers, lutenists and guitarists.
Shakespeare’s Lute Book includes the music for several well-known songs such as ‘When griping griefs‘ (In commendation of Music), quoted in Romeo & Juliet (IV:v), ‘The Willow song‘ from Othello (IV:iii), the ever popular ‘Greensleeves‘ mentioned in Merry wives of Windsor (V:v), and ‘O Mistress mine‘ from Twelfth Night (II:iii). Also from Twelfth Night (II:iv) is a new setting of the text, ‘Come away death‘ fitting the words to music that was known in Shakespeare’s time, a fitting remembrance to the man behind the masque.
(Practice session preparatory to a public appearance)
With so much recorded music free and readily available to all, the casual listener has a rather skewed perspective on how much effort it takes to perform historical music well. But we can’t really fault the audience: Musicians who curl their collective lip at the idea of rehearsal can be the real culprits in undermining the value of live performances of historical music.
When discussing insufficient rehearsal time allotted to perform his music, Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643) wrote the following:
“…I can envisage no other result than bad singing of the poetry, bad playing of the instruments, and bad musical ensemble. These are not things to be done hastily, as it were; and you know from Arianna that after it was finished and learned by heart, five months of strenuous rehearsal took place.”
- letter to Alessandro Striggio dated 9 January 1620, from The letters of Claudio Monteverdi, translated by Denis Stevens, (London, 1980), p. 160
Professional musicians must keep aloft all manner of objects while performing a death-defying juggling act simply in order to sustain a meager living. It’s probably true that the best-rehearsed musical ensembles are found in academic institutions, where students are required to attend rehearsals, and they are unshackled by the unpleasant need to make a living.
(A trend or shift toward a lower or less perfect state)
But with the marginalizing of music in education through brutal elimination of funding, the powers that be are doing their level best to undo centuries of cultural development. Of course this is not a new phenomenon; we share some sharp words from historical sources for neo Feudalists who seek to devalue arts and education:
“If learning decay, which of wild men maketh civil; of blockish and rash persons, wise and goodly counsellors; of obstinate rebels, obedient subjects; and of evil men, good and godly Christians; what shall we look for else but barbarism and tumult?”
- Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (c. 1500 – 1552)
“For what comfort should it be for any good man to see his country brought into the estate of the old Goths and Vandals, who made laws against learning, and would not suffer any skilful man to come into their council-house: by means whereof those people became savage tyrants and merciless hell-hounds, till they restored learning again and thereby fell to civility. “
- William Harrison (1534-1593)
John Dowland (1563 – 1626) is famous as the greatest exponent of English music for solo lute, and as a composer of some of the best surviving music for lute and voice. He is also known as a world-class Miserablist.
In his preface to the instrumental collection Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans… (c. 1604), Dowland complains:
“Hauing in forren parts met diuers Lute-lessons of my composition, publisht by strangers without my name or approbation; I thought it much more conuenient, that my labours should passe forth vnder mine owne allowance, receiuing from me their last foile and polishment; for which consideration I haue vndergone this long and troublesome worke, wherein I haue mixed new songs with olde, graue with light, that euery eare may receiue his seuerall content.”
While many would agree with Dowland’s own assessment that his seven pavans on the famous Lachrimae falling-tear motif constitute a ‘long and troublesome worke’, no one comes even close to Charles Burney (1726 – 1814) for putting our favorite lute icon in his historical place.
“After being at the pains of scoring several of Dowland’s compositions, I have been equally disappointed and astonished at his scanty abilities in counterpoint, and the great reputation he acquired with his contemporaries, which has been courteously continued to him, either by the indolence or ignorance of those who have had occasion to speak of him, and who took it for granted that his title to fame as a profound musician, was well founded. There are among the Lamentations, published by Leighton, mentioned before, several by Dowland, which seem to me inferior in every respect to the rest: for, besides want of melody and design, with the confusion and embarrassment of a Principiante in the disposition of the parts, there are frequently unwarrantable, and , to my ear, very offensive combinations in the harmony; such as a sharp third, and flat sixth, an extreme flat fourth and sixth, & c.”
“It has frequently happened that a great performer has been totally devoid of the genius and cultivation necessary for a composer; and, on the contrary, there have been eminent composers whose abilities in performance have been very far from great. Close application to the business of a composer equally enfeebles the hand and the voice, by the mere action of writing, as well as want of practice; and if the art of composition, and a facility of committing to paper musical ideas, clothed in good harmony, be not early acquired, even supposing that genius is not wanting, the case seems hopeless; as I never remember the difficulties of composition thoroughly vanquished, except during youth.”
“I think I may venture to say from the works of Dowland, which I have had an opportunity of examining, that he had not studied composition regularly at an early period of his life; and was but little used to writing in many parts. In his prefaces, particularly that to his Pilgrim’s Solace, he complains much of public neglect; but these complaints were never known to operate much in favour of the complainants, any more than those made to a mistress of lover whose affection is diminishing, which seldom has any other effect than to accelerate aversion. As a composer, the public seem to have been right in withdrawing that favour from Dowland, which had been granted on a bad basis; but with regard to his performance, we have nothing to say: as at this distance of time there is no judging what proportion it bore to that of others who were better treated.”
- Charles Burney, A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, Vol. III, London, 1789, pp. 136-138.
Burney would likely wonder at all the hubbub celebrating 2013 as the 450th anniversary of Dowland’s birth.
As we wind down from the release of our new CD John Dowland: A Pilgrimes Solace, its time to reflect a bit on the viability of CDs as a format for experiencing recorded music.
While we fully embrace the convenience of digital downloads, and have no qualms about making our recordings available in this format, we have a slight problem with the deceptive sleight of hand with which the music industry has played the consumer – yet again.
On a daily basis, we see the erosion of real content and quality on so many fronts, and it all has to do with the unpleasant imposition of a cynical business model upon every facet of our lives. In the case of the music industry, consumers have been duped into thinking that ‘possessing’ millions of MP3s is is better than sensibly building a library of carefully considered recordings. They want you to think that all those digital ones and zeros that comprise an MP3 can be tucked away and retrieved in a way that streamlines one’s life.
And now it turns out that the consumer doesn’t even own MP3s. They are merely licensed for limited use.
Here’s a radical idea: We propose that the CD – or what is abstractly labeled ‘Physical Product’ in the industry – is not dead. MP3s are yet another indication confirming the ugly truth that we have all been had – yet again – by an aggressive music industry campaign aimed at giving the consumer less quality for more money while paying recording artists less for their work. And now we learn that the consumer really doesn’t even own the digital product.
Managing information stored on your ipod, computer hard drive, or dwelling in the mythical ‘cloud‘not only dupes the unwitting consumer, but it also dehumanizes the act of mindfully experiencing music. And messing about with MP3s actually takes more time from your life than simply picking up a CD, playing it, and returning it to its place when done. These are physical and organizational acts that do not require learning and recalling a specialized sequence of menus and commands; punching a series of tiny buttons or smearing a miniscule display screen with greasy thumbprints. Despite what we are told by digital purveyors, taking a CD off the shelf, handling it, using it, enjoying it, and putting it away does not represent a series of hurdles and onerous indignities to be avoided or delegated; these are normal acts of a modern human being.
Besides, at least someone in the music industry is actually still making a bit of money on the CD format.
“It’s arguable that the CD will ever go away completely — at least within the next decade or two. Even if CD revenue drops 20% a year, the format will still have $217 million of revenues in 2023.” – Glenn Peoples, Billboard
It’s true that CDs are more cumbersome to store than MP3s, and much less attractive than the LPs they replaced so many years ago. Sure, plastic jewel cases are a nuisance at best, if not a downright environmental catastrophe at worst. But playing a CD allows the listener to have a physical interaction with they way he or she chooses to hear music. A CD will reveal the coherence of a recorded program that may represent a theme or may have grown from a concert production that features an unfolding progression of music. A CD will provide notes and background information for the listener to read, react to, and perhaps be informed by perusing.