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Saturday morning quotes 8.42: Odd connections

“Harpists spend 90 percent of their lives tuning their harps and 10 percent playing out of tune.” – Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)

This apt quotation from the great 20th-century composer demonstrates that he was well-informed about historical music, for the quote itself was obviously derived from a similar observation about tuning the lute by the great 18th-century lutenist, Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687 – 1750). Stravinsky was keenly aware that “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal,” and we take comfort that he also remarked that the lute was the most intimate and certainly the most personal of instruments.

Stravinsky’s uniquely modern compositional style was not to everyone’s taste; in fact it was found to be wanting among the Boston elite—and it was also found to be on the wrong side of Massachusetts law when he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his arrangement of the “Star-Spangled Banner” in 1941. The composer was threatened with a $100 fine under Massachusetts law forbidding rearrangement of the national anthem in whole or in part, and at a subsequent 1944 radio performance, Boston police descended on the BSO venue and seized the parts to his arrangement from musician’s stands, preventing the music from being broadcast. The following account was from the earlier performance.

“At the start, the audience began to sing with the orchestra in customary manner, but soon the odd, somewhat dissonant harmonies…became evident. Eyebrows lifted, voices faltered, and before the close practically everyone gave up even trying to accompany the score. Earlier, Mr. Stravinsky … said he retained the melody but introduced different harmonies, suggesting Puritan times with chords in the old contrapuntal style. The composer described the orchestral sound as full, rich, more like a church hymn than a soldier’s marching song or a club song, as the anthem was originally. “I tried to express the religious feelings of the people of America.” But Bostonians found little religious feeling.”

– from H. Colin Slim, “Stravinsky’s Four Star-Spangled Banners and His 1941 Christmas Card”, The Musical Quarterly, Summer – Fall, 2006, Vol. 89, No. 2/3, pp. 321-447

Stravinsky may have appreciated the lute but he was not exactly politically-correct, and he had a reputation as having anti-Semitic leanings that conveniently bolstered his standing in prewar Germany. But he was also an avowed anti-communist, stating, “I loathe all communism, Marxism, the execrable Soviet monster, and also all liberalism, democratism, atheism, etc.” On the other plucking hand, the venerable English leading lady of the lute revival, Diana Poulton, was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party from as early as 1920.

“It had taken courage to remain a Communist in England after 1945 as the Cold War between the western powers and the Soviet bloc developed and deepened. There were several occasions, both during and after her years in the Party, when Diana’s membership had caused difficulty for her. One of her close friends and fellow researchers into the lute and its music was Michael Prynne, at one time Brigadier in the British army and, between 1951 and 1953, military attaché at the Moscow Embassy. Their friendship rang alarm bells for the ‘watchers’ from MI5. Diana and Michael were regular correspondents and shared the results of their researches in order to develop one another’s understanding of the lute. They often exchanged lute tablature by post between London and Moscow … MI5 were puzzled by the tablature, which to the uneducated eye does look very odd. Naturally suspicious about the reason why a known communist should be communicating with their military attaché in a sensitive embassy, they apparently spent hours trying to decipher this unusual and confusing ‘code’ before someone explained that it was just music and old music at that.”

Thea Abbott, Diana Poulton: The Lady with the Lute, Smokehouse Press, Norwich, 2014, ppg 130-131.

Early music enthusiasts today seem to find old music and politics an ungrateful mixture, but the two disciplines have been intertwined in the distant past and in more recent memory, and it should be no surprise that vocal proponents of early music feel compelled to speak out on contemporary issues, going to some lengths to equate the complex dynamics of the past with the first world problems of the present.

We normally feel inclined to keep our political opinions to ourselves, although subtle hints of our leanings may rise to the surface from time to time in these pages. Mainly, we like to grant historical figures a voice and the opportunity to share their timeless observations that often mean as much today as in the past. But we are informed thinking individuals, and we feel inclined to point out the bloody obvious fact that we no longer have leaders in government. Instead, we have followers who obey the deceptive dictates of their corporate donors, and who react grudgingly and belatedly to emergency situations only after following polling data that alerts them to the general level of outrage among citizens.

“The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

“When once a Republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil.”

Thomas Jefferson

Saturday morning quotes 8.41: Anyone listening?

Sometimes we wonder whether anyone out there is listening. Sometimes we feel like the earnest musicianer depicted in the illustration above must have felt; sometimes we feel as though the art form that has consumed countless hours of our time and attention is falling on deaf and disinterested ears. Obviously, we know there is a listening audience for our music—our weekly digital distribution statistics affirm a surprisingly large and growing global desire for quiet, intimate historical sounds that cause the listener to feel something. But over the past few years, the entire global population has undergone a serious recalibration, and we have all been instructed by absurdly unaccountable algorithms to stay at home, be suspicious of our neighbors, and just buy happy-making stuff that is not-so-subtlety suggested by out-of-control surveillance capitalism. It is unsurprising that many of the enormous number of small businesses negatively affected by the health scare have simply evaporated never to return. And that certainly holds true for performing musicians who are still facing significant barriers to concertizing.

A glaringly obvious example of how to deal with a global outbreak of an infectious disease can be found by studying the 1918 influenza epidemic (history revised or strenuously ignored by promoters of the new paradigm). Sensible precautions were taken in 1918, but the world did not shut down. Public concerts continued because music was and is necessary, and there were very limited alternatives available for listening to recordings at the time. This was the era of Elgar, Fauré, Hindemith, Poulenc, Puccini, and Stravinsky, all of whom continued to compose, travel and concertize despite the threat of influenza. Popular songs like “After You’ve Gone” and “Fidgety Feet” were published in 1918, and were enormously successful because they were played live and in-person by musicians unafraid to share a little spit. Fortunately for all artists at the time, their chances and choices were not directed and/or limited by the unchecked power and authority of the technology sector and their enablers.

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.  We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in.  Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.  Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness hard and unkind.  We think too much, and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities life will be violent, and all will be lost…You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work that will give youth a future and old age a security.”

Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator, 1940

A gauge of whether anyone is listening is the time-honored measure of bums on seats at the concert hall. Early music as a concert genre has given up the ghost, and its remains are fated to be recalled whimsically, if uneasily, as a musty odor emanating from the sepulcher of current correctness. Early music as a subspecies of classical music was in a tailspin well before the pandemic put the kibosh on all concerts, and the downfall of such a specialized niche market of the entertainment world has been abetted by overcautious hosting organizations and hyper-vigilant academic institutions. But live concerts were given the coup de grâce by unwitting performers falling over themselves to appear pure of heart and mind—not to their audience, but to their corporate, institutional and academic sponsors.

Public health agencies have issued confused and sometimes contradictory directives we are told we must follow in future. But thinking persons will understand the nature of regulatory capture of public agencies by corporate entities and the resulting public policy that aims to advance corporate goals over the public good. The phenomenon has been well-documented over the years in the UK and the US, along with timely and very pertinent observations concerning transparency of data that appeared in a respected medical journal. The upshot is that overzealous public health policy has a serious effect on live entertainment, and has severely dampened enthusiasm for early music concerts, already a diminishing phenomenon. It is important to understand the lessons of history and consider the motivations and the mechanics behind the creation of current public health policy.

“…Two-thirds to three-quarters of global pharmaceutical profits come from the United States.  All that money creates this huge machine that can lobby, that can hire PR, that pays doctors to be key opinion leaders, and that money itself distorts our healthcare system.”

Dr. John Abrahamson, broadcast interview.

The solution to ever-changing rules and untrustworthy leadership? Experience the ultimate in historical accuracy by making music for yourself, your family and your friends.

Saturday morning quotes 8.40: Dr. John Case

Dr. John Case (c. 1539 – 1600) was a very active Elizabethan scholar whose works included Summa veterum interpretum in universam dialecticam Aristotelis (1584), Speculum moralium quaestionium in universam ethicen Aristotelis (1585), and Sphaera Civitatis, a commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, published in 1588. Largely responsible for the late sixteenth-century English fascination with Aristotelian philosophy, Case enjoyed a sterling reputation as an engaging teacher who encouraged critical thinking. Among modern scholars of Elizabethan music, Case is known for the anonymous but fairly securely attributed Apologia musices tam vocalis quam instrumentalis, et mixtæ, which argued in defense of music in worship at a time when Puritanism was steamrolling across the Continent and gaining a strong foothold in the British Isles.

In Apologia musices, Dr. Case makes a “case” for the value of instrumental music, in ecclesiastical settings but also in civic life and in the theater, mentioning some of the preeminent musicians of the time (1588) with a list that includes the twenty-five year old John Dowland:

“…And what cause is there now, why we should not mention, with their just praise, these still surviving men, Bird, Munday, Bull, Morley, Dowland, Johnson, and others (today very many) highly skilled upon instruments?”

– John Case, Apologia musices, p. 44.

Dowland returned the favor of mention by dedicating a pavan for solo lute to Dr. Case, a piece that occupies pride of place appearing in the very first pages of the revered Mathew Holmes lute manuscripts now in the Cambridge University Library.

As the title of his 1588 work indicates, Case describes three kinds of music; vocal, instrumental and mixed (vocal and instrumental), to which he ascribed a singular power to affect the passions.

“In the practise of music there is a salutary activity of the lungs, which generates generous spirit and heat in the inward parts, digests the thick humours with which youth abounds, and purges all the vapours and clouds flowing from the head or in flux. And finally, it has an innate power to moderate the affects, for…it penetrates through the air and the ear right into the mind, and holds it marvellously beneath its sway and its power.”

– John Case, Apologia musices, p. 52.

Today, we readily dismiss the power of music and its effects on our emotions, instead treating music as a consumer product while enabling the marketing industry unchecked power to use music in ways that influence mass behavior. Elizabethans knew very well the power of music, and to them it was held in high esteem as a science. Today, we are told to trust science while those in the know use science to numb the public’s mind and pick their pocket. But it is possible to gain an understanding of historical practice and thought to illuminate our lives today, although access to untainted historical information is increasingly fraught.

“Case’s tantalisingly brief statements on the ecstatics of music give some insight into the extent sixteenth-century hearers hoped – perhaps even demanded – to be moved by the music they heard. Yet Case was careful to point out that the delight we take in music should not merely be aesthetic; rather, it should move us to contemplate virtue and act accordingly. He explains that just as images (phantasmata) are impressed on the secret powers of the mind (animus) by the other senses, likewise music is transferred from the hearing to the intellect, and from the intellect to the will. An ethically positive message that reaches us by means of music thus has the capability of making us just, wise and blessed.”

Grantley McDonald, “Music, Spirit and Ecclesiastical Politics in Elizabethan England: John Case and his Apologia Musices,” in Steffen Schneider (Editor), Aisthetics of the Spirits: Spirits in Early Modern Science, Religion, Literature and Music, V&R unipress, GmbH, 2015, p. 481.

Saturday morning quotes 8.39: Context again

Regular readers will discern that our essays continually harp on the importance of context in our interpretations of early music. What exactly do we mean by this?

“…Contextual music history: a style of history that locates the conception, production, transmission, and consumption of music firmly within a social, religious, economic and political context.”

– Michael Talbot in a review of Tim Carter, Music in Renaissance and early Baroque Italy, from Early Music, Vol. XXI, No. 1, February 1993, p. 111.

Clear enough? The primary reason we think context is important is because we met singing the Latin Mass in a small schola, an experience that relates directly to the lives of historical musicians in our area of specialty. When performing functional music in its original context, the experienced musician is guided by practical considerations that conservatory students will never comprehend in the classroom, and this important consideration has been a guiding principle throughout our partnership as a duo.

It has been our observation that, at least in the US, most performers who wish to specialize in early music prioritize connections with gatekeepers, teachers, patrons and organizational sponsors. Today, a successful performing career in such a specialized niche market depends upon solid financial support, because gaining an audience the time-honored way is a long and difficult process that most enterprising performers don’t have time for. Instead, installing a wealthy board of directors, buying mailing lists, and buying social media optimization appears to be the path most young performers follow. This in fact is the well-trodden path that many notable performers have followed over the past 40 years of the early music revival, and many of these performers have wholeheartedly embraced the role of gatekeepers, who are thankfully now finally retiring.

To return to context, there are some young musicians who countenance the idea that context may be valorized—something presented in multimedia performances that include special staging and visual projections of art and poetry for an audience who likes to have everything spelled out. On the other hand, we think the difficult work of absorbing contextual information is the performer’s responsibility; presenting a fully-informed program of music that convinces the audience on its own merits. We respect the intelligence of our audience and trust them to engage with the words and music we are performing. Here is a sample from last year’s release:

So what is the outlook for working-class musicians who love old music, perform it well and receive positive feedback for their efforts? Not so good. The hard work of winning over an audience one person at a time may be arduous and time-consuming, but it is authentic.

“Aloysius—Perhaps the hope of future riches and possessions induces you to choose this life? If this is the case, believe me you must change your mind; not Plutus but Apollo rules Parnassus. Whoever wants riches must take another path.”

– Johann Joseph Fux, Gradus ad Parnassum

Saturday morning quotes 8.38: Revisionism

“Keepers of books—collectors and librarians—prefer to buy books in good condition, rather than well-worn, heavily marked-up exemplars. On top of this is the seemingly banal fact that the least-used books survive the longest.”

– Susan Forscher Weiss, “Vandals, Students, or Scholars? Handwritten Clues in Renaissance Music Textbooks”, in  Music Education in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, edited by Russell E. Murray, Jr., Susan Forscher Weiss, and Cynthia J. Cyrus, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2010, p. 213.

The astute observer of the human condition can see an unsettling uptick in the revision of historical information on many fronts. Historical revisionism is not necessarily a bad thing—updated factual information can help clarify mistaken perceptions and point toward a better understanding of historical context and motivation. But it is far too easy to take a collection of surviving books, for instance, as a representative example of historical preference in any given subject area. As implied in the quotation above, the books that survive intact may very well indicate they were books that simply were not used—and perhaps not even taken seriously.

As we know, the surviving historical printed music only represents a small fraction of music that was actually played, so as performers of early music we are therefore not following historical principles if we are not improvising in an historical style. And what of the “historical” instruments we play today?

“Most surviving lute soundboards are quite thin, often about 1.5mm. However there is some support for the view that the very earliest from c. 1540 may have been rather thicker, and that soundboards were made progressively thinner as the number of the supporting bars was increased.”

– David Van Edwards, “Structure of the Western Lute

Modern lutes that are presumably built on historical models also suffer from revisionist ideals that have more to do with modern sensibilities; ideals that may have entirely missed the mark.  Several of our most talented modern luthiers made the pilgrimage to European (and American) museums in order to measure original instruments, and they faithfully reconstructed lutes to match the dimensions they measured.  But wood has a cellular structure that changes over time, and the more astute among modern luthiers realized that 500 year-old wood most certainly lost mass over half a millennium: Dimensions of a new lute that replicate those of a 500 year-old instrument do not reflect dimensions of the original instrument when it was new.  Thus, the hypersensitive lute of today may very well not have been the sort of instrument played in the 16th century, further confirming the observations of Richard Taruskin, who famously wrote.

“…What we call historical performance is the sound of now, not then. It derives its authenticity not from its historical verisimilitude, but from its being for better or worse a true mirror of late-20th-century taste…So forget history. What Early Music has been doing is busily remaking the music of the past in the image of the present (necessary because we unfortunately have so little use for the actual music of the present), only calling the present by some other name.”

Richard Taruskin,“The Spin Doctors of Early Music,” New York Times, July 29, 1990

The scales fall from our eyes and we step back—secure in our footing—and now clearly see (and hear) that the brilliant chirpy sound of today’s lutes played with crisp-sounding synthetic strings and recorded in a contrived cathedral acoustic really has no historical basis. Today’s listening audience has been sold a bill of goods contrived by marketing professionals in the late 20th century. But we are here to present an historically-informed alternative.

While historical revisionism may have actual cause or merit, historical negationism has neither. Negationism is a term conceived by historian Henry Rousso, and the term appears in his important book The Vichy Syndrome. Negationism is revision of history using false or improper historical method to support a particular view or otherwise misrepresent the actual substance or events of the past. Historian James M. McPherson described such revisionist history as “a consciously-falsified or distorted interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present…”

“There are all kinds of myths that a people has about itself, some positive, some negative, some healthy and some not healthy. I think that one job of the historian is to try to cut through some of those myths and get closer to some kind of reality. So that people can face their current situation realistically, rather than mythically. I guess that’s my sense of what a historian ought to do.”

- James M. McPherson, from David Walsh,“An exchange with a Civil War historian”, International Workers Bulletin, June 19, 1995. 

We live in interesting times, and individuals with open eyes and agile minds observe that we are running headlong in a direction of increasing authoritarianism and diminishing individual freedom. Indications of this trend are the disturbing instances of rewriting history to serve a political purpose. For instance, astute individuals noticed at the onset of the current world health situation, the Wikipedia page on the historical Spanish Influenza epidemic was mysteriously altered to show a significant reduction in the devastating severity of the historical disease over a century ago. Absent clear and convincing reasons for the revision of historical data, we can only assume that the numbers were altered for the sole reason of pumping up the perceived severity of the current situation as much worse, indicating a coordinated effort on the part of health authorities. It is the job of the historian to preserve and present historical fact in any arena.

Saturday morning quotes 8.37: Old Ideas

As specialists in old music, we represent a dying breed: thinking persons who read books, absorb and discuss the contents, and attempt to apply old ideas to our music and our lives. In an age when a few ridiculously wealthy and absurdly influential over-privileged brats foist upon the public stolen ideas, rampant consumerism, and the principles of draconian population control, others cruelly tout themselves as harbingers of the future. We find that day by day we are distancing ourselves further from modern popular culture. We want nothing to do with the imposition of modern monetary schemes or dwelling in pretend cartoon worlds that are blatantly contrived to prevent otherwise intelligent persons from noticing that their wallet is being emptied while their basic human rights are eliminated.

Out of step with modern sensibilities, our aim is to learn from the past and preserve the cumulative good. We continue to read books that reveal how human existence has always been a puzzle, and that thinking persons will always question received ideas. When we see how modern modes of commercialism affect our choices and impinge upon our lives, we take conscious steps to insulate ourselves from the message of modern snake oil salesmen and carnival hucksters who attempt to pass off their manipulative wares as technological solutions to age-old problems.

In the realm of early music, we have taken pains to point out how what began as a genuine effort to preserve a slice of historical aesthetic beauty was eventually highly commercialized by individuals who stood to profit from their scheme. What we know about money laundering in the world of art most certainly permeated the niche market of early music—which has always been a subcategory of classical music—with self-appointed gatekeepers who selected certain individuals as “stars” to advance and created nonprofit organizations to shelter funds, while they took active steps to deny a platform to any performers who might appear to encroach upon their scheme. Fortunately, these individuals have cashed in and are retiring and retreating to their several palaces. Unfortunately, they have pulled their funding in support of early music, allowing the preservation of historical aesthetic beauty to wither and die: Blithe neglect is the true legacy of these gatekeepers.

But enough of that. We offer a few quotes that express old ideas drawn from an article by early music pioneer Michael Morrow (1929 – 1994), an article we have quoted in the remote past.

“With several happy exceptions, I have always found it difficult to work with singers. This is partly due to my ignorance of 20th-century vocal technique: articulation from the diaphragm rather than the throat, expression by means of the eyebrows instead of the voice. I find it hard to come to terms with the British baritone…; the gorgeous contralto-tenor turning his best profile to the audience; the soprano attacking a high note like a screech owl pursued out of a tunnel by an express train.”

– Michael Morrow, “Musical Performance and Authenticity,” Early Music, Vol. VI, No. 2, April 1978, p. 237.

“In order to form some idea of past vocal styles it seems to me valuable, if not essential, to familiarize oneself with the enormous variety of sounds that the human voice can produce, with the many highly sophisticated vocal techniques that are found in traditional musics throughout the world. It should be remembered that although a good voice may be the result of a fine technique, it can—and should—also have that indefinable quality to move the listener. And this quality need not necessarily spring from a flawless technique—indeed by its conviction it can often override technique altogether.”

– Michael Morrow, p. 241.

We leave you with an example of a performance that reflects the distillation of these timeless thoughts and ideas, J’ay prins amours a ma devise.

Saturday morning quotes 8.36: Diversions

With each passing day, the world becomes increasingly fraught for so many people—we are clearly in need of a diversion. We offer a just a few items of distraction that may serve the purpose, including some of our musical favorites of the moment.

“One of the paradoxes of contemporary musical study is the fact that the student by his very desire for historically authentic performance has developed habits of thought which impede his gaining a proper understanding of the music of certain past periods. His strict training in accurate adherence to the notes of a composition as written down by the composer has developed in him such a reverence for those notes that it is hard for him to add to them, or subtract from them, without a feeling of guilt. While this attitude has produced exemplary results in the performance of music written after 1750, it has also led to a complete misconception of the performance ideals of much of the music written in the Baroque and Renaissance periods.”

Imogene Horsley, “Embellishment in the Performance of Renaissance Polyphonic Music,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring, 1951), 3-19.

This article published some 70 years ago by an important musicologist points out a major aspect of the interpretation of early music that is inexplicably still scarcely acknowledged to this day. There are exceptions of course, but much of the historical music that was written down was intended to serve as a memory cue to spark the imagination and prompt individualistic musical interpretation. Today’s music historians could (and should) have highlighted this fact, but instead many have produced “greatest hits” editions stuffed with footnotes that discern between “good” and “bad” surviving versions of a given piece. Old music was highly improvisational in nature, and the people who played it were not burdened by conservatory training. Sadly, today’s musicians are trained to regurgitate written symbols on the page without gaining a deep understanding of the music itself.

“During Marenzio’s early twenties, he seems to have made a study of the madrigals of Lasso; the Civico Museo bibliografico musicale of Bologna owns a copy of Lasso’s Primo libro de madrigali a cinque voci [1573 edition]…with the signature “Luca Marenzio” on the title page of the canto part.”

– Steven Ledbetter, “Marenzio’s Early Career, “Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. XXXII, No. 2 (Summer 1979), p. 316.

This non sequitur may not pique the interest of all and sundry, but it does offer some further hints into John Dowland’s inspiration for the Lachrimæ falling tear motif that was sprinkled like so many dandelions throughout his collected work. A few years ago, we produced a series of posts on Dowland’s instrumental collection, Lachrimæ or Seaven Teares, and discussed our choice for the likely source of Dowland’s lachrymose inspiration. In one post, we mentioned that the esteemed musicologist David Pinto spotted an early statement of the theme in Lasso’s setting of “Domine ne in furore tuo” in the collection of Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales (1584), set to the particular words “Laboravi in gemitu meo”. We know of Dowland’s obsession with the music of Marenzio, but there is no evidence that he was intimate with the printed works of Lasso. However, given that Marenzio studied the works of Lasso, it is entirely possible that Marenzio himself borrowed the theme from the older mæstro, thereby routing to Dowland a recycled bit of music that fit the doleful character of his chosen musical persona. We still feel strongly that the close of the cantus in Marenzio’s “Piango che Amor” (1588) is the likely source.

Department of what we’re listening to: Good, Bad and otherwise; Historical French song; Too nice for words; Historical song in English that cannot be improved. You may notice that you will find zero early music in these examples. While we still love the repertory, we’re experiencing a bit of a dilemma with the music to which we have devoted so much time and energy, having finally realized that early music in its current form today is nothing more than playtime for posh people. Maybe we’ll get over it.

These small diversions may in some small way help us forget about the absurd turmoil that is currently affecting friends and neighbors across the globe. But it is absolutely essential that we remain engaged, and it is necessary that we all step back to gain a perspective on the complete mess our leadership has wrought. We have placed trust in leaders who have through monetary wealth, clandestine connections and ruthless manipulation insinuated themselves into positions that allow them to further enrich themselves at the expense of the population at large: They are not worthy of our trust, and it is time to replace all of those leaders with persons committed to representing the interests of the people. Remember.

Saturday morning quotes 8.35: Character study

“The lute is a modest interpreter of our thoughts and passions to those that understand the language. One may tell another by the help of it what he hath in his heart. We may express upon it choler, pity, hatred, scorn, love, grief, joy; we may give hope and despair…[For] those that have the grace to lift up their mind to the contemplation of heavenly things, this celestial harmony contributes much to raise our souls and make them melt in the love of God.  Nothing represents so well the consort of angelical choirs and gives more foretastes of heavenly joys and of everlasting happiness.”

– Mary Burwell’s lute tutor, c. 1660

We can only hope that musicians will lift up their minds to the contemplation of heavenly things, but there are far too many examples of historical musicians engaging in odious behavior; musicians ranging from Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Carlo Gesualdo, to Richard Wagner and James Levine. Then we have a random assortment of other hoodlums, abusers, thieves and mass murderers who in more recent memory gained undeserved notoriety as pianists including Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Condolezza Rice. Let’s face it: competence in playing music does not forthwith establish an individual’s good character.

After many years of involvement with early music generally and the lute in particular, we have met many wonderful professional colleagues and amateur musicians who are kind, considerate and generous individuals who can hear, feel and understand the deeper meaning we strive to illuminate and convey in our music. We have also met our share of inconsiderate, manipulative and unkind people (at best), and outright narcissists, egomaniacs, charlatans, and miscreants (at worst). As much as we would like it to be so, not only angels play the lute.

Take the case of the individual pictured above, one Jacques Gaultier (c. 1600 – c. 1660), French lutenist, murderer and utter rogue. Also known as Gaultier d’Angleterre, there is no evidence to indicate he was related to the more famous lutenists bearing the same surname, Ennemond, Denis, or Pierre Gaultier. Jacques Gaultier fled France in 1617 after the cowardly murder of an unarmed nobleman and took refuge in England, where he was welcomed at the royal court beginning in 1625, remaining there on and off until his presumed demise around 1660. Gaultier was imprisoned and tortured in 1627 for uttering scandalous remarks about King Charles I and his French Queen Henrietta Maria, who was Gaultier’s apparently apt (17 year-old) lute student. On January 15, 1627, Venetian ambassador Alvise Contarini wrote that this Gaultier:

“…boasted that by the dulcet tones of the lute he could make his way even into the royal bed and he had been urged to do so in a manner that became well-nigh nauseous.”
– Ian Spink, “Another Gaultier Affair”, Music & Letters, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1964), pp. 345-347

There were yet more shenanigans and death threats directed towards Gaultier’s patron, the Duke of Buckingham, but since several highly-placed persons were involved, the whole scandal was hushed up in a manner reminiscent of the recent Jeffrey Epstein affair. Gaultier appears to have resumed musical duties at court by 1629, and he was generally lauded for his lute-playing by the likes of Constantijn Huygens (1622), a frequent correspondent who requested the help of this Gaultier to procure one of the few surviving and highly-prized Laux Maler lutes. But, as we can surmise by the smug facial expression and pointy weaponized appearance of the lute in the above engraving, Gaultier was apparently incapable of minding his manners. From the casebook of a contemporary surgeon, we learn about one of this Gaultier’s social exploits.

“Mr. Ashberrie (a lutanist) at night was bitten by Gottier, the French Luteniste in Covent Garden, had a piece of his cheek bitten out, an inch or more, on left side at corner of the mouth & [nether] lip, down to the lower part of the jaw. I stiched it & dressed it.”
– Dr. Joseph Binnes’ medical casebook, 10 May 1643, British Library, Sloane ms. 153, f. 207.

The surname Gaultier is attached to around 50 surviving lute solos in renaissance tuning, many of them found in the manuscript lute book of Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury. It is unclear exactly which lutenist named Gaultier composed the music, but Paul O’Dette ascribed the pieces to Jacques Gaultier on his 1992 recording, Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s Lute Book. More recent research reveals that Lord Herbert had no apparent personal connection to Jacques, and in his capacity as Ambassador in Paris, Lord Herbert wrote that he was offended that Jacques sought English protection “for haveing killed a brave French Gentleman and of a noble house[,] in a most base fashion fled to England.” Most of Gaultier’s imprecisely ascribed music is of great intricacy and refinement, and it is much more likely that the Gaultier responsible is the more famous Ennemond, also known as Vieux Gaultier. This is also the view of the editors of the excellent Lute Society color facsimile of Herbert of Cherbury’s book, published in 2019 (buy it).

Today, we like to indulge in fantasies where the original musicians who played our chosen instrument approached their music with a sense of awestruck, if one-dimensional, detachment; strumming a lute perched atop a richly-saddled unicorn floating into the keep of a magic castle among dancing damsels. Sadly, this is the sort of PR mythology imprinted upon the historical fantasy-land that describes the modern early music revival.

Much historical repertory has a depth of complex beauty difficult to access today without involvement, commitment and serious study. But when it comes down to it, early musicians were just musicians doing what musicians do, and a percentage of them were rogues and charlatans advancing careers and just looking out for number one. A contextual reality check should in no way undermine the intrinsic value of historical music, but we must understand that there are plenty of reasons why those who are so inclined could probe the historical records and retroactively “cancel” a composer or musician. We advocate developing a contextual understanding that helps uncover the deeper meaning of historical music, and conveying that meaning to our modern audience without the distraction of costumes, bells & whistles—and overproduced videos.

Saturday morning quotes 8.34: Gatekeepers II

We have discussed the stark reality of gatekeepers in early music briefly in a previous post, but this issue has become even more pervasive as time marches on and audiences fade away. A limited audience for what amounts to a niche market in music could easily be cultivated with a coordinated effort on the part of collegial performers who share resources and maintain an optimistic outlook. But, sadly, the examples we have seen reflect the unpleasant sniping so commonly found in the academic world, with territorial types who maintain their relevance not by eye-catching innovation and useful research, but rather by manipulation and whisper campaigns.

Gate-keeping today has taken a very ugly turn in what has become known as “cancel-culture” an unfortunate phenomenon that routinely spreads rapidly via social media. “Canceling” individuals or organizations because of a perceived slight or misstep is the mark of group-think led by persons wielding a fundamentally underdeveloped intellect and patently immature socialization. Full stop. This is why one of us steadfastly refuses to participate on social media, and will never take part in a format that encourages individuals to be ruled by the lowest common denominator. It is sad indeed that in 2022 the internet has enabled a global society that is increasingly less kind and certainly less intelligent.

Returning to music, we have had an interesting dalliance with the music industry for many years now, and it is always enlightening to see how access to different genres of music can be regulated and by whom. Some ten years ago, we posted a series of essays on the book, The Modern Invention of Medieval Music, by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, and laid bare the role of music critic as gatekeeper:

“We wanted to influence the performers, the record-buying public and through them the record companies, and…we spared none of the instrument-based groups whose records came our way  The tone may be scornful or patronisingly sorrowful, lofty or irritated, but the message was unmistakable: buy Gothic Voices, the Taverner Consort, the Hilliard Ensemble, and leave the rest.”  (MIMM, p. 138)

Ideally, a music critic should not have an agenda. Since Leech-Wilkinson was a very active recording reviewer in the journal, Early Music, such overt bias should have been reason enough to send him packing. But we do not live in an ideal world. We dwell in a world that is skewed toward elite control of every aspect of life, and the fact that Leech-Wilkinson publicly crowed in his book about his past manipulative gatekeeping tactics demonstrates that there are no repercussions for bad behavior if you run with the right crowd.

As for the importance of music as a cultural commonality, we need only look to the not-so-distant past to see how music was regarded, regulated and employed to control society.

“Music affects the heart and emotions more than the intellect.  Where then could the heart of a nation beat stronger than in the huge masses, in which the heart of a nation has found its true home?”
– Joseph Goebbels

Recently, we had a particularly egregious example of the use of pop music to help shape the public perception on the anniversary of the gross stupidity that was the January 6th “insurrection”. Setting aside whether the music was good or bad, or the composer worthy or worthless, this was a blatant homage to Goebbels’ observation, and sadly yet another indication that we are being ruled by a cadre of out-of-touch persons who gladly indulge in hollow public gestures but can’t seem to get anything of importance done.

Nevertheless, we continue to successfully bring deeply moving historical music to our audience, despite the roadblocks and obstructions. We will comment that we noticed a review of our generally well-received album, Unquiet Thoughts, in the UK Lute News by an disengaged reviewer who apparently did not listen to the entire album (that sounded different to what he is accustomed), or he would have noticed that there were 3 lute solos. Here is the one he missed.

Saturday morning quotes 8.33: Plague & Justice

We check in with the voluminous writings of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527), famous poet and astute advisor to the ambitious and powerful over the past 500 years. Machiavelli was also the lyricist for one of our favorite madrigals by Philippe Verdelot (c. 1480 – 1530) which was arranged for solo voice and lute by Adrian Willaert (c. 1490 – 1562), so we feel his observations on effective governance fit well into a blog that focuses on music and cultural history of the 16th century.

Machiavelli’s work has been taken out of context for centuries to the point that his name has morphed into an unpleasant adjective, Machiavellian, that essentially means not-so-nice. One online dictionary lists the following synonyms for “Machiavellian”: cutthroat, immoral, unconscionable, unethical, unprincipled, unscrupulous. But Machiavelli the man, the poet and the philosopher did indeed have principles, and held the abstract concept of justice in very high esteem as an essential ideal.

“…What is most pernicious is to see how the promoters and princes of parties give decent appearance to their intention and their end with a pious word; for always, although they are all enemies of freedom, they oppress it under color of defending the state either of the best or of the people. For the prize they desire to gain by victory is not the glory of having liberated the city but the satisfaction of having overcome others and having usurped the principality of the city. Having been led to this point, there is nothing so unjust, so cruel, or mean that they do not dare to do it.”
– Niccolò Machiavelli, Florentine Histories, Book III, Ch. 5.

For all the lip-service given to Machiavelli by proponents of unrestrained self-interest, at least Machiavelli recognized the importance of studying historical examples as a means to inform those who would govern equitably in the present age by avoiding grave mistakes made in the past.

“Machiavelli does not see history as irrelevant to political problem-solving. He approaches political problems through history because he sees a clear historical understanding of present problems as a sine qua non for finding well-considered solutions. And since different parties start from their own partial and partisan views of a conflict’s history, anyone who hopes to persuade them to adopt a wider view must start by showing what is wrong with their narrower ones.”
Erica Benner, Machiavelli’s Ethics, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2010, p. 306 – 307.

Machiavelli is remembered for his Il Principe, which offered advice to his (current) monarch on how to both attain and maintain power in an environment of constant upheaval. Dynastic rule was the order of the day, and democracies were viewed with great suspicion. Even in the best of modern democracies, the two-party system amounts to dynastic rule justified by tradition.

“Now, the maintenance of autocratic rule in dynastic monarchies is a far easier business than it is in the newly established. All that is needed is the avoidance of a breach with tradition in institutions, and opportunism in the face of events. A ruler of quite mediocre sagacity can usually cling to his throne, unless some outside and overwhelming force displace him, and even if he is displaced, a reverse to the intruding victor will generally lead to his restoration.”
– Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe, 1513.

You the reader can choose to absorb these words and meditate on their relevance today. Or you can choose to escape to the world of 16th-century nymphs and shepherds by checking out the song by Machiavelli/Verdelot/Willaert, and just enjoying life. But please keep your eyes and minds open and observe the unjust, cruel, and mean measures taken by those in power as they make the Machiavellian most of the plague.