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Saturday morning quotes 8.22: Song & Dance

As we put the finishing touches on our latest recording of French airs de cour it is difficult to overlook the degree to which dance forms combine so perfectly with poetry to form the backbone of this appealing repertory. The dominance of dance forms should be no surprise to the cognoscenti who understand that the magic in much of historical music arises from shapely phrasing, a firm bass, and a steady pulse. What is surprising is the pan-European nature of both poetical themes and dance forms. In this post we examine one example.

“Mes pas semez” is from Adrian Le Roy’s 1556 Second livre de guiterre for renaissance guitar, and is labeled “Chanson a plaisir” as a page heading. Based on other examples of Le Roy’s work, both the poetry and the music were likely purloined from Italian examples, this time employing the Cara cosa ground, a variant of the popular and enduring La Folia.

“The folia is thought to have originated either in Spain or Portugal; it was certainly very popular in Spain, whence it spread to France, where it became known as the ‘ Folie d’Espagne’.”

“The folia has numerous variants, the type known as ‘La gamba’ or the ‘Cara cosa’ being at once the most popular and the kind most frequently found in the English manuscript sources.”


– Ivy L. Mumford, “Musical Settings to the Poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt”, Music & Letters , Oct., 1956, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct., 1956), p. 320.

The poetry to “Mes pas semez” is distinctly Petrarchian in form, and the content of poem appears to be a direct adaptation of Petrarch’s “O passi sparsi” set to music by Italian Sebastiano Festa (c. 1490 – 1524). Festa’s setting is perhaps best known in an intabulation for lute by Le Roy’s mentor, Italian Alberto da Ripa (c. 1500 – 1551). As Mumford describes in the quote above, Italian poetical forms were copied by English poets of the mid-sixteenth century, and it was common practice to set poetry to Italian grounds such as the Cara cosa/La folia. This was also true in France, where Italian musical forms were embraced and employed to accompany the unparalleled elegance of French poetry. Interestingly, Le Roy later recycled a close variant of the tune for “Mes pas semez” as the melody for the chanson “J’aymerey mieux dormir seulette”, which was in turn adapted by Thoinot Arbeau to serve as dance music for a particular galliard, the choreography published in 1588-89 in Arbeau’s collection of dances, Orchésographie, 1589, English translation by Mary Stewart Evans, with Introduction and Notes by Julia Sutton, Dover Publications, New York, 1967.

It is a fascinating diversion to delve into the manifold and minute details of movements common to historical dance, and the galliard was one of the more complex dances. Galliards frequently mixed meters, and dancers developed a series of moves that were synchronized with specific dances to accommodate time changes. One series of steps encountered in the galliard at a point of time change is called the fleuret, and in her commentary to Arbeau’s Orchesographie (1588), Julia Sutton described the effect:

“By superimposing two-beat patterns on music organized into three-beat musical groupings, the fleurets create interesting cross accents.”

– Sutton, Orchesographie, p. 222.

As described by Mumford above, variants of Cara cosa ground appear in mid-16th century English manuscripts demonstrating the English taste for Continental music. Thomas Wyatt’s poem, “Blame not my lute” does not survive in a 16th-century print, but the title is found attached to a setting for lute in the Folger Library MS V.a.159, as detailed by John Ward in Music for Elizabethan Lutes, Clarendon / Oxford University Press, 1992. The musical setting for the poem is basically the Cara cosa ground and bears points of similarity with “Mes pas semez” as set by Le Roy.

“Mes pas semez” presents a challenge in performance: The essential pulse and intricate dance rhythms must support poetry that describes anxiety and despair, but without crossing the line and cancelling the emotional content of the piece. If the pulse is overly languid, the essential energy of speech rhythm is lost. If the pulse is overly quick, it trivializes the meaning of the words. Our performance follows 16th-century practice and adapts Le Roy’s version for four-course guitar (ukulele, basically) to the lute, complementing the sparse arrangement with a fuller lower register and adding an appealing bass line. As with any dance tune, rhythmic vitality is essential but also adds substance to the emotional depth of the poetry.

Our performance of “Mes pas semez” appears on our new recording scheduled for release in September. Watch for it.



Saturday morning quotes 8.21: More on Context

Our last post posed contrasting points of view concerning musical performance, highlighting musical content versus performances that attempt to place music in its context. For obvious reasons, musical content is and should be the performer’s primary focus when offering obscure, unique or unfamiliar music to an audience. But placing music in its historical context can be an effective way of benevolently guiding or influencing the listeners’ experience of a concert—or contrariwise it can be an excuse for performers to indulge in a narcissistic circus side-show.

As early music specialists, we have presented many lecture-recitals in academic settings across the US, replete with visual materials employed to add context or to reinforce an important point. And as performers we have occasionally dabbled in providing visual materials to illustrate the links between art, politics, religion, literature, poetry and music. But where do we draw the line between concerts that present thoughtful, informed interpretations of intimate historical music, or performances that seem more like a day at the circus? At what point do performers cross the line and put more energy into creating a visual spectacle than they put into refining and presenting convincing interpretations of music informed by diligent research into historical context? And at what point are performers simply inventing a cool but entirely unhistorical visual spectacle just because it’s fun to put on a show?

“…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

“…I think most historians would doubt that medieval Europe was in the thrall of a half-dozen professional touring ensembles, each consisting of a handful of attractive, literate and well-nourished men and women in their 30’s and 40’s, with all their teeth intact.”

– Benjamin Bagby, “What is the Sound of Medieval Song?

“For performances of historical music to be convincing in the present – for them to create an aura of authenticity, historical or otherwise, for both performers and audiences – the sounds and styles used must be perceived as timeless.”

– Elizabeth Upton, “Concepts of Authenticity in Early Music and Popular Music Communities”, Ethnomusicology Review, Volume 17 (2012)

“…Few audiences share the emotional or theological associations that period audiences felt toward specific texts, chorales, or plainchant melodies. This is an example of another broad argument for impossibility, involving reception, which says that composers wrote for audiences whose experiences not only of music but also of much that music refers to differed from those of our time.”

“One [motive for performing historical music] is competition for attention and status in a field that is increasingly crowded. If great performers have already fully explored the mainstream style and repertory, one way to make one’s mark is to stake out new and unconquered musical territory either in repertory or in performance style.”

“Some of today’s most distinguished historical performers agree that their own work will someday appear to reflect the tastes of our time rather than of the historical eras being reconstructed.”

– Bernard D. Sherman, “Authenticity in Musical Performance

While we enjoy a good show from time to time, our philosophical approach and our entire mode of musical performance is based upon the act of drawing our audience into a sound-world that we as performers create; a sound-world that is based upon our own thoughtful and thorough research into the original context of historical music. We don’t present a spectacle laying out the materials of our research as a distraction to our audiences, rather we present the interpretive results of our research through effective performances of our music.

We are keenly aware that ancient musicians who originally performed our chosen repertory lived balanced lives that integrated a strong spiritual element. That spiritual element is not only conspicuously absent today but is often ridiculed by modern performers themselves as they attempt to cover their contempt for the mores of the past with fanciful big-screen illustrations of knights, damsels and unicorns; images more informed by nineteenth-century romanticism than by a broad and deep understanding and acceptance of the actual context of the ancient past. Sadly, many of these modern performers hold academic positions that allow them a privileged platform from which to impart this insufficiently-informed approach to impressionable students. And woe betide the thinking person who dares to question the received approach in academe. It’s no wonder there is such universal diminishing trust in our institutions today, where messaging is primary and content is rendered inconsequential.

“[In academia] we’re dealing with the word of fragile human beings who have their own egos and their own careers to pursue, and who may pursue mistaken lines. And, unfortunately, these are the people we have entrusted with interpreting our past to us, and if they’ve got our past wrong, then it’s only us, through our own actions, who are going to perhaps put it right.”

Graham Hancock

Saturday morning quotes 8.20: Context v. Content

As dedicated performers of historical music, we occasionally mention the importance of contextual details that inform our understanding of song texts and their music, and we are firm in the belief that these details lead to engaged interpretations of musical treasures that have for centuries occupied a silent library shelf. But we want to emphasize that not for a moment do we place context above the musical and literary content of a song.

The case for content

“Can anyone imagine, say, the discovery of a likely model for a play by Shakespeare or Jonson resulting in a discussion devoted entirely to peripheral matters such as date of composition and first performance, method and venue of production, actors, patrons, audience and so on, without a single word being exchanged on the question of content?”

“Ah, but hasn’t musicology usually focused on historical, cultural and textual matters? I fear it has, increasingly so: to the sad extent that, for all the vitality of the early music scene, what we do in a scholarly way seems intellectually suspect to many observers outside music, and the way we go about performing earns (and frequently deserves) the contempt of musicians. ”


– Philip Brett, “Facing the music,” Early Music, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Jul., 1982), pp. 347-350

The case for context

“But contextual factors do figure prominently in many other arguments against the possibility of authenticity. For example, one type of argument points to differences between modern and period experience in such realms as economics, politics, religion, and science; it argues (sometimes plausibly, sometimes not) that such factors affect how we play and hear music. Another contextual barrier to true historical re-creation is that our contexts of performance and listening—CDs, radios, and concert halls—are usually quite different from those of the past, such as feasts, church services, and salons. Such contexts affect the nature of performance; one plays differently for one’s private edification in a music room than for critics in Carnegie Hall…Also, the advent of recordings increased audiences’ demands for technical perfection, as well as performers’ concerns with literalness, rhythmic precision, ensemble, and accuracy…; it may be impossible for artists raised in the era of recordings to ever be as comfortable with the approximate as their historical forebears were.”

“Some of today’s most distinguished historical performers agree that their own work will someday appear to reflect the tastes of our time rather than of the historical eras being reconstructed. Perhaps the very concern with historical verisimilitude will appear a peculiarity of our time. On the other hand, some of the historical performers’ work might well be considered to have improved the performance of some repertoire, and some may even come to be regarded as historically accurate.”


– Bernard D. Sherman, “Authenticity in musical performance,” The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, ed. Michael J. Kelly, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.

We juxtapose content of historical music and the context of its performance (both original and modern) with an example we particularly enjoy, “Quoy? faut-il donc qu’Amour vainqueur” by the première songwriter of early 17th-century France, Pierre Guédron.

Pierre Guédron (c. 1565 – 1620) was a close contemporary of the famous composer of English ayres, John Dowland, and, like every prominent musician born in the 16th century, Guédron began his early career as a singer. Employed in the chapel of the Cardinal of Lorraine, later transferred to the chapelle royale, and finally in 1604 promoted to the position of maître en la musique de la chambre de sa majesté, Guédron is best known as a primary exponent of secular airs de cour, mainly songs extracted from lavishly staged entertainments called ballets de cour.

Guédron’s airs received wide distribution even before they were published in the popular series of airs de cour for voice and lute (presumably) arranged and anthologized by Gabriel Bataille and printed by Pierre & Robert (II) Ballard, familial successors to cousins Le Roy & Ballard, who founded the long-lived publishing house.  A few of Guédron’s airs appeared arranged for voice and lute in the large anthology Thesaurus Harmonicus by Jean-Baptiste Besard, 1603, and a handful were included in Robert Dowland’s 1610 Musicall Banquet

“Quoy? faut-il donc qu’Amour vainqueur”, pictured at the top of this page, is an air composed on an attractive chaconne, or a repeating harmonic progression. A little background on the form:

“Most chaconnes are in triple metre, with occasional exceptions. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with Passacaglia. Many composers drew a distinction between the chaconne and the passacaglia, the nature of which depended on local tradition and to some extent on individual preference. The only common denominator among the chaconnes and passacaglias is that they are built up of an arbitrary number of comparatively brief units, usually of two, four, eight, or 16 bars, each terminating with a cadence that leads without a break into the next unit.”

“The chaconne appears to have originated in Spanish popular culture during the last years of the 16th century, most likely in the New World. No examples are extant from this period, but references by Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, and other writers indicate that the chacona was a dance-song associated with servants, slaves, and Amerindians.”

“The playful, volatile Italian chaconne became in France a more controlled, stately dance, suggestive of pomp and circumstance; whereas the Italian pieces often proceed capriciously, in the vein of a spontaneous improvisation, the French ones exhibit a well-planned, orderly structure. The repetition of units, often with alternating half and full cadences, and the recurrence of earlier units, sometimes with variations superimposed, became important structural techniques.”

– Alexander Silbiger, “Chaconne,” Grove Music Online.

Guédron’s original setting of the air was likely composed for four voices in an accessible homophonic style. The song text describes an amorous journey through various stages of anxiety and bliss associated with nascent love, with Cupid personified as tour guide. The song—in triple time despite the time signature of the unbarred music in the original print— was probably extracted from a staged ballet de cour, and the underpinning of the chaconne signals that there was quite likely a choreographed dance in the original performance. The voice-lute version of “Quoy? faut-il donc qu’Amour vainqueur” printed in Bataille’s 1615 book has the voice pitched rather high but displays very comfortable fingering for the lute.  As was usual for the times, the voice was most assuredly transposed (probably down) to fit the pitch of the lute, with a parenthetical cue note supplied at the beginning of the lute part to facilitate this commonly accepted procedure. 

Since we recognize the 1615 printed version as an arrangement of Guédron’s vocal original, we took matters in hand and transposed the lute part to a pitch that features the voice in its most communicative range.  The repeating chaconne accompaniment happily responds to this transposition, which is nothing more than common-sense musicianship that we are quite certain was the norm when the music was new—a fact that is reinforced by surviving historical transpositions of similar repertory.

Given that communicating the text convincingly and appealingly was (and is) the primary purpose of any given song, we honor both content and the context of “Quoy? faut-il donc qu’Amour vainqueur” and we share this piece as an example to others who may wish to discover the rich content of this historical medium—and hopefully approach the music in a manner that observes the contextual practices of then and now. Our recording of “Quoy? faut-il donc qu’Amour vainqueur” will appear on Mignarda’s new album to be released in September 2021.

Saturday morning quotes 8.19: Doulce mémoire

Our quotes today are from Frank Dobbins, “‘Doulce Mémoire’: a Study of the Parody Chanson,” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 96 (1969-1970), 85-101.

“The chanson ‘Doulce mémoire’ was probably first published at Lyons, in Jacques Moderne’s first book of Le Parangon des Chansons-there are two different editions, both undated but probably appearing late in 1537 or early in 1538. The piece was reprinted (with a few minor variants) at Paris in Attaingnant’s XXVII Chansons, the first edition of which could not have been issued before 21 April 1538. It was one of the first compositions by Pierre Regnault, alias ‘Sandrin’, who was one of the most successful of Claudin de Sermisy’s younger colleagues in the royal service…”

“The poem is a decasyllabic huitain with the three-rhyme scheme a b a b b c b c (with alternating masculine and feminine line endings) common to many of the eight-line epigrams of the time…”

The poem as it appears in our source, Antoine Gardane’s musical setting à deux, is as follows:

Doulce mémoire en plaisir consommée,
O siècle heureulx que cause tel scavoir,
La fermeté de nous deux tant aymée,
Qui à nos maulx a sceut si bien pourvoir
Or maintenant a perdu son pouvoir,
Rompant le but de ma seul’ espérance
Servant d’exemple à tous piteux à veoir
Fini le bien, le mal soudain commence.

Fini le bien, le mal soudain commence.
Tes moins en sont nos malheurs qu’on peut veoir
Car tout le bien trouvé par l’esperance
Le mal nous l’a remis en son pouvoir.
Otant d’ennuy qui as voulou pourvoir.
De varier la fermeté aymée,
Il auroit bien qui sçauroit son sçavoir
Doulce mémoire en plaisir consommée.

The poetry is attributed to “Le Roy,” most likely François I (1494-1547), and may have been written during his imprisonment in Italy following the 1525 battle of Pavia (the inspiration for many instrumental settings that strive to create random battle noises, a variation form popular throughout the 16th century). Music for the résponce, “Fini le bien” is attributed to Pierre Certon (c. 1510 – 1572), and while the music diverges in melodic detail from the original by Sandrin, the text itself is, at least in spirit, a repetition of the first verse beginning with the last line working backward.

The two-voice version performed by Mignarda was adapted for two voices from Sandrin’s four-part original by French musician Antoine Gardane and published in 1555 by Le Roy & Ballard in Chansons à deux, a veritable goldmine of the sort of music sung around our house for our own entertainment. We recorded the version presumably arranged by Gardane, and it appears on our 2009 recording Au pres de vous performed with solo voice on the cantus and lute on the tenor line. Our new recording features Doulce mémoire complete with its résponce sung in two voices a cappella.

You might well ask: what relevance does a song first published in 1537 have in a program of proto-baroque airs de cour? The lasting popularity of Doulce Mémoire is demonstrated by the appearance of an instrumental arrangement of the piece found nearly a century after its earliest mention, in an English manuscript collection of music for viols written in the hand of William Lawes (1602 – 1645).

Doulce Mémoire is the title track of our upcoming September 2021 recording that offers a sampling of early airs de cour by Adrian Le Roy and moves forward, in time and in style, to music of a few decades later—to what is essentially music of the early baroque. The recording is aptly named to celebrate the sweet memories of 18 years as a duo dedicated to music for voice and lute, and we look forward to sharing the results of our work.

Saturday morning quotes 8.18: Airs de cour II

Mignarda’s prolegomenous CD release featured a collection of French airs de cour and we have over the years often revisited and expanded upon our catalogue of this wonderful repertory. When the term air de cour is mentioned, those familiar with historical music for voice and lute instantly think of the series of publications that appeared between 1608 and 1632 which included 15 volumes of Airs de différents autheurs avec la tablature de luth, popular airs extracted from courtly entertainments and arranged for solo voice accompanied by the lute. But the term first appeared much earlier in a publication by Adrian Le Roy, Airs de cour miz sur le luth, published in 1571.

Le Roy (c.1520 – 1598), the rather cunning fellow pictured above, was well-connected at court and had familiar conference among preeminent poets including Ronsard and celebrious composers including Lassus. He used his connections to procure a royal patent to publish music beginning in 1551, in partnership with his cousin Robert Ballard (c.1527 – 1588), producing an enormous output of high quality music editions over the span of nearly fifty years. Le Roy was in a position to have an unusually influential role in promoting music and determining popular taste:

“Le Roy’s 1574 letter to Lassus describes a musical session when the printer had music by Lasso performed for Charles IX, who was so delighted with the piece that he instructed Le Roy to print it.”

Jeanice Brooks, Courtly Song in Late Sixteenth-Century France, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000, p. 28.

Le Roy’s delightful music for solo lute demonstrates the direct influence of the famous Albert de Rippe (c. 1500 – 1551), displaying much rhythmic vitality and ample use of arpeggiation technique applied in a manner that implies a polyphonic interpretation. This style was later called style brisé, a term concocted by 20th-century musicologists to describe broken chordal technique, but the style was based upon a subtle interpretive technique that highlights and accentuates the strands of polyphony in a way particular to the character and resources of the lute. A word about use of the term style brisé:

“Although the word brisé was used in the seventeenth century to distinguish a type of ornament, the term style brisé was apparently coined in the twentieth century. After an exhaustive search through dictionaries, lexicons, theoretical treatises, practical sources, and contemporary accounts, I am unable to find a single example of the term style brisé used in any previous century.”

From the evidence given one may conclude that the terms style brisé and style luthé are modern ones and have little to do with the terms brisé and luthé as they were used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

David J. Buch, “Style brisé, Style luthé,” and the “Choses luthées”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 71, No. 1, 1985, pp. 52, 66

In addition to his prodigious output of music for voices and for solo lute, Le Roy printed his Breve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tablature, conduire et disposer la main sur le luth (1567), a method that combined repertories by describing how to set vocal polyphony to be played on the lute. Along with the work of Vincenzo Galilei, this detailed description provides an historical example which we have put to good use in making many arrangements of historical vocal polyphony for solo voice and lute. Le Roy also left for posterity a treatise, Traicté de musique (1583), with chapters on the essential rules of counterpoint, consonance, dissonance, syncopation, cadences and modes.



The treatise demonstrates Le Roy’s mastery of musical composition, and his groundbreaking book of Airs de cour miz sur le luth displays this skill in his arrangement for solo voice and lute of airs found in Chansons de Pierre de Ronsard, Philippe Desportes, et autres, mises en musique par Nicolas de la Grotte, published by Le Roy & Ballard in 1569, two years earlier than Le Roy’s book of intabulations. For his intabulations of polyphonic chansons, Le Roy frequently took the tenor part of the original and transposed it up to replace the superius, which was incorporated with the remaining parts into the lute accompaniment. But for our example of La Grotte’s setting of a poem by Ronsard, Le Roy retained the original superius as shown below.

As can be seen in Le Roy’s adaptation of the chanson, the time signature was clarified to represent the music as triple-time throughout, with only the refrain at the close in tempus imperfectum diminutum. Although LeRoy published both depicted versions, it is interesting to note that he used the rather modern alternative to the (black) coloration typically used in notation of polyphonic music at the time when making his arrangement for solo voice and lute.



Le Roy’s important role in establishing what was to become an immensely popular musical form is little understood today, and most modern performers of historical music are content to explore the later series of airs published by the descendants of Le Roy and Ballard. We are pleased to announce the upcoming release of a new recording of airs de cour probing the earlier examples of the repertory of Le Roy as well as later airs by Boësset, Guédron, and Moulinié. This post offers just a glimpse of our research process into the music and its context: Stay tuned, and the results will hopefully be available for your listening pleasure in September 2021.

Saturday morning quotes 8.17: Future is now

Arthur C. Clarke predicted the technology-obsessed present, including the internet, in 1964. But Clarke, like many other old-time futurists, optimistically believed that technology might possibly make the world a better place, and the ubiquitous use of computers could offer greater leisure time to one and all. To those who have been paying attention, it turns out that the futurists’ idealized dream did not transpire. Technology has successfully made the simplest of human interactions complicated and effectively turned each and every human being into a set of data points ripe for manipulation and monetization. But among the more insidious effects of modern technology is the slow seepage of traditional wisdom into the abyss, never to be revived. The tradition of wisdom passed down from sage to neophyte has been supplanted by instructional videos made by would-be viral video stars, a phenomenon that results in 1) the spread of a great deal of faulty or incomplete information, 2) the misconception that information easily translates as skill, and 3) promotion of the idea that professionals are no longer necessary and anyone can become an expert merely by watching videos.

Ease of access to information has led to the phenomenon of the Everyman Expert whose creed is no more waiting to learn by trial and error or develop and refine skills through guided repetition. Now, anyone who needs a [insert profession] goes to Googlytube to learn the ins and outs of every aspect of [insert profession] before getting into a muddle and eventually and reluctantly hiring an actual professional. At that point the Everyman Expert positions him- or herself to watch over the professional’s shoulder, peppering them with laughably rudimentary questions or offering unsolicited, ill-informed, and sometimes dangerously misguided advice at every step of the job.

Peering into the world of early music reveals a microcosm of similar trends. Early music was once the province of the scholar/performer who, proceeding happily unchallenged, convinced the listening audience of the truth in his or her approach and set about teaching the same to eager and willing students. We now have a proliferation of generically-trained musicians whose research has been limited to the plentiful examples of late 20th-century performers and scholars, many of whom simply invented their characteristic but historically indefensible modern approach to interpretation and, through well-funded PR campaigns, proclaimed and sold that approach with supreme confidence.

The lute occupies a narrow and dusty cobwebbed corner in the realm of early music, and historical lute tablatures are now readily accessible via online facsimiles available through academic libraries. There are several industrious souls who have made it their life’s work to copy those tablatures into modern fonts and make them available to the 2000-odd lute players scattered across the globe. While the process of copying tablatures from facsimiles of original sources is time-consuming, it is not an overwhelming challenge. But correcting the many mistakes found in historical printed and manuscript sources is the sort of detail work that demands thorough understanding of music from the original period. It is important to understand that tablatures meant something completely different to denizens of the 16th and 17th centuries than it does to amateur guitarists today. Musicians of the period were not just locating finger positions on the staff, they absolutely considered the tablature characters to represent musical notes. They universally understood that a tablature score was a reservoir of polyphonic music condensed onto a single staff, and they understood how to identify and bring to life those polyphonic lines while following the universal rules of composition and counterpoint. Realizing lute tablature as sound demanded more skill, not less, and that same understanding is required when editing historical tablatures today.

We should celebrate increased access to information but, as demonstrated in recent memory, we must question the accuracy and validity of information at every step. Of course, questioning validity leads to biased fact-checking, which further complicates matters by pitting organizations or individuals against one another in a quest to promote deliberately skewed “facts” that support an ideology or a profit motive. In other words, we’re screwed.

Probably the best solution is to unplug and return to the original model of learning, storing, retrieving and teaching information, for no other reason than it is but a moment’s task for tech giants to erase and/or rewrite history. Besides, they have already accomplished rewiring our brains and training the public to trust the search results the tech giants choose to display. But let’s consider for a moment Link Rot and the durability of information on the internet.

“A 2013 study in BMC Bioinformatics looked at the lifespan of links in the scientific literature — a place where link persistence is crucial to public knowledge. The scholars, Jason Hennessey and Steven Xijin Ge of South Dakota State University, analyzed nearly 15,000 links in abstracts from Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science citation index. They found that the median lifespan of Web pages was 9.3 years, and just 62% were archived. Even the websites of major corporations that should know better — including Adobe, IBM, and Intel — can be littered with broken links.”

“A 2014 Harvard Law School study looks at the legal implications of Internet link decay, and finds reasons for alarm. The authors, Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert and Lawrence Lessig, determined that approximately 50% of the URLs in U.S. Supreme Court opinions no longer link to the original information. They also found that in a selection of legal journals published between 1999 and 2011, more than 70% of the links no longer functioned as intended.”

Moreover, we have learned that uses of technology will mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation, and we are plunging headlong toward a new feudalism. Hope y’all enjoy the ride.

Saturday morning quotes 8.16: So what?

One of the many paradoxes of modern life is that we must look to the past for examples of culture and to find a measure of quality that simply is not in evidence today. Current cultural examples share many characteristics with the wretched disposable plastic objects that litter our streets, clog our oceans and disrupt our lives, whether they be plastic bags, cracked automobile bodywork, or outdated smart phones—objects that have no lasting appeal simply because they have no enduring value. Just a few short decades ago, our understanding of history was through discovering and reading books, digesting information through the tactile experience of turning pages, organizing that digested information in our own minds as knowledge, testing our knowledge against real world experience, and eventually forming what once upon a time was universally valued as wisdom.

At present, most people access knowledge of the past in a form entirely filtered through modern technological means. Because of commercial considerations to do with search engine optimization, the less than ideal experience of the failings and foibles of technology has become a determinant factor in the quality of information, and a source such as Wikipedia acts as an algorithm-skewed conduit of history that we must accept is constantly revised by control freaks or the CIA. Think search engines or music playback devices that turn recorded or printed music into a select if soulless set of ones and zeros that can be retrieved on demand. Today, very few musicians visit libraries and fewer still have had the tactile experience of hand-copying old music, the only truly effective way to recreate historical performance practice in a manner that puts us in the shoes of our forebears. It is no wonder that shallow virtuosity in performance is valued today much more than depth of interpretation. We dwell in an age that is ruled by the lowest common denominator.

How do we rectify the rapidly declining interest in meaningful music of the past? We must encourage engagement with and involvement in historical music in terms that make sense to young people. That means honest and direct engagement because, despite the best efforts of willful PR specialists and gate-keeping public arts funding agencies, young people do not want your dumbed-down greatest hits presentations that only trivialize our rich cultural past. They know a scam when they see one because they’ve seen it all and more on Youtube. Young people of the 21st century possess a large and intricate set of life skills, they just have no structural framework of meaningful historical value to provide cultural context and act as a testing ground necessary to convert information to knowledge to wisdom.

That said, we must avoid steering new audiences toward a black-and-white or right-and-wrong concept of historical interpretation. To put it simplistically, we must avoid foisting “cancel-culture” judgements on the inexperienced innocents who may very well like what you don’t. Far too many people of a certain age who have acquired a passing acquaintance with music of the past love to describe to others just what is a correct interpretation of that music. Back off and let them discover what they like without imposing your outdated ideas of taste. And relax about the rigid high-brow Victorian Night at the Opera rules of conduct: Young people don’t understand or care about the unhistorical modern convention of no applause between movements, and they just won’t sit quietly for an entire concert with trousered phones. There are modern tales of young people attempting to attend the symphony only to be dramatically shushed for displays of normal behavior, an act that really is all about entitled persons exerting power.

“Perhaps it’s because of trying to keep classical music audiences living in the dark, in perpetual fear that they might not understand the secret and elite codes of long-term insiders, brainwashing core subscribers into an irrational hatred of anyone who dares to disrupt their peace-and-quiet even if accidentally, regimenting the experience with a coerced and inculcated rigidity that would be abhorrent to any composer worth his or her salt: This is how we have made classical music so awful.”

– Richard Dare, “The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained

Of one thing we can be certain: early music as we know it will not survive. Just as well, since early music has become just another modern exercise in commercialization and slick PR. Young people can’t afford the ticket prices, let alone the instruments. But if we play our cards shrewdly, it is possible that an appreciation for music of the past will be rediscovered in the future—on someone else’s terms—and that appreciation may possibly be as rich for them as it was for us.

“‘Call me Early, mother dear, for I’m to be authentic today’: not really. Put a viol or a gut-strung Baroque violin in a modern player’s hands and you may still leave the human frailties of incompetence, dullness and insensitivity as a barrier to a true interpretative re-creation. But for the best artist, the historic instrument may be the best tool. Sheer experience, sheer work – not solitary, but in communion with listeners and other performers – evolves the style: it did evolve the style.”

– Arthur Jacobs, “Early Music and the Critic,” The Musical Times, Jul., 1982, Vol. 123, No. 1673, Early Music Issue (Jul., 1982), p. 466

Saturday morning quotes 8.15: New or old?

Our new CD, Unquiet Thoughts, has been making the rounds over the past few weeks and we have been receiving a very positive response to our unique take on English music for voice and lute from circa 1600. This is quite satisfying because we put a great deal of effort into this recording, intentionally aiming for a warm and intimate sound to convey the spirit of an excellent collection of profound poetry and moving music from the age of Shakespeare. Our recorded program opens with four songs from John Dowland’s groundbreaking First Booke (1597), contrasts Dowland’s innovative work with that of his contemporaries Thomas Campion, Robert Jones and John Danyel, and closes with some of Dowland’s most iconic songs from later prints. This is music we love, and we hope it shows.

“In my opinion, the most beautiful music is in singing well and in reading at sight and in fine style, but even more in singing to the accompaniment of the lute, because nearly all the sweetness is in the solo and we note and follow the fine style and the melody with greater attention in that our ears are not occupied with more than a single voice, and every little fault is the more clearly noticed—which does not happen when a group is singing, because then one sustains the other. But especially it is singing poetry with the lute that seems to me the most delightful, as this gives to the words a wonderful charm and effectiveness.”

– Baldassare Castiglione, Il Cortegiano (1528).

We were particularly taken by a comment from a listener who appreciated our “modern” approach to this music, a comment that led us to scroll through and review our writing on this blog in order to clarify our position on just what is a modern approach to early music. If you are a regular reader of our blog, you might very well guess that we have made a broad and deep investigation into historical performance practices, and we feel strongly that our approach is securely rooted in the performing tradition of Dowland’s time. But the comment made us pause to consider just what inspired the person to think that our sound is “modern.” Again, if you have read our posts on the natural voice, or on the importance of strong rhythmical phrasing, or even on recording the lute, you know exactly where we stand.

The first consideration is that the original music was almost always sung in small rooms for the performers themselves or just a few listeners.

“The lute is a closet instrument that will suffer the company of but few hearers, and such as have a delicate ear; for the pearls are not to be cast before the swine.”

“…If we must incline to one side, the gentle and soft playing is to be preferred before others, so that you play neatly and in a little room or to please a small company (the lute not being fit to play in a hall before a multitude of people; there the violin is most fit).”

– Mary Burwell’s lute teacher, circa 1670

The aptness of smaller rooms being the case, a projected voice was never used and specifically discouraged by the likes of Nicholas Lanier, known to be the singer who first introduced the Italian stile recititavo to England.

“It shall therefore be a profitable advertisement, that the Professor of this Art, being to sing to a Theorbo or other stringed instrument, and not being compelled to fit himself to others, that he so pitch his Tune, as to sing in his full and natural Voice, avoiding feigned Tunes of Notes. In which, to feign them, or at the least to inforce Notes, if his Wind serve him well, so as he do not discover them much; (because for the most part they offend the Ear;) yet a man must have a command of Breath to give the greater Spirit to the Increasing and Diminishing of the Voice, to Exclamations and other Passions by us related; and therefore let him take heed, that spending much Breath upon such Notes, it do not afterward fail him in such places as it is most needful: For from a feigned Voice can come no noble manner of singing; which only proceeds from a natural Voice, serving aptly for all the Notes which a man can manage according to his ability employing his wind in such a fashion as he command all the best passionate Graces used in this most worthy manner of Singing.”

– Nicholas Lanier, An Introduction to the Skill of Musick, John Playford, London, 1674, ppg. 54-55.

Dance rhythms with strongly articulated phrasing were the norm, and those rhythms are particularly evident in the music throughout Dowland’s First Booke. To fail to articulate those rhythms is a grievous oversight, surely akin to reading poetry in a monotone drone, which robs the words of proper articulation, meaning, spirit and life. But the thing must be done with sensitivity and with the understanding of a nimble-footed musician who can indeed dance.

“Dauncing (bright Lady) then began to be,
When the first seedes whereof the world did spring,
The Fire, Ayre, Earth and Water, did agree
By Love’s perswasion, Nature’s mighty King,
To learne their first disordred combating:
And, in a daunce such measure to observe,
As all the world their motion should preserve.

Since when they still are carried in a round,
And changing come one in another’s place,
Yet doe they neyther mingle nor confound,
But every one doth keepe the bounded space
Wherein the daunce doth bid it turne or trace:
This wondrous myracle did Love devise
For Dauncing is Love’s proper exercise.

– Sir John Davies, Orchestra, a Poem of Dancing, 1594

As for recording techniques, yes, recording is a modern technology that facilitates the act of performing our music in living rooms across the globe. We have produced 14 (soon to be 15) CDs in an epic struggle with this technology, persistently attempting to capture a natural sound in a manner that conveys the spirit of the music. Our last four CDs were all recorded live, which is a significant act of derring-do if you know anything about recording the lute. For Unquiet Thoughts, we entered the recording studio with very specific ideas as to the sound we were seeking. Among the problems associated with recording in live spaces, balance of voice and instrument is of paramount concern. In the studio, we are able to record both voice and lute with a close microphone placement that conveys the warmth of texts and music but, again, close placement is an act of bravery that exposes each breath and every movement of the fingers. There is a very good reason most recordings involving voice and lute have a “cathedral” sound despite the character of the music; it is mostly to insulate the performers from the inevitable exposure of their human imperfections when examined under a microscope. But we feel the close mic placement conveys the warmth of sound heard in a small chamber, bringing the listener closer to the original historical experience of the music. How often does a listener get to feel the resonance of a lute as though it were in his or her lap?

While we respect as an approach interpretations by our peers following the modern conventions of today’s early music aesthetic, after studying the sources and absorbing the context of the original music, we are secure in the understanding that our interpretations are historically appropriate. It is a well-established fact that the vocal quality of singers circa 1600 was nothing like that of our modern conservatory-trained singers indulging in modern bel canto style, affecting what is really a post-Victorian approach to vocal projection and diction. And we are just a bit dismayed when this patently unhistorical approach is reinforced by teachers as the standard 21st-century voice type, regrettably applied to early music. We have heard many promising singers possessing beautiful natural voices emerge from their degree program saddled with a voice that is sadly unsuitable for early repertory. The sources are very clear on this matter: A natural voice was preferred by and expected from singers in Dowland’s time. Full stop.

Perhaps the one aspect of our approach that might misguidedly be construed as modern is that we do not venture near the slippery slope of attempting to recreate an Elizabethan accent. But one must consider that singers in Dowland’s time would certainly not have indulged in employing an outdated Old English pronunciation dating from before Chaucer’s time, primarily because no one would have understood the words. Our phrasing and engagement in rhythmic devices simply represents an attentive involvement in the poetry and the music in a manner that we are certain was expected by the original composers. Our approach effectively leapfrogs over the Victorian influences of today’s early music norms to restore an intimate aesthetic that communicates historical poetry and music. If our directness and intimacy reaches beyond the bounds and has some appeal to listeners dwelling outside the moated castle of modern early music norms, we’re OK with that.

Saturday morning quotes 8.14: Unquiet Thoughts

We are pleased to announce the release of our long-awaited recording of English lute songs, available as of today, April 10, 2021. Unquiet Thoughts, Mignarda’s 14th album, is the capstone of decades of insight into the songs of John Dowland and his peers.  Having edited and published Dowland’s complete music for voice & lute in 2020, our new album represents the fruits of the long labor of having touched each note and every word of Dowland’s collected lute songs. To round off the selection of Dowland’s magisterial songs, the album includes a few exceptional works of poetry set by Dowland’s composer-contemporaries Thomas Campion, John Danyel and Robert Jones. 

As always, our interpretations are based upon deep research into historical context and performance, and we have lived with and performed each song for the necessary number of years to uncover the context and meaning of the poetry, giving equal time to musical phrasing and rhythmic gestures.  Our interpretations honor the original songs as the popular music of their day: These are popular songs that can come off as mere trifles when performed as though they were light Art Songs of a later era, but are songs full of art when sensitively rendered with directness and intimacy.

Unquiet Thoughts presents a selection of rarities and perennial favorites by John Dowland (1563 – 1626) and a few of his contemporaries, concentrating on songs with exquisite poetical texts by some of the best poets of the Elizabethan age. It is no accident that we chose the very first song from Dowland’s First Booke as the title of our album, as the eloquent term so appropriately describes a genre that pairs an intimate voice with the most personal of instruments to express the secrets of the soul. Unquiet Thoughts is also the title of this blog (soon to be published in book form), which since 2010 has been a platform that offers our insights and experience of music for voice and lute and its relevance in the modern era.

English lute songs circa 1600

John Dowland’s ayres for voice and lute represent the pinnacle of a musical form that appeared in manuscript and printed sources throughout Europe for at least 100 years prior to the publication of Dowland’s First Booke in 1597. Continental examples of lute songs distilled an arrangement of polyphonic vocal music that assigned the lower parts to be played on the lute. English music for voice and lute prior to Dowland’s First Booke consisted of psalm harmonizations and secular poetry set to Italian dance grounds.

Building upon this foundation, Dowland retained the rhythmic vitality of dance forms that were improved with his gift for melody and expressive text setting. Strongly influenced by French and Italian examples, Dowland forged a new style of accompaniment that drew upon the resources of the lute, employing characteristic plucked-string techniques such as cross-string suspensions, rhythmic syncopations and running passages interspersed with expressive chordal events, creating a rich and complex musical effect.

Our recording opens aptly with Dowland’s very first song from his First Booke, “Unquiet Thoughts.” We feature our definitive performances of other iconic songs by Dowland as bookends, surrounding worthy works of poetry by Thomas Campion, Sir Philip Sidney and Samuel Danyel, all published in The Mignarda Songbook Volume One: English Ayres. Dowland’s song texts set poetry by mostly anonymous authors, but in recent memory Anthony Rooley has proposed that some of the poetry set by Dowland may be attributed to Robert Devereaux, the famous Earl of Essex, adding an interesting twist to the broad story of Elizabethan melancholy.

The three lute solos featured on our album are all drawn from a single manuscript source: Cambridge University Library Add. MS. 3056, formerly known as the Cosens Lute Book. The manuscript includes several well-known solos from the golden age of English lute music, but each piece is given a unique twist one way or another. The version of Dowland’s famous “Frogg galliard” (lute solo version of the song, “Now O now I needs must part”) bears idiosyncratic yet appealing decoration. The untitled Fantasia attributed to Dowland is a veritable discourse on the famous “Lachrimæ” theme and the many ways it may be woven into the fabric of a free-standing fantasia, and the recording gives the piece time and space to allow the many quotations of the theme to rise to the surface. John Danyel’s “Rosa” is an instrumental setting of his brother Samuel’s 1592 poem “The Complaint of Rosamond,” which illuminates the legend of Rosamund Clifford and her unhappy dalliance with King Henry II. The tolling of the death knell in the third section of the pavan says it all.

A word about interpretation

From the beginning of our work as a duo specializing in music for voice and lute, we have followed a very different interpretive path from most performers in the genre. Our interpretations delve deeply into the meaning of the language—and the clever bits hidden in the music—in an effort to attain a level of performance that honors the original context and performing style of each and every song.

As working musicians, we understand from an insider’s perspective that the published scores of the repertory of English lute songs represent only a starting place, and that 17th-century musicians would never have been bound by the constraints of our modern pitch reference (A=440 Hz) with the resulting chirruping sounds when performed without judicial adjustment. It is well-understood today that historical lutes were larger, strings were thicker, and reference pitches were generally lower. The evidence indicates that most of Dowland’s solo songs were intended to be sung in the tenor range with the octave transposition implied. We make use of different lutes tuned to gentler pitches in order to adjust the range of the song for optimal communication of the text, as we are certain was done originally.

Unquiet thoughts your civill slaughter stint

The very first song in Dowland’s First Booke (1597), was described by Diana Poulton as “charming and melodious” but a deeper interpretation reveals much more substance may be assigned to both text and music. At face value, the cantus part is notated in a rather high tessitura and the song could be (and has been) performed as a chirpy little number with a bubbling lute accompaniment. But examining both text and musical devices in the accompaniment, “Unquiet thoughts” becomes a gripping and passionate journey into the restless soul of a melancholy lover. The anonymous poet is served well by Dowland’s sensitive musical setting that borrows subtle lute technique from the French luthistes whom Dowland surely met while in Paris, and, all in all, the composition is breathtakingly advanced compared to music of his English contemporaries. Our recording of the song follows the logical and historically-accurate performance practice of accompanying on a lute tuned a fifth lower than the standard G-lute typically used today, resulting in a warm and intimate interpretation of the text in a range that restores the communicative properties of the song that Dowland thought should occupy pride of place in his innovative First Booke.

Unquiet thoughts your civill slaughter stint,
And wrap your wrongs within a pensive heart:
And you my tongue that maks my mouth a minte,
And stamps my thoughts to coyne them words by arte:
Be still for if you ever doo the like,
Ile cut the string, that maks the hammer strike.

But what can staie my thoughts they may not start,
Or put my tongue in durance for to dye?
When as these eies the keyes of mouth and harte
Open the locke where all my love doth lye;
Ile seale them up within their lids for ever,
So thoughts and words, and looks shall dye together.

How shall I then gaze on my mistresse eies?
My thoughts must have som vent els hart wil break,
My tongue would rust as in my mouth it lies
If eyes and thoughts were free and that not speake.
Speake then and tell the passions of desire
Which turns mine eies to floods, my thoghts to fire.

We quote a paraphrase of the text by David Hill from John Dowland: Complete Ayres for Voice & Lute, Volume One, Mignarda Editions, 2020.

You disturbing, rebellious thoughts that fight and kill inside my head: cease,
For I must keep the wrongs (that have been done to me) in my heart, and consider them.
And you, my tongue, who mints words out of my thoughts in my mouth, by giving voice to them,
just as a coiner stamps blank metal into coins, you must be silent.
But if you cannot be still,
I must cut the string that controls your ‘minting’.

But what can stop these thoughts which have put my tongue under sentence of death?
My eyes (which are the keys to the locks of my mouth and my heart), open both,
revealing my unrequited longing to my mistress.
Perhaps I should therefore seal up my eyes (rather than punish my tongue),
so that my thoughts, words and looks are all killed at the same time,
by being withheld from her?

But, if I were blinded, how could I then gaze at my mistress’ eyes?
I must have some release for my thoughts, or my heart will break.
My tongue would simply seize up, whilst it lies in my mouth,
were I not able use my voice when my eyes and thoughts remained free and uncontrolled.
Therefore I’ll be brave. I’ll speak to my mistress, and explain to her my passionate and painful desire,
which causes my eyes to weep floods, and my thoughts to burn like fire.

It turns out that Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599) had previously published a poem with the title “Unquiet Thought” in Amoretti, a collection of 89 sonnets written in Petrarchian form, but with an interesting conceptual framework in that the poems all correspond with the scriptural readings prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer for specific dates in 1594, the year of Spenser’s marriage to Elizabeth Boyle.

Vnquiet thought, whom at the first I bred,
Of th’ inward bale of my loue pined hart:
and sithens haue with sighes and sorrowes fed,
till greater then my wombe thou woxen art.

Breake forth at length out of the inner part,
in which thou lurkest lyke to vipers brood:
and seeke some succour both to ease my smart
and also to sustayne thy selfe with food.

But if in presence of that fayrest proud
thou chance to come, fall lowly at her feet:
and with meeke humblesse and afflicted mood,
pardon for thee, and grace for me intreat.

Which if she graunt, then liue and my loue cherish,
if not, die soone, and I with thee will perish.

There are echos and a conceptual similarity in that Spenser’s poem is about restless thoughts that must escape the womb and be expressed, but the use of metaphor is sharply divergent from that of Dowland’s poet and the idea of stamping thoughts with a minter’s hammer. 

A Tribute

Our recording of English lute songs is dedicated to the memory of Edward Doughtie (1935-2014), Professor of English Literature at Rice University and a specialist who possessed a broad and deep knowledge of the poetical texts from which the songs of Dowland and his contemporaries were drawn.

In his iconic Lyrics from English Airs, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970 — in near-constant use in our household — Doughtie traced with conciseness and clarity the evolution of the unique marriage of words and music that became known as the Golden Age of English lute songs.

Generous with his knowledge of the sources, context, and meaning of English lyrics, Ed informed our interpretations through our many conversations on the subject. His influence on our approach to the texts of English lute songs was at first through his essential publications, but was later reinforced through a very active correspondence and culminated in his contribution of an essay published in the booklet of our 2013 recording John Dowland: A Pilgrimes Solace.

Ed kindly expressed his appreciation for our interpretive insights, and he even composed a new lute song for us. He clarified many textual details that bridge the vast chasm that lies between simply performing a song and completely inhabiting the emotional context of a piece, and he is with us in spirit whenever we perform English lute songs. We are honored to have been bequeathed his notes and annotated copies of facsimiles from his indispensable research on English lute songs. 

Dedicated to the memory of Edward Doughtie, Unquiet Thoughts honors the artful marriage of Elizabethan words and music, offering performances that channel the aesthetic of circa 1600 and bridge the gap between then and now.

Saturday morning quotes 8.13: Cost of re-creation

We live in a jaded age that is bereft of truly original artistic innovation. The concept of “retro” is embraced wholesale as a marketing angle because it is generally accepted that today’s dependence upon technology only undermines creativity, forcing users of technology to overload their minds with memorized menus, keystrokes and passwords. In a world that places the gathering and monetizing of data first and foremost, we are compelled to look to the past to explore and re-create older forms of artistic achievement if we care to identify as culturally literate.

Attempts to rediscover the soul of our shared cultural heritage after decades of rampant industrialization was a primary motivation for the early music movement that first began more than a century ago. But what happens to an art form when it is studied as an historical curiosity from the detached perspective of a later age; when cultural heritage is wrested from its original context and subjected to classification and categorization for the convenience of scholarship? When priceless instruments—like those pictured above from the Henry Ford museum—are taken out of circulation and suspended as silent and listless objects in glass boxes, they no longer produce sound and therefore entirely lose their significance as musical instruments. The items in the display case might just as well be a hammer and sickle as musical instruments.

“[Henry Ford’s historic Greenfield Village] represents the American world which Ford’s revolutionary achievements destroyed. Adjacent to the village the immense museum deepens the paradox still further. Inside a one-story building fourteen acres in extent—its façade, features a replica of Independence Hall—stands one of the world’s finest memorials to the Industrial Revolution. Here an astounding array of tools, engines, machines and devices record the progressive mechanization of agriculture, the evolution of lighting, of communications, of transportation, and most important of all, the great record of modern man’s efforts to harness mechanical and electrical power.”

“Henry Ford’s museum, in short, is a monument to all the great technical achievements that put finish to the life represented in Ford’s re-created American village. There is no resolving that contradiction and no reason to try. It is nothing less than the grand contradiction of modern American life, the San Andreas Fault in the American soul—the schism between our faith in technological progress and our profoundly gnawing suspicion that the old rural republic was a finer, braver and freer place than the industrial America that now sustains us. If that contradiction runs through Henry Ford’s titanic reconstruction of the American past, it is because no American ever experienced the contradiction more intensely than Henry Ford himself.”


– Walter Karp, Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America, 1980.

Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) was overseer to the destruction of a way of life, a fact that dawned on him later in life and, like his Robber Baron contemporaries, he established a philanthropic organization in what has been cast as an attempt to pay society back for laying waste to a rich cultural landscape. The Ford Foundation was established in 1936, and during its early years was under the leadership of Ford family members who allocated their resources for “scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare.” The Ford Foundation was responsible for contributions that helped establish several symphony orchestras, and their alignment with political figures promised that high culture would “rid our society of its most basic ills–voicelessness, isolation, depersonalization–the complete absence of any purpose or reason for living.”

Following the lead of philanthropic organizations, the federal government established the National Endowment for the Arts, which sparked the growth of new orchestras from 58 in 1965 to 225 in 1988. But we know now how all that happy cash was destined to dry up by the 21st century, funneled back to the one-percent who simply lost interest in sharing. Upon closer examination, it turns out that the Ford Foundation had a slightly different broad idea in mind, and its close connections with the CIA allowed for the advancement of ulterior motives, nefariously disguised behind the smiling façade of philanthropy.

When we delve into the more substantive areas of early music, we feel a connection—not just with the sounds—but with the entire context of the music, its creation and its reception. As performers, we find that there is very little opportunity today to present intimate music to receptive listeners who might be affected in the same manner as our ancestors: Singing the music of Josquin for the Latin Mass is about the nearest we can come today to the original context of historical music. We have little commentary to offer to the growing tide of performers who feel as though they must turn early music concerts into multimedia circus acts, except that such gimmicks only rob the music of its dignity and leaves us with the feeling of having visited the very equivalent of Henry Ford’s museum.

We are obliged to point out that some modern approaches to early music only succeed in creating a false impression of the true value of our shared cultural heritage, and we believe that value lies in the depth, dignity, intimacy and intensely personal nature of the music. And we are obliged to point out that Henry Ford, the man who was responsible for setting fire to a way of life and then collecting artifacts from the ashes to place in his museum, was the driving force behind bland party-machine presidential candidate Warren G. Harding, who ran successfully in 1920 on a platform of a “return to normalcy.” Sound familiar?