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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.

Saturday morning quotes 8.32: Reason and Knowing

Now that we have transitioned into a New Year, it seems appropriate to take stock (without probing too deeply) of the the past year and look toward the possibilities of 2022. We have to face the fact that the world is not a better place today, but certainly not because of the reasons barked daily from the news correspondents ensconced in their caged kennels. Mostly, we are worse off today because of the news and the irresistible urge on the part of newscasters and their owners to define and control the message.

But enough of that for the moment. Our favorite mode of escapism is indulging in old music—a labor of love but a pursuit that is sadly much less relevant to the modern world than ever before. Lockdowns, quarantines and general isolation are modern realities that have indeed forced many to turn inward and concentrate on more quiet and personal music, but it turns out that many lute players today are just as obsessed with modern technology as they are with the ancient instrument, and it takes a unique personality to shut out the distractions of the modern world and concentrate on the message gleaned from dwelling in a subtle sound world of meaningful music. That means play the lute for yourself and others in close proximity and stop messing about with making vanity project videos to be posted on social media, for heaven’s sake.

We have discussed the personality of today’s lutenists before, and the years that have passed since that writing surely confirm our observations, but today we check in on the 17th-century lute evangelist, Thomas Mace. We have mentioned Mace and his 1676 book, Musik’s Monument in previous blog posts but we revisit the floridly printed pages of Musik’s Monument to share a few more liberally capitalized and highly italicized gems.

“…My 1st. and Chief Design, In Writing This Book, was only to Discover the Occult Mysteries of the Noble Lute, and to show the Great Worthiness of That too much Neglected, and Abused Instrument; and by Good Will to All the True Lovers of It; in making It Plain and Easie; (as now it will certainly be found) Giving the True Reasons, why It has been Formerly, a Very Hard Instrument to Play Well upon; And also why Now, It is become so Easie, and Familiarly Pleasant: And I believe, that Whosoever will but Trouble Himself to Read Those Reasons, which he shall find, in the First Chapter of the 2nd. Part of This Book; and Joyn his own Reason, with the Reasonableness of Those Reasons; will not be able to find the Least Reason to Contradict Those Reasons; But must needs Conclude with Me; That the Lute is a very Easie Instrument.”

Clear as mud? The final few extended clauses bring to mind that famous hoof-in-mouth specialist Donald Rumsfeld and his multi-layered obfuscation from February 12, 2002:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns- the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Donald Rumsfeld

Such intentionally confusing grammatical structures are put into play when members of the modern political class wish to say nothing useful despite their frontward projectile expulsion of words delivered while ardently covering their behinds. Fortunately, we have intelligent voices capable of parsing this language:

If Rumsfeld thinks that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the ‘unknown unknowns’, that is, the threats from Saddam whose nature we cannot even suspect, then the Abu Ghraib scandal shows that the main dangers lie in the “unknown knowns”—the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.
Slavoj Žižek

The late Rumsfeld and his ilk represent an embedded criminal class that control public policy utilizing public funds, but remain entirely and flagrantly unaccountable to the public. How is it that our public policy is skewed by aggressive authority figures who promote their own interest above the good of the public? We live in a new age of authoritarianism, and the state of the world is reported in carefully crafted language that is meant to convey and reinforce a particular point of view.

We get more of our beliefs from the testimony of our fellows than from any other source. Little of our knowledge of the universe is directly tested by our own intuition, reason, experience, or practice. We accept on trust nine-tenths of what we hold to be true. Man is a suggestible animal and tends to believe what is said to him unless he has some positive reason for doubting the honesty or competence of his informant…We may say then that the prevalence of authoritarianism as a method of acquiring and testing truth depends first of all upon the limited nature of the individual and consequent dependence of each on the testimony of others; and secondly, upon the fact that authority makes its appeal to the suggestibility and credulity that is universal throughout the human species.
– Wm. Pepperell Montague, The Ways of Knowing, Macmillan, New York, 1925, p. 39.

There appears to be no substantive change on the horizon for 2022. Given the current state of the world, Reason and Knowing can only be attained through questioning authority. Returning to the words of Thomas Mace, we close with these important words on finding peace and preparing children to embrace the unknown world:

“For this Quality of Musick is a Gentile Quality at the very worst: And it will adorn your Children much more than ten times the cost can be worth, which you shall bestow upon them in the gaining of it.”
“Besides, it will make them acceptable to all ingenuous people, and valued among the best.
“They will be more capable of Preferment in the world, in case of any necessity.”

Saturday morning quotes 8.31: In dulci jubilo

Happy Christmas to all our readers. Today we feature two German Christmas songs that are somewhat related—even beyond the fundamental theme—and have endured in some form or other for more than 600 years.

In dulci jubilo is a danceable carol that sets a text by Henry Suso (1295 – 1366), a gifted writer who was later called a “Minnesinger in prose.” Minnesang was the German equivalent of the French Troubadour and Trouvère tradition, and contrary to popular legend, they were not itinerant wandering minstrels but rather skilled poets, composers and musicians whose work was enthusiastically supported by the aristocracy. As noted in the New Grove:

“Music and dancing were important components of courtly life, and the performance of epics and songs played a major role. The performer had normally created both the poetry and the music that he sang to the assembled company with instrumental accompaniment.”

In dulci jubilo has a macaronic text, meaning the text combines Latin and German vernacular phrases, and the sprightly tune is found in a manuscript now held at the Leipzig University library that dates from circa 1400. In the same manuscript (Codex 1305), can be found the tune for the Christmas song Josef lieber Josef mein, set to another macaronic German-Latin text.

We wish a Happy Christmas to all our friends, and hope that the coming year is free from the current global turmoil and free from the barbarisms imposed by opportunists. Music helps.

Saturday morning quotes 8.30: Christmas time is here

Christmas Gift Suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.
Oren Arnold (1900 – 1980)

Another year has vanished in the blink of an eye while we have all been kept on the edge of our seats wondering just what fresh hell is lurking around the corner. Sure, people have suffered worse through the ages, but there is something particularly awkward about the complete ineptitude of world leaders in 2021, failing to deal effectively with what have become global public health and financial insecurities, and defaulting into unchecked authoritarianism. It is generally accepted that we were meant to have evolved with the passing of time. But yet here we are nearly a quarter of the way into a new century and in even more of a muddle than ever.

The best thing is to maintain our human connections in the face of upheaval and authoritarianism, and shun the absurdities promoted by those who profit from public fear and confusion. We offer our own arrangements of a few Christmas songs for the calming combination of voice and lute to help bring things down to earth:

The Angel Gabriel

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Happy Christmas from Ron & Donna

Saturday morning quotes 8.29: Mignarda reading list II

While trying to make sense of the ever-shifting state of the world this week, we take a few moments to share more quotations drawn from the Mignarda reading list. As usual, we present bits of flotsam from the constant research that informs our approach to historical music and poetry, concluding with a modicum of social commentary from a well-known source.

“Every one knows not that there is a Semitone Major and Minor, because the Difference cannot be known by an Organ or Harpsichord, if the Keys of the Instrument are not split…this Knowledge…[in] Songs accompanied with Bow Instruments…becomes so necessary, that if a Soprano was to sing D sharp, like E flat, a nice Ear will find he is out of Tune, because this last rises.”

– Pier Francesco Tosi, Opinioni de’cantori antichi e moderni, o sieno Osservazioni sopra il canto figurato, Bologna, 1723.

When musicians who specialize in intimate music of the sixteenth century are confronted with more modern fare (18th century for instance), the first thing that assaults the ear is imprecise tuning and indifferent intonation. It is our observation that the keyboard as an accompanying instrument has established a blurry sense of intonation that inevitably encourages pitch wobble (vibrato), not to mention unnecessary (and seemingly competitive) production that seems to be required just to be heard over the blasted machines. To put it simply, the keyboard has a lot to answer for.

“As far as music specifically for lute or viol is concerned, the use of an instrument fretted for equal temperament is never historically ‘wrong’. Remarks by Spataro, Agricola, Cardano, and Vicentino show that some players used equal semitones even before 1550. After that date equal temperament became, in most theorists’ opinion, normal for fretted instruments…”

“Remarks by Bermudo, Ganassi, Dowland and Jean Rousseau suggest that many good players adjusted the frets by ear (as they often do today) rather than conform to an exactly regular spacing.”


– Mark Lindley, Lutes, Viols & Temperaments, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, ppg. 93-94.

As long as there has been an early music revival, historical temperament has been a hotly debated topic. Again, this confusion is mainly confined to keyboard players and windy instrumentalists who have very little control over the tuning of their instruments. String players and singers don’t have to worry about temperament because they can and do use their ears to adjust. It is highly amusing to see and hear all the modern convoluted discussion about temperaments among academics and keyboard players who just can’t come to terms with the inevitable imperfection of their instruments. There is a solution: play the lute and scoot your moveable frets.

“In the sonnet of the late sixteenth century, English poets like Sidney, but especially Shakespeare, were developing a lyric verse not for social performance but for brooding over in private. The fruits of printing, literacy, Protestant private scripture-reading, Counter-Reformation meditation, and other silent, solitary literary pursuits, as well as more traditional rhetoric and possibly Ramist logic, were poems like Shakespeare’s Sonnet 124 and Donne’s “The Canonization“. Multiple or shifting meanings, subtle arguments, logical development through stanzas instead of parallel reiteration—these qualities of the new poetry are not compatible with the aurally comprehensible verse that is most natural for song.”

– Edward Doughtie, English Renaissance Song, Twayne, Boston, 1986, p. 159.

Spending some concentrated time recently with a handful of engaging songs set to delightful grounds by Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695), we can’t help but notice a distinct drop in the overall quality of poetry as compared to stellar examples found in earlier airs by Dowland & co. A logical explanation may be found in the writing of the late Edward Doughtie (1935 – 2014). While epic poetry expressly meant for reading evolved over time to a very high standard, the quality of theatrical song texts was seemingly of little importance to singers interested in floridly ornamented showpieces. We very much appreciate the music of Purcell, but even his contemporaries had sharp things to say about the overall quality of verse.

Thomas Shadwell (c. 1642 – 1692) wrote the fawning birthday ode, Now does the glorious Day appear, for Queen Mary, set to music by Purcell and first performed on April 30, 1689. Shadwell’s original words were tweaked and somewhat improved by Purcell, but really… John Dryden, Shadwell’s predecessor as poet laureate, offered a bit of offhand commentary in his satirical poem, “Mac Flecknoe”:

Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Who stands confirm’d in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.

We close with a timely quote from one of many long laments by the original king of kvetch, Job, including his observations on the disappointing status of social justice. Things have not really improved to this day.

Why does the Almighty not reserve times for judgment?
Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?
Men move boundary stones;
they pasture flocks they have stolen.
They drive away the orphan’s donkey
and take the widow’s ox in pledge.
They thrust the needy from the path
and force all the poor of the land into hiding.
Indeed, like wild donkeys in the desert,
the poor go about their labor foraging food;
the wasteland provides food for their children.
They gather fodder in the fields
and glean the vineyards of the wicked.
Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked;
they have no covering against the cold.
They are drenched by mountain rains,
they huddle against the rocks for want of shelter.
The fatherless child is snatched from the breast;
the nursing infant of the poor is seized for a debt.
Without clothing, they wander about naked.
They carry the sheaves, but still go hungry.
They crush olives among the terraces;
they tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst.
The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the souls of the wounded cry out,
yet God charges no one with wrongdoing.

Then there are those who rebel against the light,
not knowing its ways or staying on its paths.
When daylight is gone, the murderer rises
to kill the poor and needy;
in the night he is like a thief.
The eye of the adulterer watches for twilight.
Thinking, ‘No eye will see me,’ he keeps his face concealed.
In the dark they break into houses;
but by day they shut themselves in,
never to experience the light.
For to them, deep darkness is their morning;
they make friends with the terrors of darkness.


Book of Job, 24: 1-17.

Saturday morning quotes 8.28: Fame

We have been asked by audience members (and our European colleagues) on several occasions, why are we not more famous? Our youtube channel has more than 8,000 subscribers, at least one of our videos has more than 2,700,000 views. We have 16 CD titles available with 280 separate tracks, to put it into streaming perspective. Our Spotify streaming alone amounts to an average of 10,000 streams per months, not to mention the myriad other streaming and download platforms. We have the distinction of having a track picked up by HBO for a European TV series, and they even paid us for it—eventually. But even though sales figures do not offer artists anywhere near a minimum survival wage, we could compare our figures favorably to many other niche performers, locally and internationally.

All of our recognition and distribution has been achieved entirely by word of mouth. With the exception of trading CDs for adverts in the UK Lute Society newsletter, we have never once paid for advertising. This is a conscious choice because, if you are a regular reader of our blog, you will discern that we are ardently opposed to the PR-driven madness one sees in the music world, not to mention the level of silly hucksterism on display in early music promoted by performers attempting to gain an audience by pretending their music is better than it sounds. In this sense, we adhere to the noble sense of decorum demonstrated by Elizabethan poets and musicians, thinking it vulgar and demeaning to engage in circus acts in order to sell our music.

There are other forces at play in the local milieu. The Cleveland area music scene has a rich history that was spawned by the wealth of 19th-century robber barons who made their millions on the backs of a largely European immigrant labor force. This is where class distinction comes into play. The famous Cleveland Orchestra was for many years a local cultural emblem, representing top quality music-making that defined to the world Cleveland’s cultural identity. The Cleveland Museum of Art holds a world-class collection of objects that illustrate the artistic achievements of ancient and diverse cultures. But the reality is that enormous wealth is only gained through exploitation of labor. And it is generally accepted today that most museums display objects that were likely stolen or nefariously gained through deception from the hands of their original owners.

Cleveland is simply no longer a cultural Mecca. The remnants of the wealth once on display in the area include mansions that have either been razed and replaced with convenience shops, or otherwise left to molder in what have since become low-income areas. The locale that was the home of John D. Rockefeller is now one of the poorest cities in the state, and the absurd level of corruption in local government has become an accepted fact. As former mayor Dennis Kucinich amply demonstrates in his book, The Division Of Light And Power, the endemic corruption in Cleveland’s local government was not only supported but even advanced by cooperation with the local press and broadcast news.

This sets the stage for a return to our original question: Why are we not more famous? The first answer as mentioned above, is that we simply do not pay to play. The local picture is more nuanced, and has to do with an interconnected and cliquish arts scene that can be found in any local area. For instance, the classical music scene in Cleveland is reported by players who have been involved with area music for nearly half a century, shaping public taste by featuring selected performers who properly fit the mold. Published access to featured pop music is equally controlled by critics who are either septuagenarians who refuse to relinquish their role, or connected young reviewers who are willing and able to work for nothing.

Without offering examples, we mention the story of a local young(ish) singer who recently released a short compilation of vocal exercises recorded in European churches. Her selling point is that she did not have permission to record what can only be described as wordless vocalise in these various sacred spaces, which she visited while on vacation. Employing a conventional soprano voice, complete with vibrato, the singer dabbles in singing intervals that are reminiscent of Gregorian chant, but she uses the reverberant space of the church in a manner that attempts to cover indifferent intonation.

We are compelled to point out that we have produced an album of actual Gregorian chant sung in an UN-conventional but pleasing natural voice by a singer who actually understands the texts and can warmly convey their meaning. And we had permission to record in the beautiful church that sits in an economically-challenged neighborhood in Cleveland.

If independent performers do not pay to play, or do not otherwise indulge in creative public relations campaigns that attempt to sell something other than music, they are not likely to be famous. But they have integrity.

Saturday morning quotes 8.27: Why History?

As we continue to experience the hybrid implementation of Hegel’s Dialectics, we offer a few quotes that add a bit of perspective, with yet another reminder of the latent power of music as a salve for every sore.

“A stealthy rise in population; a more obvious gap between prices and wages; a not always welcome challenge to spiritual self-confidence: these offered fertile ground for agitation. They coincided with a growing unease between defensive haves and resentful have-nots. And time after time, when demanding higher taxes or recruiting for larger armies, governments found that their pursuit of tightened control over their subjects’ desire outran performance.”

– John Hale, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance,”The Control of Man”, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993, p. 463.

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

– George Santayana (1863-1952), The Life of Reason

“The Biblical legend of the destruction of the walls of Jericho by music is precisely a legend of objective music. Plain music, no matter of what kind, will not destroy walls, but objective music indeed can do so. And not only can it destroy but it can also build up. In the legend of Orpheus there are hints of objective music, of course very primitive. Very often it is simply one note which is long drawn out, rising and falling only very little; but in this single note ‘inner octaves’ are going on all the time and melodies of ‘inner octaves’ which are inaudible to the ears but felt by the emotional center.”

G. I. Gurdijeff (c.1866 – 1949)

Saturday morning quotes 8.26: Mignarda reading list

The pandemic appears to rage on, but what is visible to many of us is an ever increasing authoritarian presence that permeates our lives right down to when and where we are permitted to share our music. Since the entire world is now officially under watch by the finger-wagging thought police, it seems imprudent to comment directly on the status of current events. Instead, we offer a few thought-provoking quotations drawn from this week’s stack of (mostly) printed material on the Mignarda reading list.

We offer quotes gleaned from a variety of sources, offering a sample of the sort of conversational topics that arise in our house. For readers with 21st-century attention spans, each quote is given a heading and a smattering of contextual discussion.

Francesco da Milano’s lute intabulations

“The problem is separating Francesco the soloist from Francesco the transcriber. There may be significant differences in his improvisational style and the tablatures which have come down to us; Francesco’s knowledge of his instrument should not be based solely on written sources. A more accurate statement would be that the practical experiences of improvisational playing do not seem to be reflected in Francesco’s tablatures. In this sense the tablatures do represent a certain ideal; perhaps there was a more flexible approach towards performing these pieces than we normally expect when dealing with written works.”

Gary R. Boye, “The Lute Intabulations of Francesco Canova da Milano,” Masters thesis, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, 1988, p. 83.

Gary Boye‘s insightful 1988 thesis pointed out a fact that is readily understood by musicians who play the lute: Historical lute intabulations of vocal polyphony have always represented the intabulator’s best effort to arrange the maximum amount of the original vocal parts into a condensed form that is ideally playable, but sometimes may demand practical adjustments. The point is to include all the information in the score and allow the performer the opportunity to employ his or her musical understanding and abilities to render that information into sound as convincingly as possible.

Old music is new music

“My position in the War of Buffoons can be simply stated. I have suggested that the ancients and moderns ought to exchange labels. What is usually called ‘modern performance’ is in fact an ancient style, and what is usually called ‘historically authentic performance’ is in fact a modern style.”

“Regarding the [early music] movement itself I have always held that, as a symptomatically modern phenomenon, it is not historical but is authentic. It is a message I have had great difficulty in getting across to musicians, because so many have invested so heavily in the false belief that authenticity can derive only from historical correctness. To deny the latter necessarily implies to them a denial of the former. They simply do not hear me when I say what ‘historical’ performers have actually accomplished is far more important and valuable than what they claim to have done.”

Richard Taruskin, “Tradition and authority,” Early Music, Vol. XX, No. 2, May 1992, ppg. 311-312.

Richard Taruskin is a performer and musicologist who has offered brilliant insights into the early music revival and how it has, or has not, enriched our modern lives. Sadly, his point of view was immediately “cancelled” (in today’s parlance) by performers, record companies, and fellow musicologists as long ago as the 1990’s, mainly due to an editor’s inaccurate characterization of his words in an opinion piece, “The Spin Doctors of Early Music,” (New York Times, July 29, 1990). Apparently Taruskin’s original title of the essay was “It’s Not Historical—It’s Much Better Than That” but the NYT editorial staff decided to spice up the narrative with an alternative headline in hopes of selling more newspapers. The net result is that one of our more astute musicologists was immediately cancelled by the gatekeepers of early music, and his valuable observations were relegated by the in-crowd to the category of misanthropic graffiti. Thinking persons read with an open mind and form their own opinions.

Pope Francis speaks

“This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time.”

“We need to use that sublime human faculty which is the imagination, that place where intelligence, intuition, experience and historical memory come together to create, compose, venture and risk. Let us dream together, because it was precisely the dreams of freedom and equality, of justice and dignity, the dreams of fraternity, that improved the world.”

Pope Francis, Text from the Vatican on October 16, 2021.

Pope Francis has been the head of the Roman Catholic Church since 2013 when Pope Benedict XVI resigned. While some may disagree with aspects of his tenure, Pope Francis has a distinctly populist presence, and he appears to be unafraid to confront the root causes of our many modern problems. The text of his October 16, 2021 speech linked above is not easily found (for obvious reasons) but should be widely read.

Testing and quantification

“The idealized market was supposed to deliver ‘friction free’ exchanges, in which the desires of consumers would be met directly, without the need for intervention or mediation by regulatory agencies. Yet the drive to assess the performance of workers and to measure forms of labor which, by their nature, are resistant to quantification, has inevitably required additional layers of management and bureaucracy. What we have is not a direct comparison of workers’ performance or output, but a comparison between the audited representation of that performance and output. Inevitably, a short-circuiting occurs, and work becomes geared towards the generation and massaging of representations rather than to the official goals of the work itself. Indeed, an anthropological study of local government in Britain argues that ‘More effort goes into ensuring that a local authority’s services are represented correctly than goes into actually improving those services.’”

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?, Zero Books, Alresford, 2009, p. 42.

There is an utterly illogical and unrelenting drive to quantify every aspect of our lives so they may be converted to data points. Anyone involved in education sees this and recognizes the damage that is being done to students whose instruction is completely and inappropriately centered upon test results. Anyone with open eyes sees this obsession with quantification is the path to cementing a new class structure that is defined by technology. If technology demands that our lives be quantified, then we need less technology, for the sacrifice is too great.

Recycling tradition

“The artistic heritage of paganism had been comprehensively smashed by dint of Christian zeal. Starting in the late fourth century, statues of the gods were toppled from their pedestals, great temples demolished, others converted into churches after being stripped of their decoration. Of course, not everything could be destroyed without going to a great deal of trouble. In the Parthenon of Athens Christians defaced the carved metopes of three sides of the temple, then gave up.”

“The gap left by paganism was filled by the cult of saints on both a practical and an imaginative level. That is not to say that there was a simple substitution, that, for example, the sun god with his chariot (Helios) was replaced by the Prophet Elijah (Elias) who went up to heaven in a chariot, or that the Virgin Mary usurped the place of Athena or Cybele or Isis. What we observe is that certain practices were maintained under changed auspices…”

– Cyril Mango, “New Religion, Old Culture,” The Oxford History of Byzantium, Edited by Cyril Mango, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002, ppg. 111-113.

No comment.

Puppies

“Animals must have suffered much from the Christian doctrine that man is made in the image of God and is endowed with an immortal soul. Although man has an animal body and instincts, he has been taught to set himself apart from the rest of creation. The average Christian believes the animal world exists only for his own benefit. Countless animals would have been spared much torture and suffering if only the Gospels had recorded that Jesus showed compassion towards all living creatures and not merely towards mankind.”

– John Walters, The Essence of Buddhism, Crowell Publisher, New York, 1962, p. 9.

If you have managed to avoid the recent news item regarding the foibles of a certain bureaucrat, you should at least take the time to reflect on the maxim that a person’s character may be judged by his treatment of animals. This particular individual was responsible for a great deal of suffering and death during the 1980s AIDS crisis and continues to somehow be insulated from consequences of his direct conflict of interest in public health policy. The linked sources report objective facts that are not from a particular political perspective.

Saturday morning quotes 8.25: Points of interest

Our readers know we have a unique point of view that offers an alternative to the usual story promoted from inside the echo chamber of early music enthusiasts. Since we are independent and have no commercial nor institutional obligations, we can point out the obvious without worrying about offending gatekeepers or risking funding that was never going to come our way in the first place. But as thinking persons, we diligently take the time to inform ourselves without prejudice as to the source from within or without the commercial-institutional early music complex.

An essential source of information is Timothy McGee’s book, The Sound of Medieval Song: Ornamentation and Vocal Style according to the Treatises, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998.

“The primary goal of this book is the presentation to the scholarly world of an aspect of medieval music that is often ignored because it cannot be seen on the page…Although several excellent ensembles have been ornamenting medieval music for some time, following some of the theoretical information included here, most have not. The modern classically trained voice cannot be used as a model for the vocal sound, and the practice of performing exactly what is on the page—no matter how beautifully it is done—is simply incorrect as a reconstruction of the sounds of the past.
– p. viii

“It is incorrect to view the surviving written versions of much of the medieval repertory as dogmatic texts that were intended to be reproduced exactly as written. In performance each composition became a living creation precisely because the performer took on some of the role of a composer, adjusting each composition in a personal way. Many of the compositions preserved in manuscripts are either outlines to be filled in by the performer or records of an ornamental elaboration invented by a particular performer.”
– p. 4

Moving to another point, an incidental reality check with the status of the world of early music reveals what many of us knew all along: It is impossible to make a living as a professional musician specializing in early music without 1) commercial or institutional sponsorship, 2) a trust fund, 3) absolute dedication, and 4) flexibility. Since we have never come close to 1) and have not even the faintest trace of 2), we have rewarded our surfeit of 3) by embracing 4).

Having spent the better part of 18 years as a duo specializing in historical music for voice and lute, we can say without reservation it ain’t easy. When we hear rumors of young players giving up for good because early music is not commercially viable, we can only say welcome to the club. The age of a viable career in early music is thing of the past. Those who “made it” in the last decades of the 20th century were able to snatch that brass ring as the carousel made its circuit, and many of those players just trousered the brass ring as they continue to perform to this day instead of stepping back and allowing a new generation the opportunities they experienced themselves so long ago. Today, to be a dedicated performer of early music is to take a vow of poverty.

The entire music world has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, and early music has morphed from a cultish corner of the classical music market, to a brand in its own right. The real problems emerged when promoters aggressively over-commercialized the early music brand, forsaking the traditional dedicated audience who had an alternative bent and instead pandering to the well-heeled moneyed interests who can and will drop sacks of cash just for the philanthropic thrill of barely-earned prestige as visible patrons of the arts. In the absence of an audience of true believers, the effect of early music is instead gauged by flashy presentations and sideshows rather than whether the substance of the music can cause listeners to feel something, or whether it can bring a tear to the eye.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but another nail in the coffin for professional performers has been the aggressive participation of amateurs possessing large bankrolls, ample collections of expensive instruments, and oversized narcissistic personalities that fuel their desire to draw the public eye. As we have pointed out in these pages, amateurs have every right to share their music with their families and friends, but they should not elbow their way into the world of public performance—it only interferes with professional standards and degrades the public’s perception of musical quality.

“Yea, so that thou haue any skill in [playing the lute] be not ashamed at the request of honest friends to shew thy cunning: but if thou chancest to get an habit of perfection, prophane not the Goddesse, with making thy selfe cheape for a sleight gaine.”

– John Dowland, Varietie of Lvte-lessons, 1610 (after Besard, 1603).

“The dilettante and the amateur should, as a rule, stay out of paid positions, or at least they should not work gratuitously in those which should yield pay: and in those few cases where it seems fair and desirable for them to do any public work at salary they should stubbornly maintain a price and conditions which will aid professionals to hold the same ground.”

– Charles E. Watt, “A Square Deal for the Music Teacher: Let Us Have a Better Financial Status for the Professional Musician,” The Etude, Vol. 39, September 1921, p. 561.

We have reached the point where advancement of technology has undermined the very substance of art. The result is that self-promoting individuals can spend buckets of money employing technology in order to create an illusion of art, and thus technology has become the pointless end, rather than the means, by which both the quality and the substance of art has been utterly pixelated into meaningless data points.

And yet here we are and here we remain, adhering to the old ways that point toward the past.

Saturday morning quotes 8.24 Doulce Mémoire album release

Events of the past 18 months have put a universal damper on concert activities for musicians of all types, and early music specialists, with our narrow and mostly mature audiences, have been particularly hard-hit by limited performance opportunities, a situation made more difficult by a general confused message from leadership with rules that appear to change hourly. Many performers have turned to creating video productions of concerts, taking live performance several steps in a different direction from the concert experience we know and love. Not satisfied with the always imperfect environment of a live concert, and impatient with the static view of the performers typically offered to the audience, performers with deep pockets are going full Hollywood to present fanciful interpretations of old music that are yet another remove from reality, complete with fanciful visual effects. As usual, we choose a different path.

“Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882), Self-Reliance, 1841

Like many other industrious souls, we reacted to the lockdown and loss of performing opportunities by directing our efforts towards projects that were awaiting the proper time and focus: We chose to put our energy into completing several recording projects that have been languishing on the shelf for some time. Despite the ever-rising cost of recording and the uniformly diminishing revenues from streaming (in the year 2020 Spotify paid artists an average of $0.0032 per stream), today we release the fourth in our in tempus pestis series of albums with Doulce Mémoire.

Our very first full-length CD, Divine Amarillis, featured a collection of French airs de cour, and over the years we have occasionally revisited and expanded upon our catalogue of this wonderful repertory. Those familiar with early music apply the term air de cour to the ample series published between 1608 and 1632; fifteen volumes of Airs de différents autheurs avec la tablature de luth that presented popular airs extracted from courtly entertainments 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.

Adrian Le Roy (c.1520 – 1598) was well-connected at court and had familiar conference with preeminent poets like Ronsard and celebrated composers including Lassus. Using his connections to good advantage, Le Roy procured a royal patent to publish music beginning in 1551, in partnership with his cousin Robert Ballard (c.1527 – 1588), producing a large output of high-quality music editions over the span of fifty years. At court, Le Roy was in a position to have an unusually influential role in promoting music and determining popular taste: performing certain music for Charles IX at times resulted in a royal command to publish what delighted the ears of the king.

Le Roy’s music for solo lute demonstrates the direct influence of 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. What eventually became a characteristic French style of lute-playing employed a subtle interpretive technique that highlights and accentuates the strands of polyphony in a way particular to the character and resources of the lute. This arpeggiated style was later called style brisé, a term concocted by 20th-century musicologists to describe broken chordal technique, but the term has no historical precedent.

History is selective, and Le Roy’s important role in establishing what was to become an immensely popular musical form is little acknowledged today, and most modern recordings of this repertory present the later series of airs published by the descendants of Le Roy and Ballard. Hoping to redress this imbalance, Doulce Mémoire probes the earlier examples of airs de cour by Le Roy before moving chronologically and stylistically to the more familiar airs by composers Boësset, Guédron, and Moulinié.

You might well ask: what relevance does a chanson 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”, the title track of this album, opens the gate to a sampling of early airs de cour by Adrian Le Roy and moves forward chronologically and stylistically 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 share the results of our work with this album now and look forward to sharing others that are still in preparation.

Interpretation

In performing 16th-century French music 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.

In many of the airs on our recording, the essential pulse and intricate dance rhythms must support poetry that describes anxiety and despair, and so must be interpreted 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. In any song based upon a dance tune, rhythmic vitality is an essential underpinning and the expected steady pulse only adds substance to the emotional depth of the poetry.

We have taken particular care in presenting the music in an intimate atmosphere that honors original domestic performance parameters of our chosen repertory. Over the past few years we have produced four CDs of mostly sacred repertory recorded live in spacious churches, and that music seems appropriate in its proper context. But historical repertory that was always sung in intimate spaces deserves a more intimate sound. In the studio, we were able to record in a naturally live space with a close microphone placement for both voice and lute, conveying the warmth of texts and music, but close microphone placement is an act of bravery that exposes each breath and every movement of the fingers.

There is a very good reason most early music recordings involving voice and lute have an overly-spacious “cathedral” sound despite the character and intent of the music—it is mostly to insulate the performers from the inevitable exposure of their human imperfections when magnified under what amounts to an aural microscope. But despite the hazards we feel that close microphone placement in a naturally live space conveys the actual warmth of sound heard in a small chamber, bringing the listener closer to the original historical experience of the music.

We are seeing an abundance of (pandemic?) lute videos of late that are obviously recorded in bedrooms and kitchens, as is probably historically-appropriate and proper, but the recorded sound is usually as reverberant as though it were recorded inside the Taj Mahal. That is not what the lute sounds like. One is reminded of an old Gramophone review of a certain prolific lutenist where the sound was described as a “psycho-acoustic nightmare—close up and far away at the same time.” We are well aware that we are pushing back at the modern conventions of the “early music sound” but, as usual, we are trend-setters and we feel it is time the excess is tempered a bit if we are to successfully introduce early music to a young and discerning audience who is more savvy than you might think. While we respect as a conscious choice the 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 singers typically indulging in bel canto style, affecting what is actually a Victorian approach to vocal projection and diction. The historical sources are very clear on the matter: outside of the cathedral or the theater, a natural voice was preferred by and expected from singers circa 1600, and the flexibility of a natural voice facilitates examples of historical ornamentation, as demonstrated in our rendering of an air by Antoine Boësset (1586 – 1643).

Boësset’s “N’espérez plus mes yeux” is an air that lives on in popularity today among early music performers, probably due to its simple form and melancholy character. In 1636, Marin Mersenne (1588 – 1648) included the air in his book, Harmonie Universelle, as an example of how different singers might improvise ornamented divisions to a popular song. It is from this source we draw the ornamented second and third verses of the air for our recording. Beginning with Boësset’s air for voice and lute published by Ballard in 1643, Mersenne supplied a species of ornaments he labeled port de voix (not just the appoggiatura as known in 18th century terminology) as composed by Etienne Moulinié and Henry Le Bailly, (c. 1580 – 1637), to which we add a few of our own.

Our new album Doulce Mémoire presents a unique point of view on French music that was current during a time of great upheaval and dramatic change. This was a time of the French wars of religion and the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre; this was a time when musique mesurée was supplanting the polyphonic chanson and, inspired by Italian trends in music, creating a new type of solo song with lute accompaniment.

A particular feature of our album is a newly-recorded version of Mignonne allons voir si la rose, where we illustrate conventional 16th-century performance practice in harmonizing an orphan melody. We chose to include an updated version as the first track in honor of our award-winning first CD released 15 years ago.

We include a video below with a pastiche of a few of our favorites, and we offer expanded album notes with all song texts & English translations, available on our website. We hope the music offers a bit of solace in these distracted times.