Saturday morning quote #52: Stay time
Today marks the end of a complete year’s worth of Saturday morning quotes on our blog, Unquiet Thoughts. From the start, our approach has been to share some of the relics that inspire and inform us as musicians specializing in old music.
We find that the more time we spend immersed in music and poetry from an age when the world was embraced and viewed on a more human scale, the more we recognize the value and need to slow down. Time ticks away soon enough of its own accord, and in this fast-paced world where we are all slaves to electronic gadgets we need more than ever to remember the words of Virgil:
Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.
“But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.”
We have long been intrigued by the music from John Dowland’s fourth book of songs, A Pilgrimes Solace, published in 1612. Advanced for its time and unusual in many aspects, the book represents the culmination of Dowland’s craft as a songwriter, and contains some of the most endearing and enduring songs from the time and place we associate with Shakespeare, John Donne, and the King James Bible.
What sets the music from A Pilgrimes Solace apart? From the very first song in the book, ‘Disdain me still, that I may euer loue’, there is an almost modern feel to the treatment of melody and harmony with much more transparency of texture in the part-writing. Obviously bearing the influence of his Italian role models, Luca Marenzio and Giovanni Croce, Dowland’s music in his final book is at the same time imbued with delicate lightness and dramatic gesture.
On this, the book’s 400th anniversary, we have set our sights on the music in A Pilgrimes Solace with an eye toward capturing the expressiveness of the texts and the drama of the music. Rather than retrospectively viewing the music filtered through a lens tinted by more modern colors and conventions, we attempt to place ourselves in the position of seeing and hearing the music as something entirely fresh and new.
Which brings us to our quote, the concluding words of Dowland’s introduction to A Pilgrimes Solace:
…But (Gentle Reader to conclude, although abruptly) this worke of mine, which I here haue published, containeth such things as I my selfe haue thought well of, as being, in mine opinion furnished with varietie of matter both of Iudgement and delight, which willingly I referre to the friendly censure, and approbation of the skilful: hoping it will be no lesse delightfull to all in generall, then it was pleasing to me in the composition. Farewell.
‘Stay time a while thy flying’ is a song that combines intricate skipping cross-rhythms with a lightness of texture that belies the drama of the text. Our approach to this song, which you can hear in the accompanying video, is an attempt to capture that sense of desperate angst we read in the text and derive from the Italianate musical setting.