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Saturday morning quotes 2.51: Dowland and Morley

May 4, 2013

As the penultimate post for our second full year of Saturday quotes, we describe a connection between John Dowland and Thomas Morley, and also introduce our reconstruction of one of the best bits frustratingly missing from an important book of lute songs.

Thomas Morley (c1557  – 1602) is best remembered as an English exponent of the Italian madrigal style.  He was also a man who was quite savvy about business matters and he parlayed his connections and collaborative relationship with music publishers to corner a monopoly on music publishing, which officially ran from 1598 – 1602.  Like any successful capitalist, Morley sought to maintain his control of music publishing through restriction of resources, including an apparent attempted ban on manuscript copying.

Morley, for his part consistently emphasized the quality of product he could deliver as the helmsman of a national publishing industry.  It was surely the royal music monopoly, awarded with the express purpose of promoting musical life in England, that inspired Morley’s qualitative stance as a competitive publisher.  This first surfaced in the years 1596 -1598, when Morley was lobbying for the monopoly and therefore publishing the music of composers well known at court…Because he had to struggle for his position, Morley was much more interested in “rights to copy” than Byrd before him, who basically enjoyed an uncontested monopoly.  Like his mentor, however, Morley, too, seemed to grasp well the benefits at hand when as author, rather than a mere trader, possessed the power to control the destiny of his art as it was prepared for dissemination among the public.

– Jeremy L. Smith, Thomas East and Music Publishing in Renaissance England, (Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 2003) p. 93.

We leave Morley waiting curbside for a moment and take a slight left turn with a quote from the same book cited above (pp. 107-108). Smith describes the fascinating story surrounding the publication of John Dowland’s Second Booke of Songs, and suggests an element of intrigue with connections to the Essex circle.

The texts in the Dowland set may well allude to Essex’s relations with the queen.  The tone of several songs in this collection matches that of Essex’s letters to her.  In both texts the apologetic agenda is unmistakable.  Were these songs meant to allude to Essex’s plight or even to serve as a means of communication with Elizabeth?  Unfortunately, neither hypothesis can yet be proven.  Still, as much as the clear allusions to Essex in the history of Richard II may have threatened the queen, nothing would have better reflected Essex’s appeal in the form of a lover’s apology than the affecting texts and music of Dowland’s Second Booke.  If anyone at the time cared to view the matter as such, the songs of Dowland’s set would have captured the spirit of Essex’s well-known attempts to plead for Elizabeth’s forgiveness just as obviously as the Richard II plays and books did so clearly refer to his alternative plan of reestablishing his position by the military force of a coup d’ètat.

The publication of Dowland’s Second Booke (1600) is very well documented because it was the subject of a protracted lawsuit between rival printers Thomas East and George Eastland.  But an interesting aspect of the story is that Thomas Morley, who as holder of the music publishing patent had access to Dowland’s manuscript, seems to have rushed to print his own book of songs with lute, even setting the same text as the first song in Dowland’s book, ‘I saw my Lady weepe’, although it may actually have been Dowland who based his text on an earlier madrigal setting by Alfonso Ferrabosco, published in Musica Transalpina (1588).

Thomas  Morley’s The first booke of ayres. Or Little short songs, to sing and play to the lute, with the base viole Newly published by Thomas Morley Bachiler of Musicke, and one of the gent. of her Maiesties Royall Chappel, also published 1600, included the song, ‘I saw my Ladie weeping’.  Morley’s setting is slightly less successful than Dowland’s, which is truly transcendent and one of the best examples of the genre.  But Morley confessed in his introduction TO THE READER:

“Let it not seem straunge (courteous Reader) that I thus farre presume to take vpon me, in publishing this volume of Lute Ayres, being no professor thereof, but like a blind man groping for my way, haue at length happened vpon a method: which when I found, my heart burning loue to my friends would not consent I might conceale.”

Morley’s First Booke of Ayres (1600) only survives in a frustratingly incomplete form that lists the contents in the TABLE CONTAINING ALL THE SONGS IN THIS BOOKE, but is missing numbers XV – XXIII, including the concluding instrumental Pauane and Galliard. One of the missing songs is ‘Sleepe slumbring eyes’ (XViij), which was fortuitously hand-copied with a cantus and bass into what survives as Christ Church, Oxford manuscript 439, in spite of Morley’s own attempts to restrict such practice.

‘Sleep’ is a rich and multidimensional theme commonly found in the texts of lute songs, and one of Dowland’s very best songs is ‘Come heauy sleepe’ from his First Booke (1597). The text of Morley’s ‘Sleepe slumbring eyes’ is anonymous but the words seem to allude to the sense of  Psalm 132  (King James Bible), and the lines ” I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for the LORD”.  There is also a reference in Proverbs 6,4 that is worth quoting:

Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.
Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.
A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.
He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers;
Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.

Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

We have created our own reconstruction of Morley’s missing ‘Sleepe slumbringe eyes’, reconstituting it into an attractive lute song in the style of Dowland, adding to the lute accompaniment movement and cadential figuration that is  idiomatic to the style and the instrument.  You can listen to the result here.

  1. Dan permalink

    Beautiful! Compliments & congratulations; a job exquisitely well done. Sounds like a fine reconstruction; I would love to get a copy of the music- will you be publishing or otherwise making it available, as per your other efforts?

    Striking imagery in the verses- I particularly like

    “…these glistringe starres; the bewty of the skye:
    that bright blacke skye which doth the soon beames baine”

    Really so much better than most of Morley’s other lute songs, which always struck me as vain & blatant attempts to compete with Dowland.

    Also interesting; that cutthroat competition in the printing biz. goes way back! My own career as a professional offset lithographer was destroyed by 2001 by the destructive shenanigans in the printing industry, because of greed & global capitalism.

    Thanks for this week’s contribution- really fine.


    • Thanks for your kind words, Dan.

      Yes, we will be publishing the music in the not-too-distant future. We’re assembling a number of our original arrangements and reconstructions to be packaged with descriptive introductions as interpretive source materials for workshops. This project may help keep the wolf from the door but, as you may have surmised from the themes you read here, we’re serious about providing alternative ideas for interpretation of historical lute songs.

      I have to go out on a limb and say I suppose the song seems better than most of Morley’s others because we ‘Dowlandized’ it in our reconstruction from the surviving cantus and bass – and, of course, the performing style. One important aspect of Dowland’s music that sets it apart from that of his colleagues is his extremely clear harmonic rhythm and an obvious sense of direction toward cadential points. Many other lute song composers just seem to deedle around and lead you to unsatisfying brick-wall closes.

      One of Morley’s more successful efforts is ‘Who is it that this darke night’, a setting of Sidney’s poetry. The reason it’s good is because the lute simply plays polyphonic parts all the way through with no attempt to make it idiomatic to the lute.


  2. Nice job, both.

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  1. Saturday morning quotes 3.3: More Morley | Unquiet Thoughts

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