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Saturday morning quotes 3.3: More Morley

June 1, 2013

We have made mention of Thomas Morley (c. 1557 – 1602) in recent memory in the context of a composer of lute songs and as an astute and ambitious businessman who obtained and exercised a monopoly on music publishing from 1598 – 1602.  An excellent discussion of Morley’s accomplishments and antics as holder of the monopoly may be found in Jeremy L. Smith, Thomas East and music publishing in Renaissance England (Oxford University Press, 2003), and a more recent thesis on Morley’s publishing activities by Teresa Ann Murray.

Morley’s book of lute songs, The first booke of ayres…published by Thomas Morley Bachiler of Musicke, and one of the gent. of her Maiesties Royall Chappel (1600),  may be considered a nice try, and a novel counterpart to the more idiomatically conceived song books of John Dowland.  The first booke would have been the source for our rendition of the song  ‘Sleepe slumbringe eyes‘, but the book survives only in an incomplete copy and we were compelled to provide a reconstruction based on a manuscript source.

Morley’s The First Booke of Consort Lessons, made by diuers exquisite Authors, for six Instruments to play together, the Treble Lute, the Bandora, the Cittern, the Base-Violl, the Flute & Treble-Violl (1599) was our source for the music from which we have arranged the song ‘O mistress mine‘, with the text from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  The score of his arrangement for lute and voice may be found in our edition, Shakespeare’s Lute Book, the subject of a recent blog post.

Today we refer to Morley’s compendium on musical composition, A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke, set downe in forme of a dialogue (1597), an incredibly rich and insightful source of information for those of us who care about interpretation of period music.

A facsimile of the original print may be found in a number of places.  Our source is the print edition edited by Alec Harmon with a Foreword by Thurston Dart, for which the citation is Morley, Thomas, A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music. 2nd Ed. (Norton Library). W.W. Norton: n.p., 1973.  Unfortunately, Norton does not seem to list the book as available in its rather impenetrable catalog, but the the print edition is available through all the usual bookseller sites.

Our quote today is not from Morley but rather from Thurston Dart’s Foreword, which offers interesting contextual information:

“In the early years of the [16th] century the performance of sacred and secular music was largely confined to the court, the musical chapels of the king and the greater nobility, and the larger monastic establishments.  Most singers, composers, and players were professionals, and amateur musicians were extremely rare, though the king [Henry VIII] himself was one of the more outstanding ones.  Musical notation was an arcane art, not to be revealed to all comers; musicians were reluctant, too, to tell all they knew, for the obvious and perhaps sordidly commercial reasons that their livelihood depended on their specialized knowledge and skill.”

Times have changed.

  1. howard posner permalink

    I’d love to know how Dart could possibly know that amateurs were “extremely rare” in the generations before Morley was born. I don’t think Dart was quite that old.

    • Well, you would probably have to wait out your span on Earth and take the matter up with the late Professor Dart. But I tend to value his insights based on his reports covering the surviving evidence. Of course, most of the evidence was torched during the not-so-civil discussion of divorce and religion that occurred during the 16th century in England, but we can surmise from the absence of surviving domestic music that there wasn’t much amateur activity.


  2. alexander r. permalink

    Good catch, Howard. I have read lots of letters and records among the instrument, string and bow makers and their customers, and quite a common situation i have found to be, – we are meeting for a consort of viols and various other instruments twice a month to play through the latest fantasias and dances writ by the best musicians, with often quite detailed description of the reading and technical abilities of the members of consort. Some of these people participated in larger events along with the professionals. In my mind a picture of a very capable amateur viol players, at the very least, able to read through some Ferrabosco fantasia on first try, makes me doubt to some degree the old dart’s assessment… (i see no puns i hear no puns…)

    • This becomes interesting. The quote from Dart was, of course, removed from its context but he was discussing activity of musical amateurs in England in the earlier part of the 16th century, as was evident by his mention of Henry VIII.

      Surviving evidence reveals that there was an increasingly active population of musical amateurs during the Elizabethan period, when the economy was improved and cultural trappings began to waft over the channel from the Continent. The growth of music publishing is a very good indicator of the progression and proliferation of amateur musical activity.

      From all indications, there isn’t much evidence to counter Dart’s assessment. As pointed out here in previous blog posts, the only documented source of musical training up to the 1590s was through choir schools, and Big Harry pretty much terminated activity on that front when he plundered the monasteries. The link quotes fairly extensively from the work of David G. T. Harris, “Musical Education in Tudor Times (1485-1603)”, Proceedings of the Musical Association, 65th Sess. (1938 – 1939), which is broad, deep and exceptionally thorough.

      While there is always more to the situation than meets the eye, I have to say I tend to value the older research of music historians like Thurston Dart over some of the more recent derivative studies I’ve seen. It seems that Dart’s generation was more interested in research for the sake of discovery rather than publishing for the sake of position.


      • alexander r. permalink

        Well, this only indicates that the (music?)-ology (social-music?)-ology is still waiting for someone to sift through the other kinds of sources with this in mind. My particular interest was in string making mostly, plus some instruments-related facts. And i am by no means a scholar ready to document my, well, unquiet thoughts… I was quite surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of tedious paper and exchanges, still available for research, regarding the buying and selling of instruments and music related implements. There never was an analyst of the kind deciding how many beach balls to put on the national chain’s shelves, with the statistics on who will buy those, applied to the demand for all the musical implements in, say Britain of the time. Please correct me if i’m wrong, or point me to a good book. But my own personal impression regarding the consort music has changed quite a bit on learning these anecdotal tidbits. You have to agree, there is a fine line between insisting that the hall full of well dressed and dreaming of the follow up dinner folks are to listen intently to 17 Coperario fantasias in a row, and insisting that a cultured gentleman has no better pastime than training himself to play a viol, and thus provide some years of the highest quality entertainment for his sunset years…
        How are things on the hill?..

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