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Saturday morning quotes 4.1: Substance

May 17, 2014

This post begins our fourth year of Saturday morning quotes, a weekly chore we perform both with a sense of responsibility and in a spirit of sharing.  We are constantly reminded that our perspective is quite unique in that we are committed to maintaining a simpler brand of existence in the face of an increasing dependence on technology. We remain convinced that the music we perform is necessary in an age when tech companies have marginalized the value of real art, and that people today have a desperate need to experience honest representations of deep emotional content whether they accept the fact or not.  We excavate that deep emotional content from the archives of historical poetry and music, and we make an effort to share the substance of historical emotional content with our audiences.

We quote Edward Doughtie (1935 – 2014), in whose memory we perform a concert this evening.

In his curmudgeonly epistle “To The Reader,” John Dowland defends himself from “simple Cantors, or vocall singers,” who show their ignorance in their “blinde Division  making” or melismatic ornamentation, and who say “what I doe is after the old manner.”   Dowland’s last collection of songs, A Pilgrimes Solace, is not entirely “after the old manner. ” It looks both backward and forward…and an Italianate sophistication may be heard in several other songs in the 1612 volume.  We may “feel the wind of another planet”—or at least a gentle breeze.

– Edward Doughtie, from the notes to Mignarda’s CD,  A Pilgrimes Solace

In the spirit of sharing our research and insights into our music, we include the longer form of an essay written to describe the substance of our concert program.

Our program begins with three selections from A Pilgrimes Solace (1612), John Dowland’s last and finest collection of songs. “Disdaine me still” is given pride of place as the first song in the 1612 publication and we follow suit with this rather modern-sounding piece that, were it given a slightly different treatment, might pass for a good pop song.  “Shall I striue with wordes to moue” exemplifies Dowland’s penchant for combining short but appealing melodic phrases with dramatic rhythmic devices, such as the breathtaking syncopations in the final section.  The galliard-song is very important to us in that the instrumental version for solo lute is titled, “Mignarda.”   The text to “Sweete stay awhile,” justifiably one of Dowland’s more familiar songs, bears some resemblance to John Donne’s poem, “Breake of Day,” a relationship perhaps enhanced by the poem’s proximity in a manuscript source to another text, “Stay, O Sweet, and do not Rise,” a poem that is less securely attributed to Donne.

Contrasting the intricacy of Dowland’s musical settings, we perform works by Dowland’s contemporaries, with settings of texts that may be more firmly attributed to known poets.  “Ouer these brookes” is a text by Sir Philip Sidney and “Tyme cruell tyme” is by Samuel Danyel, brother of the less famous but masterful composer, John Danyel.

Thomas Campion is best remembered for his Observations in the Art of English Poesie (1602), but he also published masque music, a treatise on counterpoint, and four books of ayres for voice and lute.  “The Sypres curten of the night” is from Campion’s A Booke of Ayres (1601), a collaborative publication that also includes twenty-one songs by Philip Rosseter.  In a typical display of Elizabethan wit, Campion weaves a direct quotation of the cantus to Dowland’s song, “My thoughts are winged with hopes” (First Booke of Songs, 1597) into the lute accompaniment of the distinctly unhopeful and downright gloomy “Sypres curten of the night,” an amusing gesture that would not have passed unnoticed by Dowland himself.

“Sleepe slumbringe eyes” marks the mid-point of our program; an anonymous text set by Thomas Morley but missing from the only surviving copy of his First Booke of Ayres (1600).  The piece is reconstructed by Mignarda from a  manuscript source that includes only the melody and bass.

Continuing with music by Dowland, we perform his setting of a poem by the unfortunate Earl of Essex, “Can shee excuse my wrongs,” followed by the lovely and elemental “Dear if you change”, both from his First Book of Songs (1597). The wistful and melancholy “Me, me, and none but me” is from his Third Book of Songs (1603), and Dowland’s masterpiece of melancholy, “In darkness let mee dwell” is from A Musicall Banquet (1610), a collection published by Dowland’s son, Robert.

The lute solos interspersed throughout the program are mainly attributed to John Dowland, the most esteemed and prolific lutenist-composer of the Elizabethan age. Although Dowland composed a wealth of intricate ensemble music and masterful solo fantasias for the lute, his bread and butter consisted of functional dance music during an age when dance was an important aspect of social life and courtly entertainment. The first instrumental is an untitled jig that appears in manuscript form as a trifling two lines of music and missing the usual ornamented repeats, provided here by the present performer in Dowland’s characteristic style. The piece that follows is Dowland’s more famous “Frogge Galliarde,” better known in its part-song version, as “Now, o now I needs must part”. The galliard by Edward Collard is in a slightly later style, with its running divisions hinting at the 17th century French style brisé. Collard is notable for having edged Dowland out of a job as the Queen’s lutenist, a professional snub that Dowland took badly, instigating his barely authorized tour of the Continent where he stumbled into all manner of mischief. Later in the program we feature Dowland’s only surviving prelude for lute, written into a late manuscript source and attributed to “Dr Dowland”. The sparkling Fantasia that follows is not securely attributed to Dowland but is very likely so based on the strong presence of several of his stylistic traits. The Fantasia in its manuscript form is rather corrupt and missing important cadential resolutions, again reconstructed by the performer.

Our program lurches forward in time and we offer a sampling of more recent compositions for voice and lute beginning with “Night Song,” a modern lute song with text and music composed by Edward Doughtie. We follow and conclude our regularly scheduled program with three modern settings of sonnets by 20th-century poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, with music composed by 20th-century relic, Ron Andrico.

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