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Saturday morning quotes 4.18: The Tudors

September 13, 2014

We never fail to remind our readers that the primary justification for studying history is to recognize patterns, trends and artifacts of human behavior and 1) avoid those that produce identifiable harmful results, and 2) preserve those that lead towards a better, more enlightened human species.  For example, feudalism and establishment of unfettered dynastic rule invariably leads to the accumulation of wealth by the elite few, resulting in serious problems in quality of life for the more ethical many.  But preservation of and open access to important cultural artifacts of the past offers an inspiring example of human achievement.

As we prepare to perform our program of music from the era of the Tudors, we think about the arc of historic events and how they might compare to modern equivalents, like the Bush dynasty.

“In a largely illiterate age, visual culture was loaded with political symbolism.”

– Thomas Penn, The Guardian, Friday 2 March 2012

The Tudor dynasty was established by Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, a ruthless and greedy manipulator who stopped at nothing to gain the throne and amass wealth, basically through the time honored method of threat and extraction.  After building a royal treasury, Henry VII then set about laundering his reputation through the time honored method of rewriting history.

But examining events of the time also reveals that a certain amount of good music survives from Henry VII’s era and his court.  We enjoy programming concerts that juxtapose the many and amply available horrors of life at that time with the intricacy and beauty of the music. English composers of the second half of the 15th century were recognized for the high quality of their music: John Bedyingham, Walter Frye, Robert Morton may have been clinging to the coattails of John Dunstaple’s fame, but were very gifted composers in their own right.

We formed our series of concerts focused on music of the Tudors in reaction to the choices of music we heard in the soundtrack to Showtime television series, The Tudors. The music, like nearly everything originating in Hollywood, is abysmally wrong.  Music directors successfully surviving in Hollywood are famed for their notoriously inappropriate musical choices when it comes to historical drama.

We tend to believe that informed choices based on sound research are more effective in terms of depicting the tenor of the times, and we present a guided tour of the Tudor dynasty, tracing the ever-evolving musical and poetical styles that defined the height of culture during the 118-year reign.

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