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Saturday morning quotes 4.52: Variety

May 9, 2015

Every Saturday for the past four years, we have posted quotations that help us make sense of this modern world – words that advise, amuse, interest, inspire, define, dismay, pique, perturb, and otherwise help us grieve and come to terms with the death of friends and the downfall of quiet subtle music.

When we began this series in 2010, a prime motivation was to share our avid interest in the deeper meaning one might discover by emulating musicians of the past.  Throughout our period of interest, roughly 1450 – 1620, music was functional and necessary, and instruments and music books were an expensive and rare commodity. In the realm of domestic music, you can bet that the part books or lute manuscripts in a small household’s library were used on a regular basis and the same music was played or sung again and again.  In fact, examining lute tablatures in manuscript books, one encounters hash marks or rubrics next to the beginnings of pieces, probably indicating that the piece was finally committed to memory.

In 2015, the message is that variety is good and change is essential.  Most people who are fortunate enough to experience historical music tend to listen to or play through music spanning a millennium and encompassing a broad range of styles. Our message to amateur and professional musicians alike is that a  passing acquaintance with a particular song is simply not enough.  In fact, living intimately with a particular song over the span of several years is an important aspect of historical context and performance practice.

“Chuse one Lesson thy selfe according to thy capacitie, which giue not ouer by looking ouer others, or straggling from one to another, till thou haue got it reasonably perfect, and doe not onely beginne it by going through it to the end at first sight, but examine each part of it diligently, and stay vpon any one point so long (though thou play it ouer a thousand times) till thou get it in some sort.”

– John or Robert Dowland, Varietie of Lvte-lessons, 1610

The result of this sort of dedicated and focused work is complete familiarity with all the bits that make up the sum of the piece.  The rewards are significant and bring us just a little closer the context of the original aesthetic.  Which brings us full circle to our original message. We would all do well to slow down and observe the aesthetics of the past.  We would all do well to allow mere knowledge to be converted over time to wisdom.  We would all do well to restore quiet, intricate music to our lives, amateurs and professionals.

As an example of our living with a song for several years, we draw your attention to our performance of Dowland’s Sweete stay a while, why will you rise? from his last book of published songs.  And we close the lid on our fourth year with a farewell message to amateurs and professionals from the man himself:

“Take this for a farewell: that this diuine Art, which at this time is by so great men followed, ought to be vsed by thee with that great gracefulnesse which is fit for learned men to vse, and with a kinde of maiestie: yea, so that thou haue any skill in it be not ashamed at the request of honest friends to shew thy cunning: but if thou chancest to get an habit of perfection, prophane not the Goddesse, with making thy selfe cheape for a sleight gaine.”

– John Dowland, Varietie of Lvte-lessons, 1610


One Comment
  1. Dan permalink

    The man himself was Jean Baptiste Besard- but translated (by our primary man himself?) and included in the “Varietie..”

    That entire chapter I have Xeroxed many times- from my own worn & antient Facsimile that I got so many decades ago (before I even owned my first lute) that it could well pass for an original if viewed from 4 feet away in a dim light- and is required reading & reference for all my lute students.

    My special favorite quotation- for its brutally blunt injunction from the throne of Truth itself-

    “Wherefore take speciall heede, lest the right hand touch the Stringes before the left hand stop them,…”


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