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Saturday morning quotes 6.35: Sheepdipping

January 14, 2017


All we like sheep have gone astray, and to those who have ever experienced actual farm work—you know, back in the day when people actually did real things—sheep-dipping involved immersing the hapless animals in a toxic brew of pesticides and fungicides, apparently for their own good.  Today, the term has taken on a slightly different meaning, something to do with the way our leadership does business.

But we’ll shift our focus to an ovine piece of music that highlights the wandering pan-European nature of music from the 16th century, and the plot involves a piece that was composed for four voices by a non-papal Belgian and published in Antwerp, arranged for solo lute by an Hungarian and published in Poland, adapted for lute by an Italian musician and spy who likely came across the music while employed in France, and eventually found its way into an English manuscript, sandwiched between two unique pieces by John Dowland.

The piece in question is inscribed “A Phantazie” and is attributed to Alfonso Ferrabosco (1543 – 1588).  While the music appears elsewhere, for the purpose of this discussion, the primary source of our fantasia for solo lute is the Board lute manuscript (f. 29v).

The fantasia also appears in the Mathew Holmes manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library, Dd. 5.78, f. 58v, arranged for bandora (and credited to Richard Allison) in Dd. 2.11, f. 28v, and also British Library Add. Ms. 31392, f. 40v. A transcription (and facsimile) of “A Phantazie” may be found in Alfonso Ferrabosco of Bologna: Collected Works for Lute and Bandora, edited by Nigel North, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.  The piece also appears in a many-paged tablature/transcription in Richard Charteris’ Opera Omnia of Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (1543 – 1588).

As is the case with many 16th-century instrumental fantasias, Ferrabosco’s “Phantazie”, long thought to belong in the canon of English music for plucked strings, is based upon a motet for four voices, composed by Jacobus Clemens non Papa (c. 1510 – 1556).  Clemens was a prolific composer who, like most successful musicians of the 16th century, was employed as a church musician and composer at Bruges Cathedral, at Ypres, and may have been Kapellmeister to Philippe du Croÿ, Duke of Aerschot and an important general of Emperor Charles V.  There is some question whether Clemens actually held this post because it was reported that he was “un grant ivrogne et tres mal vivant” (a great drunkard and lived badly), and therefore suspect.  This assessment may very well be true as one may discern by the naughty bawdy character of Clemens’s chanson, “Venes mes serfs et Bacchus adorons“.  Nevertheless, Clemens composed at least 15 masses, 233 motets and over 100 secular works, and some of the latter were arranged for solo voice and lute and published by Pierre Phalese in Antwerp, 1552.

Clemens’s motet for four voices, “Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit“, is found in Cantiones ecclesiasticæ : quator vocum, Liber I, 1553, from the printing press of Tielman Susato (c. 1510 – 1570), also located in Antwerp and with whom Clemens had a close working relationship. “Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit”, and its secunda pars, “Delicta juventutis meæ”, represent a sensitively composed text setting that is a masterful display of fugal treatment.

“Clemens motets in the sample group feature prominent fuga development, whereas it is almost absent from two of the Crecquillon motets…The topic of fuga development is a large and important one, leading as it does into the issue of how sixteenth-century composers variously “researched” their fuga subjects, and demonstrated their ability to work them in a wide variety of ways.”

– John Milsom, “Crecquillon, Clemens, and four-voice fuga”, Contemporary Fame: Reassessing the Art of Clemens non Papa and Thomas Crecquillon, Edited by Eric Jas, Centre d’études Supérieures de la Renaissance, p. 328.

The text of the motet is drawn from Psalms 118 (Vulgate), verse 176:

Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit;
quære servum tuum, Domine,
quia mandata tua
non sum oblitus.

I have wandered like a sheep that is lost:
seek thy servant, Lord
because I have not
forgotten thy commandments.

The secunda pars of the motet, “Delicta iuventutis meæ”, is drawn from Psalm 24 (Vulgate) and is part of the text for the Office for the Dead (Matins, Second Nocturne).  While both sections of the motet were arranged for solo lute by Valentin Bakfark (c. 1526 – 1576) and published as Valentini Greffi Bacfarci pannonii harmoniarum musicarum in usum testudinis factarum tomus primus, Kraków, 1565, we will focus only on the first section of the motet.

I first noticed the similarity between Bakfark’s intabulation and the Ferrabosco “Phantazie” via use of my ears when I heard a recording of the former by Jacob Heringman on his recording Black Cow: Lute music by Valentin Bakfark and Matthaeus Waissel, Discipline Global Mobile DGM9906, 1999.  The intabulation is a virtuoso setting that adds a significant amount of decoration to what amounts to four-voice fugal writing.  Bakfark, whose music is always challenging, achieved a fairly strict arrangement of Clemens’s motet by using a method of splitting the strings of the double courses of the lute in three separate instances.  This is akin to the probably apocryphal story that J. S. Bach would add as many voices as possible to his finger-crunching keyboard fugues, sometimes by pressing extra keys with a stick placed in his mouth.

Alfonso Ferrabosco (1543 – 1588) came from a musical family, and his father Domenico Maria was a famed composer in his own right.  Alfonso and his two brothers were farmed out early on to a foreign court, and established a youthful reputation in the employ of Charles de Guise, Cardinal of Lorraine. The three brothers Ferrabosco were known to sing to their own accompaniment, probably lutes, and record of their singing survives as chronicled by Pierre de Ronsard.  In 1562, Alfonso was retained as a musician at the court of Queen Elizabeth, whom he served until 1580 when he returned to Italy for good, leaving a family in England.

Ferrabosco’s return to Italy was fraught, and he was under suspicion for having worked as a spy for the heretic Queen Elizabeth.  We know of his less than admirable reputation via a 1578 letter written by Anselmo Dandino, the papal nuncio in France, to Ptolemy Gilli, cardinal of Como, in Rome.

“I understand that this is a most evil-spirited, evil-minded man, and very knowing, and excellently informed of the affairs of those countries; that the queen of England makes much use of him as a spy and complotter, in which character he might now be employed, so that if one had him in one’s power, one might learn many things; that it is in order that he may better play his game that he affects to have a grudge against the queen of England; and that therefore he will go to Italy, and in particular to Rome and Bologna. I know not what of good to believe, as here he has gone to dine with the ambassador of England on Friday, and has eaten meat, and is constantly busy there: and as I have learned that before going to Bologna he desires to know what Cardinal Paleoto’s feeling may be towards him, I have warned his Most Illustrious Lordship to avoid saying aught in reply that may hinder his going; and my reason for writing to your Most Illustrious Lordship is that, in case he should come to Rome, the pope may hear of it. Meanwhile I have placed persons about him to try if they can penetrate his mind, and I will apprise you of the result.”

– From Richard Charteris, “New Information about the Life of Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (1543 – 1588)”, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, No. 17 (1981), pp. 97-114.

Alfonso came before the Inquisition and was actually sentenced to three years imprisonment for his carnivorous crimes, but he served no time because of a fortuitous connection with Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti (1522 – 1597), who was a significant player in implementing the dictates of the Council of Trent.  Connections matter, and it turns out that Paleotti had studied music with Alfonso’s father, Domenico, and was quite musical himself:

“[Paleotti] composed not inelegant songs, and sang them, in correct rhythm and harmonized and accompanied, sometimes on the lute and at other times on the viol…Indeed, even in his old age he employed the practice of singing and playing, simply for the recreation of his soul and the relaxation of his spirit, which were exceedingly preoccupied with those weightier studies, and oftentimes exhausted.”

– From Craig Monson, “The Composer as ‘Spy’: The Ferraboscos, Gabriele Paleotti, and the Inquisition”, Music & Letters, Vol. 84, No. 1, February 2003, p. 4.

Returning to Ferrabosco’s “Phantazie”, we can clearly see Alfonso’s borrowing in the example below:


Ferrabosco’s setting wanders off a bit after measure 5, and generally condenses the strict fugal treatment in Clemens’s motet.  But the music is most assuredly the same, and this begs the question: Just how much instrumental music from the 16th century is actually adapted from vocal polyphony?  Based upon our working familiarity with sacred and secular vocal polyphony, we suspect the answer is that the majority of surviving instrumental fantasias began life as motets, chansons, and madrigals.

The theme of our post may appear to have wandered like a lost sheep, but we can assure our readers that it is all connected.   But we take this opportunity to announce that, after nearly six full years of weekly posts, we will be taking a much-needed break to concentrate on a number of projects that deserve our full attention.  We will return eventually with a new format, so check back from time to time.  Thanks for your support.

  1. Thank you for your long contribution. It has been something to look forward to every Saturday morning for years. You will be missed.

  2. Susan Sandman permalink

    On Sat, Jan 14, 2017 at 11:20 AM Unquiet Thoughts wrote:

    Ron or Donna posted: ”

    All we like sheep have gone astray, and to those who have ever experienced actual farm work—you know, back in the day when people actually did real things—sheep-dipping involved immersing the hapless animals in a toxic brew of pesticides and fungicides,”

    Reading your blogs Saturday mornings gave me a sense of community and inspiration to continue to be a lute- playing retired musicologist — if Ron (and Donna) can persevere, so can I. Thank you! Looking forward to your future projects. Susan Sandman,

  3. It’s always a promising pleasure to hear you’re pursuing new projects. So please take your time. Besides, I can only agree with David and Susan about anticipation and inspiration (also applies to non-lutenists translating into other fields). Thank you for sharing your insights and illustrating the wide realm of knowledge, experience, and intelligence one intuitively senses behind your music. Chapeau!

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