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Saturday morning quotes 7.22: On behalf of the Muses

March 9, 2019

MusesCoverClick to hear or download an mp3 of this blog post read by Donna Stewart.

We are very pleased to announce the release of our 12th album, On behalf of the Muses, which is now available to stream and download from  your favorite music sites including Amazon, Bandcamp, CDBaby, iTunes, Spotify and Pandora.  For those stalwarts who prefer actual discs that one can hear, see and touch, we will be shipping CDs the first week of May 2019.

The album is a compilation of most-requested songs that range from DuFay’s mid-fifteenth century “Vergine bella, che di sol vestita” (canzone per Francesco Petrarca) to compositions dating from the past decade. The diverse collection includes a few very recent live recordings, debuts two of our original compositions for voice and lute, and includes our previously-unreleased very first recorded track.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may notice that we have featured some of the individual tracks on this album in past blog posts, but each track has been selected and remixed for inclusion on this new album in response to requests, and they do not otherwise appear on our eleven previous CDs.

Our album title, On behalf of the Muses, is drawn from an obscure reference in the typically obsequious dedication penned by John Bartlet in his A Booke of Ayres, 1606.  The Muses have been a part of our collective consciousness since before the time of Homer, in whose work the Muse is aptly invoked at the very opening of The Odyssey:

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns … driven time and again off course … Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus, start from where you will—sing for our time too.”

– Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles

The Muses traditionally numbered three from their earliest recorded mention, but their number was cubed at some later point and a reference to the nine Muses appears in the 24th book of Homer’s Odyssey, although the prevailing opinion is that the last book was not Homer’s original and was added as an essential summation by a later poet.

Nevertheless, we as Mignarda identify strongly with the aforementioned twists and turns of life and with being driven off course time and again, and we offer this collection of songs On behalf of the Muses from our ample archive of rare recordings in the hopes it will assuage our listeners until we can embrace our next focused recorded program.  And we offer a synopsis of a few pieces on the album.

“Come away, come away death”, a song text from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, unfortunately did not manage to exit backstage draped in an historical musical setting, and a few modern composers have leapt at the opportunity to update Shakespeare’s antique text with a modern treatment.  Occurring in Act II, scene iv of the play, the song is sung by Feste the Clown at the request of the Duke, who asks for

“That old and antique song we heard last night;
Methought it did relieve my passion much,
More than light airs and recollected terms
Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times.”

The Duke causes the music to be played by the ubiquitous but invisible musicians while Feste is located and dragged into the presence to sing “Come away, come away death”, the textless interlude an indication that the “antique” tune stands on its own merit without the Clown’s vocalization.  Recognizing the immense popularity of triple-time galliard tunes in Elizabethan times, we chose to set the text to the historical “Oxford’s Galliard” from the Folger lute manuscript, adding a singable melody line to carry the text but otherwise sticking to the original.  Based upon what we know of  the common historical performance of Tudor ballad tunes, our solution is at once entirely historically appropriate as well as pleasing to the ear.

“Love is not all” is a 21st-century composition for voice and lute by Ron Andrico, setting the (public domain) poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first in a more expansive song cycle.  The setting is arranged in two compact sections; a wistfully reflective exposition followed by a triple-time shift near the middle that adds tension and a dose of uncertainty before the close. Vincent’s poetry adheres to traditional forms but sensitively reflects modern themes: The song and its style owes much to a similar mashup, primarily the music of John Dowland colliding with the mood of 1960s lounge music.

“No more shall meads be deck’d with flow’rs”, by Nicholas Lanier (1588-1666) is a setting of poetry by Thomas Carew. Lanier’s evocative ayre employs our favorite ground, the chaconne.  Our performance is consciously direct and engaged as befits the genre and the historical style, eschewing the typical modern detached “art song” approach, and with its wide range of high and low notes, we used Lanier’s ayre as a test for microphone placement on our very first recording session, and thus this performance marks Mignarda’s very first recording.

“Bist du bei mir” is a deservedly well-known aria found in the 1725 Anna Magdalena Bach notebook.   Formerly attributed to J. S. Bach, the popular air is now firmly assigned to Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, and is from his opera Diomedes, oder die triumphierende Unschuld, known to have been performed in Bayreuth on November 16, 1718.  While the music of the Bach household is several generations outside the bounds of our usual repertory, we have been asked to perform the aria on several occasions and we keep it handy as an encore piece when appropriate, as in the featured live performance.

As in Homer’s Odyssey, our collection of songs is offered on behalf of the Muses that the music may, in every good sense, go straight to the heart.

” the Old Man of the Sea’s daughters gathered round you—wailing, heartsick—dressed you in ambrosial, deathless robes and the Muses, nine in all, voice-to-voice in choirs, their vibrant music rising, raised your dirge. Not one soldier would you have seen dry-eyed, the Muses’ song so pierced us to the heart. “

– Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles



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