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Saturday morning quotes 7.30: Origins

December 14, 2019

The_Google_monsterNow that life has slowed down approximately 4.5 percent, we take just a few moments to wish our readers a warm and pleasant holiday season and to announce upcoming availability of a new music edition from Mignarda Editions. And we also take the opportunity to generally wag a disapproving finger at an ominous organization that has become far too big for its britches and, in true fallacious flavor of modern morality, has stolen utterly everything it claims to ownincluding its name.

We’ll come to the point eventually, but first we are pleased to announce the December 20th 2019 availability of Volume One of the Mignarda Songbook: English Ayres.   The edition is the first in a series of selections from Mignarda’s repertory in response to many requests from musicians who seek to emulate our informed practice of performing historical lute songs in a manner that communicates the texts to their best advantage.

As a repertory of solo songs, the series of English lute songs published between 1597 – 1632 was primarily intended for a tenor voice sung from a transposing clef with self-accompaniment on the lute.  According to every descriptive source from the period, one is always advised to pitch the vocal line where it best suits the voice and where the text is best articulated.  And indeed the universal historical practice of singing plainchant or psalms at a convenient pitch reinforces the concept of transposing the voice part to a convenient range.  The evidence supports the idea that the relative pitch standard was lower than our modern A=440, and lutes employed during that period were likely larger than our modern 60 cm. alto lute tuned to G.  This puts to rest the idea that the modern soprano voice was the standard interpretive choice, a voice type that typically favors the beauty of sound over the clear enunciation of words.  Singing at the higher octave as indicated in the printed scores was not likely to have been intended unless the song was performed in ensemble, using the optional printed accompanying parts for alto, tenor and bass.

Many ayres and lute solos in the new Mignarda Songbook are quite rare and not available elsewhere, and there are also found a few familiar pieces included as representative gems among our favorites.  Mignarda’s signature sound has struck a chord with a broad international audience attracting many new fans to early music, and we are pleased to share the results of our research and our unique repertory with professional and amateur musicians in the hope that our approach to performance of historical lute songs will thrive through informed, aware and engaging performance.

As an example of a unique song found in our new edition, we mention “Lyke as the lark within the marlains foote,” a song from the mid-16th century anthology known as Tottel’s Miscellany, originally titled, Songes and Sonettes Written By the Ryght Honorable Lord Henry Howard, late Earle of Surrey, Thomas Wyatt the Elder and others.  Among other sources, music for the poem is found in a keyboard manuscript that is bound together with the Dallis Lute Book, Trinity College Dublin MS 410/1.  The keyboard section of the manuscript is typically referred to as the Dublin Virginal Book, and the straightforward music is scored in two staves on p. 321 (No. 24).  Our version supplies the melody and bass from an alternative source that was printed in the Wood Psalter and the Melville Book of Roundels, and we provide a lute intabulation of the version from the Dublin Virginal Book.

Since the mid-16th century language can be a bit challenging, we provide a translation into more modern English.  Among the poetical oddities, the obscure term, “marlians foote” turns out to be a clever poetical device: A marlian, or merlion, was typically a heraldic representation of a bird with either no feet or neither feet nor beak, and the term may also refer to a hood or other attachment for a clerical robe.  Also, “foot” can be a reference to style or language; prosaic, low, not refined.  This is just an example of the annotations provided in the songbook.

There are several other appealing poems in Tottel’s Miscellany suitable for performance as lute songs, but it is instructive to simply dip into the anthology as poetry in order to gain a contextual understanding of the status and style of mid-century Tudor verse.  Among the poets identified in the collection is one Barnabe Googe, who turns out to have been quite a prolific author and well-connected. In a letter dated 1 October 1563, William Cecil, Lord Burghley referred to Barnabe Googe as his servant and near kinsman, and Googe was of sufficient status as an author that his engaging Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonettes was published in 1563, the year of John Dowland’s birth.

Leaping ahead a few centuries, we weave the American cartoonist William Morgan DeBeck (1890 – 1942) into the story.  DeBeck would have received a good education since his father, Louis DeBecque, was a newspaper man and his mother, Jessie Lee Morgan, was a school teacher.   This was at a time when a child attending elementary school was taught Latin and read the Classics, and DeBeck’s mother was certainly aware of the Classics and the revival of historical English literature that was in vogue during the latter 19th century.  Moving into the realm of speculation, there is a very good chance that the rather catchy name, Barnabe Googe, would not have escaped the notice of school teacher and gifted and privileged child who went on to study at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

It turns out that in 1871 scholar Edward Arber (1836 – 1912) published an edited reprint of Googe’s Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonettes, which must surely have appeared on the reading list of the educated DeBeck family at some point.  And when DeBeck was in his early 20s, the weirdly prophetic fantasy tale in verse, The Google Book, by Vincent Cartwright Vickers was published in London.  Cartoonist DeBeck first created his character, Barney Google in 1919, a name surely reminiscent of the historical poet Barnabe Googe mashed up with reference to Vicker’s strange tale of Googleland.

Barney Google went on to become quite popular, even rating his own popular song.  But his popularity was no match for the disquieting fantasyland created by Vickers. The Google monster, depicted above was described as follows:

The Google has a beautiful garden which is guarded night and day. All through the day he sleeps in a pool of water in the center of the garden; but when the night comes, he slowly crawls out of the pool and silently prowls around for food.

This sounds uncomfortably similar to the other monster that crawls abroad when no one is watching, and silently prowls around for content to monetize with never the slightest intent of paying the creators of said content.  Humorist Vickers, also a prominent economist, was deeply concerned over the economic structure that had evolved over time.  Before he died in 1939, he penned on his deathbed a pamphlet entitled Economic Tribulation, published posthumously in 1941.  We leave you with the final words of the man who invented the Google monster.

The present order of things must change. The economic structure of civilisation is obviously leaning heavily. To build upon it, to add weight to it as it now stands, crooked and unsafe, can only bring nearer the day of its collapse.

The structure must be surveyed from its foundations upwards, and the quality and suitability of its masonry tested. Then, having discovered where its weaknesses lie, we must endeavour with honesty to restore the walls and make them strong once more and upright as they were meant to be. Then and then only can we safely proceed with the building and work in peace. We can no longer trust to a complication of endeavours to conceal the existing flaws and to cover up gross injustices and mistakes by temporary expedients. In future our labours, if they are to succeed, must be directed towards the general betterment of mankind and the progress of humanity. Only by such efforts can our economic structure once more follow the proper plan of it’s building, in accordance with the original design of its Architect.





  1. And here I thought I’d read early on that the name was a corruption of the number “googolplex”…

  2. The term “googolplex” was invented by Edward Kasner in the late 1930s, well after the peak of immense popularity of the Barney Google character. “In 2002, when Page set up a scanning device at Google to test how fast books could be scanned, the first book he scanned was Vickers’ The Google Book.”

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