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Saturday morning quotes 8.36: Diversions

March 5, 2022

With each passing day, the world becomes increasingly fraught for so many people—we are clearly in need of a diversion. We offer a just a few items of distraction that may serve the purpose, including some of our musical favorites of the moment.

“One of the paradoxes of contemporary musical study is the fact that the student by his very desire for historically authentic performance has developed habits of thought which impede his gaining a proper understanding of the music of certain past periods. His strict training in accurate adherence to the notes of a composition as written down by the composer has developed in him such a reverence for those notes that it is hard for him to add to them, or subtract from them, without a feeling of guilt. While this attitude has produced exemplary results in the performance of music written after 1750, it has also led to a complete misconception of the performance ideals of much of the music written in the Baroque and Renaissance periods.”

Imogene Horsley, “Embellishment in the Performance of Renaissance Polyphonic Music,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring, 1951), 3-19.

This article published some 70 years ago by an important musicologist points out a major aspect of the interpretation of early music that is inexplicably still scarcely acknowledged to this day. There are exceptions of course, but much of the historical music that was written down was intended to serve as a memory cue to spark the imagination and prompt individualistic musical interpretation. Today’s music historians could (and should) have highlighted this fact, but instead many have produced “greatest hits” editions stuffed with footnotes that discern between “good” and “bad” surviving versions of a given piece. Old music was highly improvisational in nature, and the people who played it were not burdened by conservatory training. Sadly, today’s musicians are trained to regurgitate written symbols on the page without gaining a deep understanding of the music itself.

“During Marenzio’s early twenties, he seems to have made a study of the madrigals of Lasso; the Civico Museo bibliografico musicale of Bologna owns a copy of Lasso’s Primo libro de madrigali a cinque voci [1573 edition]…with the signature “Luca Marenzio” on the title page of the canto part.”

– Steven Ledbetter, “Marenzio’s Early Career, “Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. XXXII, No. 2 (Summer 1979), p. 316.

This non sequitur may not pique the interest of all and sundry, but it does offer some further hints into John Dowland’s inspiration for the Lachrimæ falling tear motif that was sprinkled like so many dandelions throughout his collected work. A few years ago, we produced a series of posts on Dowland’s instrumental collection, Lachrimæ or Seaven Teares, and discussed our choice for the likely source of Dowland’s lachrymose inspiration. In one post, we mentioned that the esteemed musicologist David Pinto spotted an early statement of the theme in Lasso’s setting of “Domine ne in furore tuo” in the collection of Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales (1584), set to the particular words “Laboravi in gemitu meo”. We know of Dowland’s obsession with the music of Marenzio, but there is no evidence that he was intimate with the printed works of Lasso. However, given that Marenzio studied the works of Lasso, it is entirely possible that Marenzio himself borrowed the theme from the older mæstro, thereby routing to Dowland a recycled bit of music that fit the doleful character of his chosen musical persona. We still feel strongly that the close of the cantus in Marenzio’s “Piango che Amor” (1588) is the likely source.

Department of what we’re listening to: Good, Bad and otherwise; Historical French song; Too nice for words; Historical song in English that cannot be improved. You may notice that you will find zero early music in these examples. While we still love the repertory, we’re experiencing a bit of a dilemma with the music to which we have devoted so much time and energy, having finally realized that early music in its current form today is nothing more than playtime for posh people. Maybe we’ll get over it.

These small diversions may in some small way help us forget about the absurd turmoil that is currently affecting friends and neighbors across the globe. But it is absolutely essential that we remain engaged, and it is necessary that we all step back to gain a perspective on the complete mess our leadership has wrought. We have placed trust in leaders who have through monetary wealth, clandestine connections and ruthless manipulation insinuated themselves into positions that allow them to further enrich themselves at the expense of the population at large: They are not worthy of our trust, and it is time to replace all of those leaders with persons committed to representing the interests of the people. Remember.

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  1. Susan Sandman permalink

    Hi Ron, I studied 17thC madrigals and continuo realizations with Imogene Horsely at Stanford — so glad to think of her again, thanks!

    Yes, I too share worries about the posh origins of the music I love. But the it remains in part because of those circumstances, so our job now is to communicate it across time and class, to lift us all through performance (as you and Donna do), if only for moments.

  2. > early music in its current form today is nothing more than playtime for posh people

    I may be the world’s last surviving exception, but I still exist.

    > Maybe we’ll get over it.

    Please do.

    Nothing wrong with the “other music” you linked to, though 🙂

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