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Saturday morning quotes 8.38: Revisionism

“Keepers of books—collectors and librarians—prefer to buy books in good condition, rather than well-worn, heavily marked-up exemplars. On top of this is the seemingly banal fact that the least-used books survive the longest.”

– Susan Forscher Weiss, “Vandals, Students, or Scholars? Handwritten Clues in Renaissance Music Textbooks”, in  Music Education in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, edited by Russell E. Murray, Jr., Susan Forscher Weiss, and Cynthia J. Cyrus, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2010, p. 213.

The astute observer of the human condition can see an unsettling uptick in the revision of historical information on many fronts. Historical revisionism is not necessarily a bad thing—updated factual information can help clarify mistaken perceptions and point toward a better understanding of historical context and motivation. But it is far too easy to take a collection of surviving books, for instance, as a representative example of historical preference in any given subject area. As implied in the quotation above, the books that survive intact may very well indicate they were books that simply were not used—and perhaps not even taken seriously.

As we know, the surviving historical printed music only represents a small fraction of music that was actually played, so as performers of early music we are therefore not following historical principles if we are not improvising in an historical style. And what of the “historical” instruments we play today?

“Most surviving lute soundboards are quite thin, often about 1.5mm. However there is some support for the view that the very earliest from c. 1540 may have been rather thicker, and that soundboards were made progressively thinner as the number of the supporting bars was increased.”

– David Van Edwards, “Structure of the Western Lute

Modern lutes that are presumably built on historical models also suffer from revisionist ideals that have more to do with modern sensibilities; ideals that may have entirely missed the mark.  Several of our most talented modern luthiers made the pilgrimage to European (and American) museums in order to measure original instruments, and they faithfully reconstructed lutes to match the dimensions they measured.  But wood has a cellular structure that changes over time, and the more astute among modern luthiers realized that 500 year-old wood most certainly lost mass over half a millennium: Dimensions of a new lute that replicate those of a 500 year-old instrument do not reflect dimensions of the original instrument when it was new.  Thus, the hypersensitive lute of today may very well not have been the sort of instrument played in the 16th century, further confirming the observations of Richard Taruskin, who famously wrote.

“…What we call historical performance is the sound of now, not then. It derives its authenticity not from its historical verisimilitude, but from its being for better or worse a true mirror of late-20th-century taste…So forget history. What Early Music has been doing is busily remaking the music of the past in the image of the present (necessary because we unfortunately have so little use for the actual music of the present), only calling the present by some other name.”

Richard Taruskin,“The Spin Doctors of Early Music,” New York Times, July 29, 1990

The scales fall from our eyes and we step back—secure in our footing—and now clearly see (and hear) that the brilliant chirpy sound of today’s lutes played with crisp-sounding synthetic strings and recorded in a contrived cathedral acoustic really has no historical basis. Today’s listening audience has been sold a bill of goods contrived by marketing professionals in the late 20th century. But we are here to present an historically-informed alternative.

While historical revisionism may have actual cause or merit, historical negationism has neither. Negationism is a term conceived by historian Henry Rousso, and the term appears in his important book The Vichy Syndrome. Negationism is revision of history using false or improper historical method to support a particular view or otherwise misrepresent the actual substance or events of the past. Historian James M. McPherson described such revisionist history as “a consciously-falsified or distorted interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present…”

“There are all kinds of myths that a people has about itself, some positive, some negative, some healthy and some not healthy. I think that one job of the historian is to try to cut through some of those myths and get closer to some kind of reality. So that people can face their current situation realistically, rather than mythically. I guess that’s my sense of what a historian ought to do.”

- James M. McPherson, from David Walsh,“An exchange with a Civil War historian”, International Workers Bulletin, June 19, 1995. 

We live in interesting times, and individuals with open eyes and agile minds observe that we are running headlong in a direction of increasing authoritarianism and diminishing individual freedom. Indications of this trend are the disturbing instances of rewriting history to serve a political purpose. For instance, astute individuals noticed at the onset of the current world health situation, the Wikipedia page on the historical Spanish Influenza epidemic was mysteriously altered to show a significant reduction in the devastating severity of the historical disease over a century ago. Absent clear and convincing reasons for the revision of historical data, we can only assume that the numbers were altered for the sole reason of pumping up the perceived severity of the current situation as much worse, indicating a coordinated effort on the part of health authorities. It is the job of the historian to preserve and present historical fact in any arena.

Saturday morning quotes 8.37: Old Ideas

As specialists in old music, we represent a dying breed: thinking persons who read books, absorb and discuss the contents, and attempt to apply old ideas to our music and our lives. In an age when a few ridiculously wealthy and absurdly influential over-privileged brats foist upon the public stolen ideas, rampant consumerism, and the principles of draconian population control, others cruelly tout themselves as harbingers of the future. We find that day by day we are distancing ourselves further from modern popular culture. We want nothing to do with the imposition of modern monetary schemes or dwelling in pretend cartoon worlds that are blatantly contrived to prevent otherwise intelligent persons from noticing that their wallet is being emptied while their basic human rights are eliminated.

Out of step with modern sensibilities, our aim is to learn from the past and preserve the cumulative good. We continue to read books that reveal how human existence has always been a puzzle, and that thinking persons will always question received ideas. When we see how modern modes of commercialism affect our choices and impinge upon our lives, we take conscious steps to insulate ourselves from the message of modern snake oil salesmen and carnival hucksters who attempt to pass off their manipulative wares as technological solutions to age-old problems.

In the realm of early music, we have taken pains to point out how what began as a genuine effort to preserve a slice of historical aesthetic beauty was eventually highly commercialized by individuals who stood to profit from their scheme. What we know about money laundering in the world of art most certainly permeated the niche market of early music—which has always been a subcategory of classical music—with self-appointed gatekeepers who selected certain individuals as “stars” to advance and created nonprofit organizations to shelter funds, while they took active steps to deny a platform to any performers who might appear to encroach upon their scheme. Fortunately, these individuals have cashed in and are retiring and retreating to their several palaces. Unfortunately, they have pulled their funding in support of early music, allowing the preservation of historical aesthetic beauty to wither and die: Blithe neglect is the true legacy of these gatekeepers.

But enough of that. We offer a few quotes that express old ideas drawn from an article by early music pioneer Michael Morrow (1929 – 1994), an article we have quoted in the remote past.

“With several happy exceptions, I have always found it difficult to work with singers. This is partly due to my ignorance of 20th-century vocal technique: articulation from the diaphragm rather than the throat, expression by means of the eyebrows instead of the voice. I find it hard to come to terms with the British baritone…; the gorgeous contralto-tenor turning his best profile to the audience; the soprano attacking a high note like a screech owl pursued out of a tunnel by an express train.”

– Michael Morrow, “Musical Performance and Authenticity,” Early Music, Vol. VI, No. 2, April 1978, p. 237.

“In order to form some idea of past vocal styles it seems to me valuable, if not essential, to familiarize oneself with the enormous variety of sounds that the human voice can produce, with the many highly sophisticated vocal techniques that are found in traditional musics throughout the world. It should be remembered that although a good voice may be the result of a fine technique, it can—and should—also have that indefinable quality to move the listener. And this quality need not necessarily spring from a flawless technique—indeed by its conviction it can often override technique altogether.”

– Michael Morrow, p. 241.

We leave you with an example of a performance that reflects the distillation of these timeless thoughts and ideas, J’ay prins amours a ma devise.

Saturday morning quotes 8.36: Diversions

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.

Saturday morning quotes 8.35: Character study

“The lute is a modest interpreter of our thoughts and passions to those that understand the language. One may tell another by the help of it what he hath in his heart. We may express upon it choler, pity, hatred, scorn, love, grief, joy; we may give hope and despair…[For] those that have the grace to lift up their mind to the contemplation of heavenly things, this celestial harmony contributes much to raise our souls and make them melt in the love of God.  Nothing represents so well the consort of angelical choirs and gives more foretastes of heavenly joys and of everlasting happiness.”

– Mary Burwell’s lute tutor, c. 1660

We can only hope that musicians will lift up their minds to the contemplation of heavenly things, but there are far too many examples of historical musicians engaging in odious behavior; musicians ranging from Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Carlo Gesualdo, to Richard Wagner and James Levine. Then we have a random assortment of other hoodlums, abusers, thieves and mass murderers who in more recent memory gained undeserved notoriety as pianists including Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Condolezza Rice. Let’s face it: competence in playing music does not forthwith establish an individual’s good character.

After many years of involvement with early music generally and the lute in particular, we have met many wonderful professional colleagues and amateur musicians who are kind, considerate and generous individuals who can hear, feel and understand the deeper meaning we strive to illuminate and convey in our music. We have also met our share of inconsiderate, manipulative and unkind people (at best), and outright narcissists, egomaniacs, charlatans, and miscreants (at worst). As much as we would like it to be so, not only angels play the lute.

Take the case of the individual pictured above, one Jacques Gaultier (c. 1600 – c. 1660), French lutenist, murderer and utter rogue. Also known as Gaultier d’Angleterre, there is no evidence to indicate he was related to the more famous lutenists bearing the same surname, Ennemond, Denis, or Pierre Gaultier. Jacques Gaultier fled France in 1617 after the cowardly murder of an unarmed nobleman and took refuge in England, where he was welcomed at the royal court beginning in 1625, remaining there on and off until his presumed demise around 1660. Gaultier was imprisoned and tortured in 1627 for uttering scandalous remarks about King Charles I and his French Queen Henrietta Maria, who was Gaultier’s apparently apt (17 year-old) lute student. On January 15, 1627, Venetian ambassador Alvise Contarini wrote that this Gaultier:

“…boasted that by the dulcet tones of the lute he could make his way even into the royal bed and he had been urged to do so in a manner that became well-nigh nauseous.”
– Ian Spink, “Another Gaultier Affair”, Music & Letters, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1964), pp. 345-347

There were yet more shenanigans and death threats directed towards Gaultier’s patron, the Duke of Buckingham, but since several highly-placed persons were involved, the whole scandal was hushed up in a manner reminiscent of the recent Jeffrey Epstein affair. Gaultier appears to have resumed musical duties at court by 1629, and he was generally lauded for his lute-playing by the likes of Constantijn Huygens (1622), a frequent correspondent who requested the help of this Gaultier to procure one of the few surviving and highly-prized Laux Maler lutes. But, as we can surmise by the smug facial expression and pointy weaponized appearance of the lute in the above engraving, Gaultier was apparently incapable of minding his manners. From the casebook of a contemporary surgeon, we learn about one of this Gaultier’s social exploits.

“Mr. Ashberrie (a lutanist) at night was bitten by Gottier, the French Luteniste in Covent Garden, had a piece of his cheek bitten out, an inch or more, on left side at corner of the mouth & [nether] lip, down to the lower part of the jaw. I stiched it & dressed it.”
– Dr. Joseph Binnes’ medical casebook, 10 May 1643, British Library, Sloane ms. 153, f. 207.

The surname Gaultier is attached to around 50 surviving lute solos in renaissance tuning, many of them found in the manuscript lute book of Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury. It is unclear exactly which lutenist named Gaultier composed the music, but Paul O’Dette ascribed the pieces to Jacques Gaultier on his 1992 recording, Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s Lute Book. More recent research reveals that Lord Herbert had no apparent personal connection to Jacques, and in his capacity as Ambassador in Paris, Lord Herbert wrote that he was offended that Jacques sought English protection “for haveing killed a brave French Gentleman and of a noble house[,] in a most base fashion fled to England.” Most of Gaultier’s imprecisely ascribed music is of great intricacy and refinement, and it is much more likely that the Gaultier responsible is the more famous Ennemond, also known as Vieux Gaultier. This is also the view of the editors of the excellent Lute Society color facsimile of Herbert of Cherbury’s book, published in 2019 (buy it).

Today, we like to indulge in fantasies where the original musicians who played our chosen instrument approached their music with a sense of awestruck, if one-dimensional, detachment; strumming a lute perched atop a richly-saddled unicorn floating into the keep of a magic castle among dancing damsels. Sadly, this is the sort of PR mythology imprinted upon the historical fantasy-land that describes the modern early music revival.

Much historical repertory has a depth of complex beauty difficult to access today without involvement, commitment and serious study. But when it comes down to it, early musicians were just musicians doing what musicians do, and a percentage of them were rogues and charlatans advancing careers and just looking out for number one. A contextual reality check should in no way undermine the intrinsic value of historical music, but we must understand that there are plenty of reasons why those who are so inclined could probe the historical records and retroactively “cancel” a composer or musician. We advocate developing a contextual understanding that helps uncover the deeper meaning of historical music, and conveying that meaning to our modern audience without the distraction of costumes, bells & whistles—and overproduced videos.

Saturday morning quotes 8.34: Gatekeepers II

We have discussed the stark reality of gatekeepers in early music briefly in a previous post, but this issue has become even more pervasive as time marches on and audiences fade away. A limited audience for what amounts to a niche market in music could easily be cultivated with a coordinated effort on the part of collegial performers who share resources and maintain an optimistic outlook. But, sadly, the examples we have seen reflect the unpleasant sniping so commonly found in the academic world, with territorial types who maintain their relevance not by eye-catching innovation and useful research, but rather by manipulation and whisper campaigns.

Gate-keeping today has taken a very ugly turn in what has become known as “cancel-culture” an unfortunate phenomenon that routinely spreads rapidly via social media. “Canceling” individuals or organizations because of a perceived slight or misstep is the mark of group-think led by persons wielding a fundamentally underdeveloped intellect and patently immature socialization. Full stop. This is why one of us steadfastly refuses to participate on social media, and will never take part in a format that encourages individuals to be ruled by the lowest common denominator. It is sad indeed that in 2022 the internet has enabled a global society that is increasingly less kind and certainly less intelligent.

Returning to music, we have had an interesting dalliance with the music industry for many years now, and it is always enlightening to see how access to different genres of music can be regulated and by whom. Some ten years ago, we posted a series of essays on the book, The Modern Invention of Medieval Music, by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, and laid bare the role of music critic as gatekeeper:

“We wanted to influence the performers, the record-buying public and through them the record companies, and…we spared none of the instrument-based groups whose records came our way  The tone may be scornful or patronisingly sorrowful, lofty or irritated, but the message was unmistakable: buy Gothic Voices, the Taverner Consort, the Hilliard Ensemble, and leave the rest.”  (MIMM, p. 138)

Ideally, a music critic should not have an agenda. Since Leech-Wilkinson was a very active recording reviewer in the journal, Early Music, such overt bias should have been reason enough to send him packing. But we do not live in an ideal world. We dwell in a world that is skewed toward elite control of every aspect of life, and the fact that Leech-Wilkinson publicly crowed in his book about his past manipulative gatekeeping tactics demonstrates that there are no repercussions for bad behavior if you run with the right crowd.

As for the importance of music as a cultural commonality, we need only look to the not-so-distant past to see how music was regarded, regulated and employed to control society.

“Music affects the heart and emotions more than the intellect.  Where then could the heart of a nation beat stronger than in the huge masses, in which the heart of a nation has found its true home?”
– Joseph Goebbels

Recently, we had a particularly egregious example of the use of pop music to help shape the public perception on the anniversary of the gross stupidity that was the January 6th “insurrection”. Setting aside whether the music was good or bad, or the composer worthy or worthless, this was a blatant homage to Goebbels’ observation, and sadly yet another indication that we are being ruled by a cadre of out-of-touch persons who gladly indulge in hollow public gestures but can’t seem to get anything of importance done.

Nevertheless, we continue to successfully bring deeply moving historical music to our audience, despite the roadblocks and obstructions. We will comment that we noticed a review of our generally well-received album, Unquiet Thoughts, in the UK Lute News by an disengaged reviewer who apparently did not listen to the entire album (that sounded different to what he is accustomed), or he would have noticed that there were 3 lute solos. Here is the one he missed.

Saturday morning quotes 8.33: Plague & Justice

We check in with the voluminous writings of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527), famous poet and astute advisor to the ambitious and powerful over the past 500 years. Machiavelli was also the lyricist for one of our favorite madrigals by Philippe Verdelot (c. 1480 – 1530) which was arranged for solo voice and lute by Adrian Willaert (c. 1490 – 1562), so we feel his observations on effective governance fit well into a blog that focuses on music and cultural history of the 16th century.

Machiavelli’s work has been taken out of context for centuries to the point that his name has morphed into an unpleasant adjective, Machiavellian, that essentially means not-so-nice. One online dictionary lists the following synonyms for “Machiavellian”: cutthroat, immoral, unconscionable, unethical, unprincipled, unscrupulous. But Machiavelli the man, the poet and the philosopher did indeed have principles, and held the abstract concept of justice in very high esteem as an essential ideal.

“…What is most pernicious is to see how the promoters and princes of parties give decent appearance to their intention and their end with a pious word; for always, although they are all enemies of freedom, they oppress it under color of defending the state either of the best or of the people. For the prize they desire to gain by victory is not the glory of having liberated the city but the satisfaction of having overcome others and having usurped the principality of the city. Having been led to this point, there is nothing so unjust, so cruel, or mean that they do not dare to do it.”
– Niccolò Machiavelli, Florentine Histories, Book III, Ch. 5.

For all the lip-service given to Machiavelli by proponents of unrestrained self-interest, at least Machiavelli recognized the importance of studying historical examples as a means to inform those who would govern equitably in the present age by avoiding grave mistakes made in the past.

“Machiavelli does not see history as irrelevant to political problem-solving. He approaches political problems through history because he sees a clear historical understanding of present problems as a sine qua non for finding well-considered solutions. And since different parties start from their own partial and partisan views of a conflict’s history, anyone who hopes to persuade them to adopt a wider view must start by showing what is wrong with their narrower ones.”
Erica Benner, Machiavelli’s Ethics, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2010, p. 306 – 307.

Machiavelli is remembered for his Il Principe, which offered advice to his (current) monarch on how to both attain and maintain power in an environment of constant upheaval. Dynastic rule was the order of the day, and democracies were viewed with great suspicion. Even in the best of modern democracies, the two-party system amounts to dynastic rule justified by tradition.

“Now, the maintenance of autocratic rule in dynastic monarchies is a far easier business than it is in the newly established. All that is needed is the avoidance of a breach with tradition in institutions, and opportunism in the face of events. A ruler of quite mediocre sagacity can usually cling to his throne, unless some outside and overwhelming force displace him, and even if he is displaced, a reverse to the intruding victor will generally lead to his restoration.”
– Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe, 1513.

You the reader can choose to absorb these words and meditate on their relevance today. Or you can choose to escape to the world of 16th-century nymphs and shepherds by checking out the song by Machiavelli/Verdelot/Willaert, and just enjoying life. But please keep your eyes and minds open and observe the unjust, cruel, and mean measures taken by those in power as they make the Machiavellian most of the plague.

Saturday morning quotes 8.32: Reason and Knowing

Now that we have transitioned into a New Year, it seems appropriate to take stock (without probing too deeply) of the the past year and look toward the possibilities of 2022. We have to face the fact that the world is not a better place today, but certainly not because of the reasons barked daily from the news correspondents ensconced in their caged kennels. Mostly, we are worse off today because of the news and the irresistible urge on the part of newscasters and their owners to define and control the message.

But enough of that for the moment. Our favorite mode of escapism is indulging in old music—a labor of love but a pursuit that is sadly much less relevant to the modern world than ever before. Lockdowns, quarantines and general isolation are modern realities that have indeed forced many to turn inward and concentrate on more quiet and personal music, but it turns out that many lute players today are just as obsessed with modern technology as they are with the ancient instrument, and it takes a unique personality to shut out the distractions of the modern world and concentrate on the message gleaned from dwelling in a subtle sound world of meaningful music. That means play the lute for yourself and others in close proximity and stop messing about with making vanity project videos to be posted on social media, for heaven’s sake.

We have discussed the personality of today’s lutenists before, and the years that have passed since that writing surely confirm our observations, but today we check in on the 17th-century lute evangelist, Thomas Mace. We have mentioned Mace and his 1676 book, Musik’s Monument in previous blog posts but we revisit the floridly printed pages of Musik’s Monument to share a few more liberally capitalized and highly italicized gems.

“…My 1st. and Chief Design, In Writing This Book, was only to Discover the Occult Mysteries of the Noble Lute, and to show the Great Worthiness of That too much Neglected, and Abused Instrument; and by Good Will to All the True Lovers of It; in making It Plain and Easie; (as now it will certainly be found) Giving the True Reasons, why It has been Formerly, a Very Hard Instrument to Play Well upon; And also why Now, It is become so Easie, and Familiarly Pleasant: And I believe, that Whosoever will but Trouble Himself to Read Those Reasons, which he shall find, in the First Chapter of the 2nd. Part of This Book; and Joyn his own Reason, with the Reasonableness of Those Reasons; will not be able to find the Least Reason to Contradict Those Reasons; But must needs Conclude with Me; That the Lute is a very Easie Instrument.”

Clear as mud? The final few extended clauses bring to mind that famous hoof-in-mouth specialist Donald Rumsfeld and his multi-layered obfuscation from February 12, 2002:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns- the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Donald Rumsfeld

Such intentionally confusing grammatical structures are put into play when members of the modern political class wish to say nothing useful despite their frontward projectile expulsion of words delivered while ardently covering their behinds. Fortunately, we have intelligent voices capable of parsing this language:

If Rumsfeld thinks that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the ‘unknown unknowns’, that is, the threats from Saddam whose nature we cannot even suspect, then the Abu Ghraib scandal shows that the main dangers lie in the “unknown knowns”—the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.
Slavoj Žižek

The late Rumsfeld and his ilk represent an embedded criminal class that control public policy utilizing public funds, but remain entirely and flagrantly unaccountable to the public. How is it that our public policy is skewed by aggressive authority figures who promote their own interest above the good of the public? We live in a new age of authoritarianism, and the state of the world is reported in carefully crafted language that is meant to convey and reinforce a particular point of view.

We get more of our beliefs from the testimony of our fellows than from any other source. Little of our knowledge of the universe is directly tested by our own intuition, reason, experience, or practice. We accept on trust nine-tenths of what we hold to be true. Man is a suggestible animal and tends to believe what is said to him unless he has some positive reason for doubting the honesty or competence of his informant…We may say then that the prevalence of authoritarianism as a method of acquiring and testing truth depends first of all upon the limited nature of the individual and consequent dependence of each on the testimony of others; and secondly, upon the fact that authority makes its appeal to the suggestibility and credulity that is universal throughout the human species.
– Wm. Pepperell Montague, The Ways of Knowing, Macmillan, New York, 1925, p. 39.

There appears to be no substantive change on the horizon for 2022. Given the current state of the world, Reason and Knowing can only be attained through questioning authority. Returning to the words of Thomas Mace, we close with these important words on finding peace and preparing children to embrace the unknown world:

“For this Quality of Musick is a Gentile Quality at the very worst: And it will adorn your Children much more than ten times the cost can be worth, which you shall bestow upon them in the gaining of it.”
“Besides, it will make them acceptable to all ingenuous people, and valued among the best.
“They will be more capable of Preferment in the world, in case of any necessity.”

Saturday morning quotes 8.31: In dulci jubilo

Happy Christmas to all our readers. Today we feature two German Christmas songs that are somewhat related—even beyond the fundamental theme—and have endured in some form or other for more than 600 years.

In dulci jubilo is a danceable carol that sets a text by Henry Suso (1295 – 1366), a gifted writer who was later called a “Minnesinger in prose.” Minnesang was the German equivalent of the French Troubadour and Trouvère tradition, and contrary to popular legend, they were not itinerant wandering minstrels but rather skilled poets, composers and musicians whose work was enthusiastically supported by the aristocracy. As noted in the New Grove:

“Music and dancing were important components of courtly life, and the performance of epics and songs played a major role. The performer had normally created both the poetry and the music that he sang to the assembled company with instrumental accompaniment.”

In dulci jubilo has a macaronic text, meaning the text combines Latin and German vernacular phrases, and the sprightly tune is found in a manuscript now held at the Leipzig University library that dates from circa 1400. In the same manuscript (Codex 1305), can be found the tune for the Christmas song Josef lieber Josef mein, set to another macaronic German-Latin text.

We wish a Happy Christmas to all our friends, and hope that the coming year is free from the current global turmoil and free from the barbarisms imposed by opportunists. Music helps.

Saturday morning quotes 8.30: Christmas time is here

Christmas Gift Suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.
Oren Arnold (1900 – 1980)

Another year has vanished in the blink of an eye while we have all been kept on the edge of our seats wondering just what fresh hell is lurking around the corner. Sure, people have suffered worse through the ages, but there is something particularly awkward about the complete ineptitude of world leaders in 2021, failing to deal effectively with what have become global public health and financial insecurities, and defaulting into unchecked authoritarianism. It is generally accepted that we were meant to have evolved with the passing of time. But yet here we are nearly a quarter of the way into a new century and in even more of a muddle than ever.

The best thing is to maintain our human connections in the face of upheaval and authoritarianism, and shun the absurdities promoted by those who profit from public fear and confusion. We offer our own arrangements of a few Christmas songs for the calming combination of voice and lute to help bring things down to earth:

The Angel Gabriel

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Happy Christmas from Ron & Donna

Saturday morning quotes 8.29: Mignarda reading list II

While trying to make sense of the ever-shifting state of the world this week, we take a few moments to share more quotations drawn from the Mignarda reading list. As usual, we present bits of flotsam from the constant research that informs our approach to historical music and poetry, concluding with a modicum of social commentary from a well-known source.

“Every one knows not that there is a Semitone Major and Minor, because the Difference cannot be known by an Organ or Harpsichord, if the Keys of the Instrument are not split…this Knowledge…[in] Songs accompanied with Bow Instruments…becomes so necessary, that if a Soprano was to sing D sharp, like E flat, a nice Ear will find he is out of Tune, because this last rises.”

– Pier Francesco Tosi, Opinioni de’cantori antichi e moderni, o sieno Osservazioni sopra il canto figurato, Bologna, 1723.

When musicians who specialize in intimate music of the sixteenth century are confronted with more modern fare (18th century for instance), the first thing that assaults the ear is imprecise tuning and indifferent intonation. It is our observation that the keyboard as an accompanying instrument has established a blurry sense of intonation that inevitably encourages pitch wobble (vibrato), not to mention unnecessary (and seemingly competitive) production that seems to be required just to be heard over the blasted machines. To put it simply, the keyboard has a lot to answer for.

“As far as music specifically for lute or viol is concerned, the use of an instrument fretted for equal temperament is never historically ‘wrong’. Remarks by Spataro, Agricola, Cardano, and Vicentino show that some players used equal semitones even before 1550. After that date equal temperament became, in most theorists’ opinion, normal for fretted instruments…”

“Remarks by Bermudo, Ganassi, Dowland and Jean Rousseau suggest that many good players adjusted the frets by ear (as they often do today) rather than conform to an exactly regular spacing.”


– Mark Lindley, Lutes, Viols & Temperaments, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, ppg. 93-94.

As long as there has been an early music revival, historical temperament has been a hotly debated topic. Again, this confusion is mainly confined to keyboard players and windy instrumentalists who have very little control over the tuning of their instruments. String players and singers don’t have to worry about temperament because they can and do use their ears to adjust. It is highly amusing to see and hear all the modern convoluted discussion about temperaments among academics and keyboard players who just can’t come to terms with the inevitable imperfection of their instruments. There is a solution: play the lute and scoot your moveable frets.

“In the sonnet of the late sixteenth century, English poets like Sidney, but especially Shakespeare, were developing a lyric verse not for social performance but for brooding over in private. The fruits of printing, literacy, Protestant private scripture-reading, Counter-Reformation meditation, and other silent, solitary literary pursuits, as well as more traditional rhetoric and possibly Ramist logic, were poems like Shakespeare’s Sonnet 124 and Donne’s “The Canonization“. Multiple or shifting meanings, subtle arguments, logical development through stanzas instead of parallel reiteration—these qualities of the new poetry are not compatible with the aurally comprehensible verse that is most natural for song.”

– Edward Doughtie, English Renaissance Song, Twayne, Boston, 1986, p. 159.

Spending some concentrated time recently with a handful of engaging songs set to delightful grounds by Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695), we can’t help but notice a distinct drop in the overall quality of poetry as compared to stellar examples found in earlier airs by Dowland & co. A logical explanation may be found in the writing of the late Edward Doughtie (1935 – 2014). While epic poetry expressly meant for reading evolved over time to a very high standard, the quality of theatrical song texts was seemingly of little importance to singers interested in floridly ornamented showpieces. We very much appreciate the music of Purcell, but even his contemporaries had sharp things to say about the overall quality of verse.

Thomas Shadwell (c. 1642 – 1692) wrote the fawning birthday ode, Now does the glorious Day appear, for Queen Mary, set to music by Purcell and first performed on April 30, 1689. Shadwell’s original words were tweaked and somewhat improved by Purcell, but really… John Dryden, Shadwell’s predecessor as poet laureate, offered a bit of offhand commentary in his satirical poem, “Mac Flecknoe”:

Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Who stands confirm’d in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.

We close with a timely quote from one of many long laments by the original king of kvetch, Job, including his observations on the disappointing status of social justice. Things have not really improved to this day.

Why does the Almighty not reserve times for judgment?
Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?
Men move boundary stones;
they pasture flocks they have stolen.
They drive away the orphan’s donkey
and take the widow’s ox in pledge.
They thrust the needy from the path
and force all the poor of the land into hiding.
Indeed, like wild donkeys in the desert,
the poor go about their labor foraging food;
the wasteland provides food for their children.
They gather fodder in the fields
and glean the vineyards of the wicked.
Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked;
they have no covering against the cold.
They are drenched by mountain rains,
they huddle against the rocks for want of shelter.
The fatherless child is snatched from the breast;
the nursing infant of the poor is seized for a debt.
Without clothing, they wander about naked.
They carry the sheaves, but still go hungry.
They crush olives among the terraces;
they tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst.
The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the souls of the wounded cry out,
yet God charges no one with wrongdoing.

Then there are those who rebel against the light,
not knowing its ways or staying on its paths.
When daylight is gone, the murderer rises
to kill the poor and needy;
in the night he is like a thief.
The eye of the adulterer watches for twilight.
Thinking, ‘No eye will see me,’ he keeps his face concealed.
In the dark they break into houses;
but by day they shut themselves in,
never to experience the light.
For to them, deep darkness is their morning;
they make friends with the terrors of darkness.


Book of Job, 24: 1-17.