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Saturday morning quotes 7.38: News

With apologies to those readers who are on our email newsletter list and have already seen our updates, we are taking a moment to give you our readers a status report on Mignarda. Those of you who are regular visitors to Unquiet Thoughts will know that, as usual, we have a lot of irons in the fire.  But we are particularly gratified that our dedication, our hard work and our ability to get to the heart of early music have been successful far beyond the expectations of independent exponents of a seriously small niche market.

Insights: Who’s Listening?

In the second decade of the 21st century, it’s hardly surprising that our music has found its way across the globe.  Our YouTube channel has over 5,000 subscribers from 122 countries and, despite our complete lack of promotion and infrequent posting, our videos have had an extraordinary number of views. We are pleased to report that as of Saturday 14 March 2020, Donna’s video of Tantum ergo sacramentum has had more than two million views.  People seem to like what they hear because they have discovered our music on their own rather than having been led to it through slick promotion.  You know, the old-fashioned authentic way.

Gratifying as this may be, what we find really surprising – and what gives us hope – is this:

60.5% of our viewers are under 45 years of age
Mignarda audience by age

Despite conventional wisdom with respect to the greying of early music audiences (and perhaps due to our distinct lack of hype), younger audiences are discovering that our music speaks to them.

A few more numbers:

– We have over 500 Spotify followers

47,205 Bandcamp plays

– A steady monthly average of 15,000 streams for a single track: our recording of Duo Seraphim

Beyond streams & downloads…

We have received multiple requests to license our music from choreographers for classical and modern ballet companies, for plays in Germany, for museum exhibits, in films, documentaries and to provide historical authority for lecture-presentations.  We received a request to quote from the CD liner notes for our Pilgrimes Solace recording for concert program notes by the New York Virtuoso Singers for a joint concert with Parthenia, a consort of viols.

We were honored when respected Dowland scholar Anthony Rooley requested (and obtained) permission to use our recording of music from Pilgrimes Solace as an interpretive example for teaching his course at Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland.  And more recently Mignarda’s 2013 release of Dowland’s A Pilgrimes Solace was selected as a reference recording in the new book by K. Dawn Grapes, John Dowland: A Research and Information Guide, Routledge Music Bibliographies, New York, 2019.  The book is a much needed guide to currently available music editions and literature focused on the most influential historical lutenist composer, John Dowland, and includes a numbered catalog of works, a discography, an annotated bibliography of secondary sources, all thoroughly indexed.

And just this week, a track from our 2010 CD Harmonia Caelestis was featured on the nationally syndicated weekly radio program HarmoniaListen here.

Recordings in the works

Mater Dolorosa
We are nearly ready to release our recording of music from circa 1500 featuring the setting of Stabat Mater dolorosa by Josquin des Prez.  Josquin’s sublime setting of the Stabat Mater was quite popular well into the 16th century, and our performance for solo voice and lute is edited from an historical version published by Pierre Phalese in 1552, with the addition of a bowed viol on the important tenor line. The recording will also feature a circa 1500 two-part a cappella setting of the Stabat Mater dolorosa text as found in Amiens, Bibliothèque Centrale  modern edition by Danish musicologist Peter Woetmann Christoffersen.  As far as we know, our recording is the first performance of this setting in 500 years.

Unquiet Thoughts: English ayres for voice and lute
We are also hard at work recording a special collection of English lute songs by Dowland and his contemporaries, and hope to make it available by the end of 2020.

New and Forthcoming from Mignarda Editions

The Mignarda Songbook, Volume One: English Ayres (published December 2019)
Our 14th music edition and the first in a series of selections from the Mignarda songbook, in response to requests from musicians who seek to emulate Mignarda’s practice of performing lute songs in a manner that communicates the texts to best advantage. This first volume contains 43 English ayres and lute solos, both familiar and rare, and all are among our favorite songs. We are pleased to share our unique repertory with professional and amateur musicians in the hope that our approach to lute songs will thrive through informed and engaging performance.

John Dowland: Complete ayres for solo voice and lute (coming April 2020)
We are pleased to announce the April 2020 release of a brand new performing edition of the complete lute songs of John Dowland.  Working in collaboration with long-time specialist in the interpretation of Dowland songs, David Hill, the new edition will feature a lucid paraphrase of all texts as well as in-depth interpretive notes on the poetry for each song.

The new edition will be available in three formats: 1) voice and lute as in the original publications, 2) voice with lute accompaniments in newly transcribed standard notation, and 3) voice with both lute tablature and parallel transcription in standard notation.  An important feature of the new edition is the use of the first 1597 print of Dowland’s First Booke, with Dowland’s original lute parts finally restored as he intended. With attention to detail, accuracy and legibility, this new edition will fill the need for singers and lutenists wishing to explore the most evocative historical repertory for voice and lute.

Independence is paying off

When we first formed Mignarda, we were offered an opportunity to sign with the Naxos label but, after careful consideration, we decided that we had the acumen and skills to form our own independent recording label that would give us complete artistic control over both repertory and product. Naxos Music Online is now one of many distributors which offer our music, but Mignarda remains an independent label.

Likewise, we had the chance to publish our music editions through a well-known music publisher but instead forged our own publishing arm and created Mignarda Editions.

Since then…

– We’ve produced 12 CDs, with physical and digital distribution worldwide.  Our downloads and streams are now numbering in the millions.
– We’ve published 14 music editions, which are now in the hands of lutenists and librarians from New Zealand to the Netherlands.
We are pleased to report that what seemed like a risky strategy all those years ago has paid off, and our music continues to find its way across the globe.

We want to thank you, our friends, listeners and colleagues, for helping us keep historical music alive and giving us the opportunity to touch so many lives with music that matters.

Timely commentary

Apologies to those readers who visit our blog solely for our insights into early music.  We typically avoid what may be viewed as political commentary, but must vent after witnessing an example of class warfare at work.

Last evening after a long day of recording, we decided we were both a bit too knackered to think about cooking at home.  The solution was to stop at a Chipotle restaurant on the way home for fairly simple and reasonably healthy food.  We have frequented this particular place and know the staff to be capable, friendly and courteous.  Sorry to say we could not say the same for the clientele, but we have even more disapproving commentary about the restaurant management.

Sadly, what we witnessed was a snapshot of how modern life has simply gone mad and is certainly unsustainable on so many levels.  There was a bit of a wait line, possibly a dozen people in front of us blithely ignoring one another and listlessly thumbing their phones for no apparent reason.  But clustered around the cash register, another dozen annoyed, irritated and outright angry people were grimacing at one another and at the world at large.  They were the tech-savvy people who had phoned in their order and paid in advance online, thinking they could waltz in and out to enjoy their meal without the bother of waiting in line.

It turns out that Chipotle has instituted a call-in and pickup scheme that very likely boosts sales by a large margin, but they seem to have forgotten to increase staffing commensurately to keep up with the increased workload.  In fact, you can see the workers piling up the call-in orders while at the same time facing a fairly significant line of hungry people, some of whom have very specific ideas of what they would like to ingest and how they would like to have it prepared.

The workers, all of whom were African-American and all of whom were aged 16-20, were pushed far beyond the limit and were doing their best in the face of adversity, but there was an air of desperation combined with resignation behind the counter.  They knew they would be unable to make their customers happy and they also knew that they would likely be admonished by management for the inevitable deluge of raging customer complaints that were surely streaming in at that very moment.

What we witnessed was class warfare at work: a customer base of primarily entitled white middle-class people using technology to instantly and painlessly fulfill their wishes, and demonstrating unbridled rage directed at another set of victims after having their dreams of fast food dashed by the inconvenience of waiting.  The villian in this situation is the corporate culture that set up an untenable situation to increase sales without providing staffing to meet increased demand.

We are not certain what sort of wage Chipotle pays, but it is most certainly not enough to survive.  We are not opposed to the idea of young people learning to advance in life by working hard, but the demands placed on this particular group of young people were exponentially over the limit.  We cannot consider young people to be expendable cogs in the machinery of technocracy, a “human resource” to be used up and replaced by someone less experienced and willing to take a pittance in wages.

Young people are the future, and, sadly, they will be burdened with cleaning up an absolute mess left behind by the insatiable corporate culture that bases an ever-increasing profit upon exploitation of workers.  It is our responsibility to offer young people opportunities to make the world a better place and to instill a sense of optimism in order to nudge them toward that goal.  You know what you must do.



Saturday morning quotes 7.37: Notes


First, we state that we are emphatically pro-primate and do not wish to appear to depict our very important friends in an unfair light.  However, even advanced practitioners of solfeggio are not necessarily the best musicians.

Dwelling on the fringe of the ubiquitous choral community, we seem to encounter two features among singers that, while they appear to take great pride in these skills, we are compelled to state that, contrariwise, they are nothing more than defects when it comes to singing early music.  The first is so-called “perfect pitch,” which we can dismiss readily.  The reference tone of A=440 Hertz was not adopted by the International Organization for Standardization until 1955, and therefore it is not an acceptable pitch reference for early music.  Modern “perfect pitch” is categorically linked to a reference pitch of A=440 and when alternative reference pitches are employed these singers are simply at sea.  Since we follow historical practice and always take care to pitch music where it is most effectively conveyed, we usually refer to singers with so-called “perfect pitch” as suffering from “inflexible pitch reference.”

The second characteristic professional singers often trumpet is a highly developed skill in sight-reading.  While this may be considered a positive as applies to modern choral repertory, in actual practice we find that good sight-readers often rely upon their spontaneous reading skills in lieu of focused practice, and they can be indifferent musicians who are frequently under-prepared.

“I make a great distinction between a musician and a note-player.  The former is he who, considering music as the science of sounds, regards the notes only as conventional signs representing them, and which by the sight convey the result to the mind, as letters communicate words, and words ideas.  The latter is he who considers it the science of notes, who attaches great importance to their names, the real acceptation of which is unknown to him…”

“The note-player succeeds, by dint of practice, in making an acquisition, which is to music what the motions of a rope-dancer are to dancing: he considers an isolated sound, how it is named, and to what key of the pianoforte it corresponds; but, while guessing at it, frequently it happens that he sings out of tune, as it might happen to a rope-dancer that, with all his equilibrium, he might not be able to make a regular pirouette on the floor.”

– Fernando Sor, Sor’s Method for the Spanish Guitar, translated from the original by A. Merrick, London, c. 1850, “Knowledge of the finger-board,” p. 18.

Effective interpretation demands much more than just singing the notes, and a large proportion of the better sort of early music requires intimate familiarity with text and musical phrasing that can only be gained through intensive and interactive rehearsal.  In fact, historical evidence clearly indicates that polyphonic music was sung with deep understanding and sung from memory:

“…[T]ext underlay cannot be taken literally and that adequate singing of even the discantus demands first that the singer have a complete memory, knowledge and understanding of the vocal lines.  Sight reading—or anything approaching it—is out of the question.”

– David Fallows, Commentary to the facsimile of the Manuscript Rothschild 2793 (I.5-13) in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Valencia: Vicent García Editores, 2008.

The way to get to the heart of the music is to absorb the un-notated nuances through repeated performance.  Sight-reading and then blithely moving on to the next piece does a great disservice to both the music and the audience.  If we wish to follow historical practice, we will develop the skill of interpretation to the point where magic happens.

“What shall we say of musicians and singers to the lute, who with their songs and instruments lead even unwilling men now to anger, now to compassion, now to arms, now to worship, as the reports of Orpheus, Timotheus, and innumerable others show?  Therefore it is not unreasonable or unnatural to alter and compel minds with sounds—which minds, once altered, clearly will alter their bodies.”

Pietro Pomponazzi (1462 – 1525), De incantationibus, p. 35, quoted from Gary Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993, p. 202.

The enchantment of early music is made manifest through commitment to communication of the sounds that the written notes are meant to represent, and it is essential to get light years beyond the notes—if you believe in magic.

Saturday morning quotes 7.36: Espoir


“…[M]usical settings of lyric verse can reveal the poetic taste of a period in a unique fashion, for chanson texts are a rich locus for the study of poetic taste, much like the catalogue of a select library. The way in which composers “read” their texts through their settings, and the corpus of texts they chose to set and reset are often the only measure we have of certain poetic trends. For poets, too, musical settings of their verse were important: while much sixteenth-century lyric verse comes down to us in printed collections without musical garb, some poets, at least, considered music an essential element of any complete lyric expression.”

– Kate Van Orden, “Imitation and “La musique des anciens”: Le Roy & Ballard’s 1572 Mellange de chansons”, Revue de Musicologie, T. 80, No. 1 (1994), p. 5.

The poetry of 16th-century chanson verse is a rich resource that inspired some wonderful musical settings, but the poetry is worth exploring on its own merits.  Among too many other books on French chansons resting on our bookshelves, we have the important reference by Brian Jeffery, Chanson verse of the early Renaissance, 2 volumes, Tecla Editions, London, 1971 and 1976.  And for the pure pleasure of reading we have English translations by Norman R. Shapiro in Lyrics of the French Renaissance: Marot, Du Bellay, Ronsard, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002.  We feel strongly that in order to express the texts, we have to develop a working acquaintance with their context.

Today we feature a beautiful chanson by Josquin Baston (fl 1542–63), a little-known composer who likely came from the Netherlands, and who may have held posts at the far-flung courts of Austria, Denmark, Poland, Saxony and even Sweden.  An intriguing feature of his chansons is a distinct declamatory approach, rendering the multi-part music perfect for setting for solo voice and lute.

Our recording, which seems to be the only one out there in the ether, has gotten some airplay and we have received many favorable comments on our interpretation.  The chanson is from such an arrangement found in Hortus Musarum, another in a large series of important publications from the press of Pierre Phalèse of Antwerp and Leuven.  Published in 1552, Hortus Musarum contains a wealth of music for lute solo and duet, but also an intriguing collection of music arranged for our favorite medium of solo voice and lute. Among the gems in this collection is an arrangement of a five-voice setting of the Stabat Mater dolorosa by the other much more famous Josquin, which we featured in the past and will again this Spring when we release a new recording.

Back to the chanson:

Le bon espoir
que j’ay de parvenir
Au bien le quel ne me peult advenir
Si non par vous me faict vivre enlyesse
Secoures moy celuy qui en tristesse
Vivroit tousjours sans toy.

The best I can hope to attain
Is that little which may happen to me,
Which if not given by you, brings joy to my life.
Comfort me in my sadness,
Forever forlorn without you.

Ours is an age in which hope is yet another diminishing resource.   But hope we must, and that hope must be reinforced with strength of will: fecit potentiam.  You can hear our recording here.

Saturday morning quotes 7.35: Trust


Trust is an issue that affects us all in this modern age that favors manipulated imagery over reality.  Sadly, trust is a problem that represents a widening chasm between generations, and this is particularly relevant when one notices the fewness of young faces in the audience at a typical early music concert.  This may be the case for a host of reasons but, as in the romantic depiction of the legend of Wilhelm Tell above, do young people have a reason to blindly trust that we are not just vicariously reliving our own spirit of discovery and imposing yet another managed and guided experience upon them?

We would like to explore the issue of inter-generational trust as facet of the question of why young people seem generally ambivalent about early music, and what we might do to welcome them into the experience.

Focusing on the 1980s segment of the revival, early music was a cultural pet project that attracted persons who straddled the fence delineating high art and free-thinking.  With conscious rejection of the Victorian tuxedo and ball gown, early music performers presented a more relaxed concert experience and audiences were willing to go along with the more bohemian approach to concerts.  Performers also indulged in what appeared to be old music performed with an improvisational approach, and presented with the enthusiasm of discovery with a youthful energy.  This era probably represented the high-water mark of the early music revival.

Tastes change from generation to generation, and it is always shocking to the older generation that their own youthful discoveries are no longer relevant.  Early music enthusiasts aged and diversified, specializing in arcane corners of the repertory and refining both technique and delivery.  But there appears to be a lingering sense of disbelief that the buzz of (their) discovery of early music was unsustainable and likewise not necessarily transferable to the next generation.  In her biographical sketch of John Dowland, Diana Poulton pointed out:

“Few men escape the weakness, as age overtakes them, of looking back on the days of their youth as a more propitious and grateful time, and the remembered enthusiasm of earlier days carries the mind back to youthful triumphs and inverts them with a savour lacking in the successes of later years.”

– Diana Poulton, John Dowland, University of California Press, Berkeley, second edition, 1982, p. 76

As the novelty of the early  music revival nosedived, the trueness of the music slowly seeped out into the world, and we saw events like the film, Tous les matins du monde, 1991, which injected a bit of Hollywood buzz into the racket, stimulating a bit of public awareness.

“Normally, for the early-music concerts, the age of the audience was 50 to 80, and after ‘Tous les matins du monde,’ many more young people started coming to the concerts.”

Jordi Savall

Such large-screen phenomena had a marked effect on a public conditioned to respond to mass marketing before the advent of Youtube and the era of the small screen.  But the successful cinematic example that resulted in a broad awareness of what was once a niche market was established and, when the buzz began to fade again in a few years, it was resuscitated through attempts by marketing professionals to convince the world that there was still a growing interest.

This market-driven mentality in fact resulted in the direct opposite of the desired effect.  Young people see through the façade of marketing that envelops every aspect of modern life, and all the effort expended in attempts to codify the early music experience and approach it with a franchise mentality has only led to a general sense of indifference.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center points out how little trust young people have in the media and in institutions.  While the study was focused more broadly on public institutions, the revealing results can easily be extrapolated to our world of early music.

“Younger adults tend to express less confidence in several of these leaders and groups than do older adults. Adults under 30 are significantly less confident about the military, religious leaders, business leaders and police officers than are those 50 and older.”

– Pew Research Center, Trust and Distrust in America, p. 18

“In addition to their concerns about low and declining levels of trust in government, many Americans are anxious about the level of confidence citizens have in each other. Fully 71% think interpersonal confidence has worsened in the past 20 years. And about half (49%) think a major weight dragging down such trust is that Americans are not as reliable as they used to be.”

– Pew Research Center, p. 29

Thanks to the imposition of the marketing mentality upon early music, young people have very little trust in the experience beyond what may assist them on their own career trajectories.  And the answer does not lie in social media.

“[The] rise in social media and narrow cast media means that we converse in bubbles. This has led to polarization of discussions and beliefs. We have lost the ability to have civil public discourse and remember that good people can disagree.” A more succinct respondent put it, “Social media has become a cancerous blight on society.”

– Pew Research Center, p. 32

It could very well be that ageing audiences at early music concerts are inadvertantly hampering the sense of discovery for a potential younger audience by insisting upon a concert-going etiquette that makes no sense to a generation nursed on passive mistrust of targeted marketing and weaned on “smart” phones.  Perhaps there is a general sense of disappointment that they do not share our own 1980s retrospective sense of discovery.

“Dowland seems to have suffered his full share of this malady, so common among those from whom youth has already fled, and in spite of his own prodigious musical innovations he appears to have nursed a bitter resentment against all forms of change, seeing in them a challenge to his well-established reputation.”

– Diana Poulton, John Dowland, University of California Press, Berkeley, second edition, 1982, p. 76

There is a glimmer of hope. Over the years we have provided music on several occasions for a school that emphasizes the (capitial “C”) Classics, and after a particular concert we were at once both encouraged and entertained to overhear an informal group of students in a corner discussing which of our CDs they had, as though they were comparing baseball cards.  We have also encountered some of those students who continue to follow our music years after graduating and getting on with life, even to the point of showing up at our concerts and requesting specific songs.  This seems like normal behavior that emerged from their own unguided sense of discovery, which is surely the foundation upon which inter-generational trust is built.

Saturday morning quotes 7.34: Fortune

Att 9vAtt 10We have written previously on the subject of Fortune in early music (or slightly less early), and we have also previously featured music from our CD survey of sixteenth-century French chansons.  Today we feature our unique interpretation of a particular chanson from a seminal publication printed a mere 491 years ago.

The publication is Tres breve et familiere introduction pour entendre & apprendre par soy mesmes a jouer toutes chansons reduictes en la tabulature du Lutz…, Pierre Attaingnant, 1529.  The collection was intended to serve as a guide for arranging part-music to be played on the lute, and most of the chansons included in the collection had some degree of popularity at the time.  In essence, the collection was sort of a “fakebook” that enabled the lutenist to sample popular music at home in the absence of a full complement of singers.

The idea was not new, and Attaingnant was emulating the Italian models published by Petrucci in 1509 and 1511, but with the notable difference of setting popular French chansons and employing French lute tablature.  The concept endures today with the direct parallel to our early lute books in the form of piano arrangements for more current pop songs.

The featured song is Fortune laissez moy la vie, text and translation below.

Puis que tu prins tous mes biens
Je te desclaire quíilz sont tiens.
Mets doncques fin ton envie.

Helas, níes t point assouvye
De tourmentier moy et les mien
Qui níont vers toy mesfaict en riens?
Míest doncques fin ton envie.

Helas, je fusse bien tíamye
Mais tu me traicte rudement
Et je te ayme parfaictement.
Par toy je fineray ma vie.

Fortune, let me have my life.
Since you want the delights
I declare them yours.
Put an end to your envy.

Alas, are you not yet satisfied
Having tormented me and mine
Who have not done you any harm?
Put an end to your envy.

Alas, I have been your friend
But you have treated me cruelly,
While I loved you completely.
Because of you I end my life.

The song was printed by Attaingnant in two forms, in lute tablature, as can be seen above, and with the texted superius.  Using the tablature as a guide, we ornament the vocal line on the second and third verses in a completely integrative and idiomatic manner that adheres to the mood and texture of the text and the music.  While there may have been extravagant virtuoso performers at the time who employed florid ornaments and basked in attention, we feel strongly that our interpretation is more typical of ornamentation rendered through the winning combination of excellent musicianship and good taste.

Our interpretation of the chanson may be heard here.

Taking an abrupt left turn, we move on to our quotes for the day that have nothing to do with music, but everything to do with leadership and current state of public scruples.  This is from Il Cortegiano by Baldasarre Castiglione (1478 – 1529), and given an English translation by Sir Thomas Hoby in 1561.  Since the 1561 English may be a little heavy going, we have taken the unusual step of modernizing the text to enhance clarity.

[Among many vices that we see nowadays in many of our Princes, the greatest are ignorance and self-liking: and the root of these two mischiefs is nothing else but lying, which vice is worthily abhorred of God and man, and more hurtful to Princes than any other, because they have more scarcity than of anything else, of that which they need to have more plenty of, than of any other thing: namely, of such as should tell them the truth and put them in mind of goodness: for enemies be not driven of love to do these offices, but they delight rather to have them live wickedly and never to amend: on the other side, they dare not rebuke them openly for fear they be punished.]

[As for friends, few of them have free passage to them, and those few have a respect to reprehend their vices so freely as they do private men: and many times to curry favor and to purchase good will, they give themselves to nothing else but to feed them with matters that may delight, and content their mind, though they be foul and dishonest.]

– Baldasarre Castiglione, Il Cortegiano, translated by Sir Thomas Hoby, 1561, further translated by RA

Saturday morning quotes 7.33: Reason

rameau_th_03Today’s brief post offers a few quotes from Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1764), from the Preface of his Traité de l’harmonie, 1722.  Rameau capably contrasts the value of Reason versus Experience, which in this case refers to a logic derived from solid training and a thorough structural comprehension of music, versus making things up as you go along, employing gimmicks, and judging quality simply by reaction to effects.

In today’s terms, what Rameau defines as Reason may be described as a skill and understanding derived from careful attention to historical example and innovation based upon knowledge, while Experience may be equated with effect, or what we have come to call today, Disruption.

In an alternative slightly modified take on the quotations below that may be extrapolated to fit the larger picture, try substituting the word Wisdom for Reason, and Google for Experience, which is very revealing and quite applicable in nearly every case.  We have added bold to the pertinent cases.

“However much progress music may have made until our time, it appears that the more sensitive the ear has become to the marvelous effects of this art, the less inquisitive the mind has been about its true principles.  One might say that reason has lost its rights, while experience has acquired a certain authority.”

“The surviving writings of the Ancients show us clearly that reason alone enabled them to discover most of the properties of music.  Although experience still obliges us to accept the greater part of their rules, we neglect today all the advantages to be derived from the use of reason in favor of purely practical experience.”

“Even if experience can enlighten us concerning the different properties of music, it alone cannot lead us to discover the principle behind these properties with the precision appropriate to reason.”

“Conclusions drawn from experience are often false, or at least leave us with doubts that only reason can dispel.  How, for example, could we prove that our music is more perfect than that of the Ancients, since it no longer appears to produce the same effects they attributed to theirs?  Should we answer that the more things become familiar the less they cause surprise, and the the admiration which they can originally inspire degenerates imperceptibly as we accustom ourselves to them, until what we admired becomes at last merely diverting?”

– Jean-Philippe Rameau, Traité de l’harmonie, 1722, translated by Philip Gossett.



Saturday morning quotes 7.32: 2020


Happy New Year, such as it is.  Four days into a new decade, we find ourselves observing a continent on fire and a surfeit of irrational behavior on the part of the unwholesome element that has insinuated itself into a leadership role while citizens were busy being distracted by their phones. It would be a truly difficult task to top the level of absurdity that dominated the airwaves throughout 2019, but we appear to have a good start just ninety-six hours into an entirely new decade.

While the general population remains glued to their plastic screens, at least we have the calming influence of historical music that serves as a welcome antidote to the mess we’re in.  We are optimistic.  Having just released volume one of the Mignarda Songbook: English Ayres, we are now nearing completion of a performing edition of the entire corpus of lute songs of John Dowland: an entirely new transcription directly from the facsimiles that also includes transcription of the lute parts into keyboard notation.  A particularly special feature is that we have used as a source for the First Booke, Dowland’s 1597 print which includes several more idiomatic variants from the more commonly used hybrid versions now in print.  Dowland’s First Booke went through a series of reprints after he sold his rights to the book in 1597 and therefore lost all control over later emendations, thus the 1597 print truly represents what Dowland had in mind for the accompaniments.

Bringing musicians and listeners closer to the historical context of our chosen music has been our mission from the very beginning of our duo, and we hope our Dowland edition will help achieve that goal.  As we like to remind our readers:

“The truth is we invented the early music vocal sound based on what we wanted it to be like, and on the voices of a small number of singers with particular talents. . . Even when singers began to look at pedagogical sources and so on, they (we) chose to ignore those bits that didn’t fit the model we had in our heads.

– Richard Wistreich and John Potter, “Singing early music: a conversation,” Early Music, Vol. XLI, No. 1, February 2013

This leads us to question in the larger context of the world just what it is we are observing, and question whether it is even real.

“…A basic element of quantum mechanics was that man created reality by observing it.  Before that observation, what truly existed was all possible situations.  Only through observation did nature become concrete, take a stance.  There was, inevitably, inherent indetermination, of which man was more the witness than the protagonist.  Or, to put a fine point on it, both things at once: victim as well as guilty party.”

– Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Painter of Battles, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

And looking back toward historical examples, perhaps we can calm the current tensions if we only heed the lessons of the past.

“…It was necessary for the people of Israel to be in captivity in Egypt to make evident the quality of Moses; for the Persians to be oppressed by the Medes to prove the great heart of Cyrus; and the anarchy of the Athenians to launch the leadership of Theseus; so today, if the excellence of the Italian genius is to be made manifest, it needed the degradation of Italy to the pass in which she is at present, that she should become more captive than the Jews, more helot than the Persians, more anarchic than the Athenians, leaderless and lawless, defeated, despoiled, mangled, overrun, and the victim of every kind of disaster.”

– Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe, 1513, Envoi.

As we observe the decline and fall of all the tangible remnants of our cultural past, we like to point out that Early Music is really nothing more than another marketing phenomenon.  There is an audience of people in possession of the means and the inclination to appreciate our cultural past, and there are musicians capable of interpreting old music to general satisfaction.  We strive for a unified approach that places greater importance on the enlightening and essential calming effect of historical music on a world gone mad.

Saturday morning quotes 7.31: Wisdom

Thinker in Cleveland

Wisdom is a solid and integral structure, each part of which holds its place and bears its mark.

– Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

We take a moment to wish our readers a happy Christmas and a warm, wonderful and contemplative holiday season.  We also hope all and some will pause to reflect upon the spirit of the season and the important things that identify us as thinking persons sharing the planet.  And we hope that, unlike the representation of The Thinker displayed at the Cleveland Museum of Art, that we do not allow the quality of wisdom to be subject to the slings and arrows of thoughtless reaction, deliberately fostered by an inane meme culture.

It seems the quality of wisdom is under attack in this age of vacuous fad, rapidly transmitted across the globe by those who know the power of information and how to shape public perception.  It seems that while a formal education is more accessible than ever, political literacy is at a very low ebb.

The first point of wisdom is to discern that which is false, and the second, to know that which is true.

Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (c. 250 – 325)

Wisdom is a thing attained over time: The result of thoughtful digestion of information that is weighed against fact and slowly converted to knowledge, then tested against the sphere in which we dwell until it eventually becomes wisdom.

Over the past few years we have seen several unpleasant fads circulate, fads that have been deliberately spread to cause division among races, men and women, and young and older.  We ask our readers to understand that, while there may be conceptual legitimacy to events that sparked the fad, the spread of division among the population was no accident.  Imagine how effective we could be if there was unity of purpose among all.

Our world would be a better place if we adhered to certain historical traditions that demonstrate respect for those who possess wisdom, but also learned to recognize and beware of those who simply demand respect because they have been around a long time and think it’s their turn.  They are easily spotted.

We encourage all to respect the wisdom of the elders and celebrate Christmas and the coming of longer days and an eventual Springtime with seasonal music.

Saturday morning quotes 7.30: Origins

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.